Good sales associate: Even though a consumer may have a general idea what they are looking for when stepping into a store, a good retail associate can also show and introduce them to alternatives they may not have considered.
Tactile experience: Once in the store, a consumer should be able to experience the product in person. Touch it, feel it, experience it.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin House, an entrepreneur at heart and a highly seasoned retail professional in the sleep space. He entered the sleep market in an unusual way — through a friend who had assembled a team of brain scientists that developed a sleep program using the healing benefits of sound, founded on research to help NASA get astronauts to sleep in space. After acquiring the technology, Colin developed an app called Sleep Genius™ and took it to market. Sleep Genius provides something the industry had never seen before, as it focuses on treating sleep problems, not just tracking them. Recruited to Intellibed as CEO in 2014, he contributed his leadership and high-tech experience with disruptive technology to the company. At Intellibed, he is responsible for leading the overall company strategy, overseeing the sales team, establishing strategic retail partnerships, guiding organizational initiatives and determining unique POS retail activities. Over the last five years with the company, Colin has expanded distribution of their products at retailers from coast to coast, introduced Sleep Genius to the mattress and bedding industry, and championed the launch of the unparalleled Sleep Genius Smart Base. Intellibed has tripled its business over the course of the past three years, making it one of the fastest growing luxury mattress brands.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in South Africa and after high school every male had to serve a mandatory two-year military service. During my two years I started playing volleyball and being six foot eight realized I was pretty good and more importantly loved it. After my two years, I decided to sell everything I owned and come to America to follow my dream of playing in college and going pro. I arrived in America with 1,000 dollars and ended up getting a scholarship to play. This was the beginning of my journey and there truly is no country in the world like this. The American dream is alive and well!
I spent many years in the corporate world (big tech) doing strategy, global sales, and M&A. I left to start my entrepreneurial journey and built and sold my first company. I later got into the sleep space through Sleep Genius and the journey continues.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I can’t say I’ve made any funny mistakes, but I can say without a doubt that I have made several very expensive mistakes. The biggest and hardest lessons I have learned are when I would start a company and get so entrenched in the process of developing and building a product and not focusing enough on the go to market and revenue model. You can build the coolest product in the world, but unless you have a clear monetization path, you will ultimately fail.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I met a neighbor while living in San Francisco who was a partner at one of the big three accounting firms. He was extremely seasoned and had an incredible wealth of knowledge. We partnered up on one of my first real startups and it was a hard and tricky business, which we ultimately grew and eventually sold. He stuck with me through the tough times as well as the good. When I took over as CEO of Intellibed, he believed in me and the business and again funded my turnaround of the company. He later came out of retirement and has helped me successfully turn the company around and grow it into the success it is today. What makes this such a unique friendship is that we completely complement each other’s skillset. This was another key learning in business…find someone good at the things you are not and vice versa.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A book on Neuromarketing called The Persuasion Code. This was one of the most influential books in my entire career. It turns traditional marketing theory on its head and focuses on how the human brain plays the most critical part of all marketing decisions. I can honestly say, it helps me in every marketing decision I make, and I’ve probably read it a dozen times, because there is so much to learn from its practices.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The last truly great innovation in the mattress industry was the rollout of memory foam by Tempurpedic in the early 1990s. What makes Intellibed so disruptive is the Gel Matrix technology that we use. It solves so many of the problems the mattress industry has faced for decades. The biggest feature is that it is both firm and soft at the same time, which sounds rather contradictory in nature, but it truly is an engineering marvel that actually does what it says it can do.
The original use of the Gel Matrix was in hospital burn units and for patients in long term care. It proved very early on that it could heal bed sores and relieve pressure like nothing else on the market.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Keep innovating, don’t get complacent in your journey and product development. But most importantly find balance in life and work.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
The biggest lesson is that you have to have a good online presence, but also have a product offering that makes sense to buy online. Intellibed has traditionally focused on the upper end of the category with higher-priced mattresses that the average consumer would normally prefer to buy in a retail store as they want to test them out first. The silver lining for us is that the pandemic forced us to accelerate our strategy of launching a more online-friendly product sooner than planned.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
The most important thing for any company is to have a differentiator when it comes to product. There are so many “me too” products out there that just rely on clever marketing to sell. China can usually make those fairly cheap, but if you have a unique value proposition and product, then you can leverage the power of Amazon to grow awareness and sales.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
There are two common mistakes I see.
- Their product does not solve a real customer need. It is a good idea, but not something that solves a real problem.
- Lack of a clear revenue model. Always make sure very early on that there is a clear path and channel to revenue and profitability. Revenue doesn’t always mean profitability, so ensure that the pathway is clear to both.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
Great customer service starts with a great product. However, going the extra mile during the sale and also post-sale makes a world of a difference. In today’s economy, customer reviews play one of the of most important and influential components of a sale. There is no wiggle room for a bad customer experience.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
That is the million-dollar question. I think the greatest thing about our country is that it enables entrepreneurs to build companies and sell just about anything. The bad news is that not all products and businesses “get it.”
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
A gentleman was scheduled for a very serious hip replacement and happened to be driving by when he saw an Intellibed sign in the window. He remembered hearing about the product many years before but had since forgotten about it. He immediately pulled into the store and after learning more about the product purchased it on the spot. Shipping and delivery were going to be a logistical nightmare to get the bed to his home, which was in the Wyoming countryside, and secondly to get it there following his surgery so he would have it when he got out of the hospital. Our entire team worked every angle possible to make this happen and eventually pulled it off. The customer was beside himself and so appreciative.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
There are two long term ripple effects:
- Internal example. When other employees heard the story, it set the bar on what we do as a company and how everyone could/should go the extra mile for a customer.
- A happy customer will always talk about your product and their experience to friends and neighbors. This always has a long-lasting effect.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
- Positive online reviewing experience: The majority of consumers will do their research online prior to stepping into a retail store.
- Good sales associate: Even though a consumer may have a general idea what they are looking for when stepping into a store, a good retail associate can also show and introduce them to alternatives they may not have considered.
- Tactile experience: Once in the store, a consumer should be able to experience the product in person. Touch it, feel it, experience it.
- Don’t overwhelm: A consumer should not experience a retail floor that is jammed wall to wall with product. Think about mattresses and appliances. It is a sea of white rectangle mattresses or rows and rows of white appliances. Sometimes less is more.
- Financing options: Make the purchasing experience seamless. Apple is brilliant at a seamless checkout; more retailers should learn from them.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe that most consumers are so inundated with information on products (companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars), it’s overwhelming and hard for them to know who and what to believe. I would love to see a movement where consumers could get visibility into what they are really buying. Most companies know their competitors inside out and could provide an honest review of them. That would be interesting.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!