PHOENIX -- A local online start-up based in Tempe is working to redefine the mattress industry.
Tuft and Needle began in 2012 and has already climbed to the top of Amazon.com as the highest rated mattress, and boasted a million dollars in revenue last year.
Co-founder John Thomas Marino said he decided to start the company after a poor experience while buying a mattress as a newlywed for him and his wife.
"We went through the standard mattress store to mattress store," Marino said. "We were approached by a mattress salesman, which is very similar to a car salesman, and I noticed very quickly he was using various sales tactics and gimmicks trying to get me to buy something."
After spending roughly $3,200 on a high-end mattress and not being satisfied with the experience, product or price, Marino began Tuft and Needle with his college friend and co-founder Daehee Park with the intention of providing inexpensive, high-quality mattresses through online sales. Marino said selling mattress exclusively online has its pros and cons.
"It's difficult to sell to customers online, people who want to feel and touch the mattress, but what it does for us is it helps us really focus on the product," he said.
Marino noted that this is where the company's focus on providing potential customers with good descriptions, photos and strong customer satisfaction ratings have helped bring the gap from the online marketplace to their bedrooms.
The seven-employee company works remotely with each other, with the company headquarters in Tempe and the mattresses produced at a location in Los Angeles.
Customers order the mattress online and they are delivered directly to their home via UPS or FedEx, Park said.
"We only offer a single product right now and it's our Tuft and Needle bed, which is our mattress, and it's available in the standard sizes from twin all the way to king," he said.
Tuft and Needle mattress are currently 5-inch think foam mattresses, but Park added the company intends to offer a 10-inch mattress in the next few months to fit various customer tastes.
Park said the mattresses are inexpensive for their quality because the company does not have the incurred costs that are included with a sales staff, brick-and-mortar restaurant and maintaining large inventories.
"Our twin starts $199 and that includes shipping right to your doorstep," Park said. "Our customers are usually pretty shocked when they first see those prices and wonder, how can it be that low?' -- but really we're cutting out the middleman."
But to Park and Marino, it's not just the price that's propelled their success. They say their customer service and easy return system -- and furthermore what they do with those returns -- that have helped fuel their high ratings.
"Typically mattress companies will try to make it so it's very difficult to return," he said. "But what we try to do is we have a charitable component to our business as well."
Tuft and Needle offers a 30-day trial, in which Park said the company pays all return costs including shipping should a customer not like the mattress, and then the company seeks to donate the used mattress or recycle it.
"We can't legally resell mattresses, even if someone ships it back to us there's nothing really we can do with it," he said. "So we partner with different nonprofits and charities so that when there's a return we first try to put it in the hands of someone in need."
Park and Marino said the company's growth has been strong in their first year and while it was born online, the two hope to eventually open up brick-and-mortar stores.
The challenge though, would be to keep the same product and price afforded to them by being exclusively online.
"There's some things that we don't necessarily want to share quite yet," Marino said. "One of those ways is not keeping any inventory...so our store will be small."
Marino wouldn't go into much detail as to what the stores would look like, but hinted that the stores could be kiosk-style or small showrooms without sales staff where orders are placed and the mattresses would still be shipped to customer's homes.
"We set out to fix the experience of shopping for a mattress and also to fix the pricing," Marino said. "But at the same time, we also want to set a good example for what we believe other mattress companies should be doing."