West Jordan, Utah
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Founder Betsy Mikesell is using crowdfunding to catalyze a booming bedding business.
A few years ago Mikesell, one of the owners of Beddy's, had a great job as a hairdresser with a salon in her home. Before she started her day, she would clean, hoping to invite clients into a clean environment. Every day there seemed to be one trouble area: her sons' room.
"I am not a perfectionist, but perhaps a little OCD-ish," Mikesell admits. "My sons' room was always hard. They had bunk beds, and they never looked nice."
Mikesell thought it was just a case of boys not wanting to make their beds. "But then I got up there and realized they were right: It was hard! I skinned my knuckles trying to tuck the bedding around the rails, and I had to balance on the edge of the top bunk to get it to look right."
It follows that she got online, thinking someone, somewhere had mastered how to easily make a bunk bed and would offer a hack. But the search came up empty.
So Mikesell turned to her mother, an experienced sewer. "I went to her with my idea and she made it," says Mikesell. "It was one-piece bedding that fit onto a mattress like a fitted sheet. It could be unzipped to sleep in and zipped up in the morning."
She adds, "I was not looking to make a business, I just wanted to make my life easier. But then I had friends who said, as soon as I made it, they wanted to buy it."
Mikesell joined forces with friend Angie White and decided to start making a few sets. "We thought it would be a fun hobby," says Mikesell. "We learned quickly it was not a hobby. It was a business, and both of our families, including our husbands, are now fully involved."
The duo had to first find the right fabric and the right manufacturing partner. She learned that her product was labor-intensive, it was all handmade. "If we made it domestically, it would cost $600 per kit. We ended up going overseas."
Before she could sign a contract, she discovered she needed to come up with $250,000. "That was not an amount we had laying around!" Mikesell says.
At the same time, Mikesell heard that the show, Shark Tank, was in Las Vegas, about six hours from her home. "I had a prototype, and thought I could ask for $250,000," she remembers. "To have them even look at us, we needed a Facebook page. We had an informational video, and we posted that on the Facebook page. It was not for anyone. It was just for the show because our patent attorney told us to keep things quiet until our patent went through. But our friends saw and shared the Facebook page. Within hours, we had over 3,000 views. Then it went to 15,000 views and we had people asking to buy our product. We didn't have anything to sell them!"
Mikesell returned from Shark Tank auditions without any firm commitment, so she looked to the online funding platform, Kickstarter. "But we had to drive attention to us on Kickstarter. We went on ABC's Good Things Utah. It was a nightmare. My microphone dropped and the battery fell out. It literally rolled across the floor during the interview. But the host, Nicea DeGering, loved our product. Her excitement sold it. After being on ABC4, we got the funding that we needed over that weekend. Now we really could get started."
Four years later, Mikesell is still with the same fabric mill and same factory. She and her business partner go to China twice a year. Other things have changed. "Growth is expensive," Mikesell says. "We've had to change how we handle our process, customer service, social media, how we even do our accounting. Every year we have to switch things up. We keep hiring people, and having employees is very helpful -- but they can create different work, too."
Challenges: Cash flow. Reordering takes money, explains Mikesell, and it's a continuous cycle. "I can't reorder until we sell, but we need to order so we have something to sell. We did take on an investor, and we now have a line of credit at the factory."
Opportunities: New designs and new partners. "We come out with new designs every year," says Mikesell. "It's nerve-wracking because you just have to hope it sells. We have picked designs that were not as hot as we hoped, and we've been surprised that the designs we started with continue to be our top sellers."
Beddy's also continues to work with the furniture retailer RC Willey so that customers can see the bedding in action. "Our product is hard to explain," Mikesell says. "I think we could be in every magazine, and people still would not understand. They need to see it being used."
Needs: National exposure. "We want people to know that zipper bedding exists," says Mikesell. "We need to tell our story and get the awareness out."