Wildly popular mattress-in-a-box startup Casper just opened its first store in NYC -- here's why it thinks it can defy Mattress Firm's curse

Business Insider/Mary HanburyCasper’s new store has semi-private rooms where customers can trial mattresses.
  • Mattress startup Casper has opened its first permanent store in New York.
  • The store is designed to be a testing ground for the company to trial new products and see how customers interact with them.
  • Casper is a digitally native brand that launched in 2014. The company’s total revenue since inception reached more than $US600 million in 2017, and it counts Target and 50 Cent among its investors.

Casper wants to create the Disneyland of mattress shopping.

Since launching online in 2014, mattress startup Casper has become one of the biggest disruptors in the industry. Customers can order the product online, trial it for 100 days, and return it if they don’t like it.

In the past few years, the company has grown rapidly – total sales reached more than $US600 million in 2017, and it has diversified from its core product, the mattress, to sell all things sleep-related, from sheets and pillowcases to dog beds and calming tea.

It has also expanded its mattress range to offer more pieces – a queen-sized mattress, for example, can cost from $US600 for a standard mattress up to $US1,850 for a more technical piece.

50 Cent is an investor, as is Target, which now stocks Casper products in more than 1,000 of its stores across the US.

After running a series of pop-ups around the country, Casper opened its first permanent store in New York on Tuesday. The digital retailer is looking to get into the brick-and-mortar game as legacy stores such as Mattress Firm succumb to the pressures of the retail apocalypse, scale back, and shutter stores. But Casper says it has a strategy to make it work.

“It’s all about creating an amazing experience. It will be a zero-pressure environment with no commission sales people,” cofounder and chief operating officer Neil Parikh told Business Insider.

We visited the new store to see what it’s like:

The new store is located in Manhattan’s Noho area, on the popular shopping street Broadway. It’s taken the design team a year to create the concept and just over a week to get it up and running. When we visited, parts of the store were still under construction.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Casper wants to eliminate the mindset that shopping for a mattress has to be a dreary experience by creating an engaging space where customers can trial products and have fun. There are no salespeople working on commission. “It’s really meant to be the antithesis of a traditional mattress retailer,” Emma Frane, communications director at Casper, told Business Insider.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

“We want to create places that are fun and exciting. More like the Apple stores and less like a traditional mattress store, where you’re like, ‘Ugh, I have to go take a shower after I’ve been inside,'” Parikh said.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Casper created a pillow with two different types of fibre — when you switch sleeping positions, the inside rotates to support your head. You can touch and feel the fibres in the store’s pillow section. “It’s like the science museum. That’s kind of a hard thing to conceptualize online,” Parikh said.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The store will evolve over time with its customer. “There used to be this idea that a retailer would spend thousands of dollars on a flagship store and then it is done forever. Today you’re going to see a lot of continuous iteration cycles,” Parikh said.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

One of the big advantages of this store is that you can buy the products then and there, including mattresses. You don’t need to wait to have them shipped to you, which is typically what other digitally native brands do to minimise the footprint of their stores. Below the shop is a large basement where inventory is stored. Products can be shipped within two hours if you live in New York.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

One of the unique parts of the store is the “birdhouses” where its test mattresses are stored.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The idea is to make the experience of trying a mattress more discreet. Parikh describes it as an intimate moment if you go in with a partner. “You have your own bedroom here,” he said.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

They created open ceilings so that customers wouldn’t feel trapped. “You want to feel you’re in an enclosed space but not scared,” Parikh said.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Each room has a different design and sound effects, such as bird noises that activate as you walk in.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The use of steps in the shop was also strategic. “Kids and families love going upstairs, as it makes like you’re going somewhere,” Parikh said.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The verdict: It’s definitely a more engaging and exciting experience than traditional mattress shopping. Parikh insisted that the company doesn’t need any physical locations, but they are useful places to test and understand how customers are interacting with products.

Can we expect a Mattress Firm-style rollout of stores now?

“We’ll never have 3,500 stores,” Parikh said. “That’s not the plan. A couple of hundred, perhaps.”

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