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How bootstrapped White Willow is making memory foam pillows more affordable

Sindhu Kashyap
10th Apr 2017
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The White Willow is a New Delhi-based manufacturing startup that makes soft home furnishings like memory foam pillows and mattresses.

Did you know that memory foam, used in pillows and mattresses, was actually developed by NASA in the 1970s to improve the safety of aircraft cushions? It is usually denser than other foam making materials, and adjusts according to body heat and temperature. Simply put, when you sleep on a memory foam pillow or mattress, the mould adjusts according to your body shape, going back to its original form once the pressure is released.

The durability of the pillow is much higher than any normal microfibre pillow, making a good night’s sleep that much easier to achieve.

The White Willow team

The beginnings

Although Meghna Agarwal’s father is a foam manufacturer, her involvement with memory foam began quite unexpectedly. A friend, whose pillows were causing back pain and whose doctor had recommended a change, approached Meghna for guidance. Such comfort doesn’t come cheap, though. The duo found the prices to be as high as Rs 12,000, prompting Meghna to start The White Willow in New Delhi in August 2015. Meghna says,

“Having already spotted the opportunity and gap in the market I discussed this idea with my father and so, dinner table conversations started revolving only around memory foam, its chemical compositions, quality, pricing, and business strategy. This eventually led to the birth of my brand, The White Willow, with an objective of not just selling pillows but creating smart and aware consumers who can understand the importance of using the right kind of pillow and how it can bring that crucial difference in their sleep and comfort.”

Building the brand and product

Apart from memory foam pillows, The White Willow makes home furnishing products like cushions, mattresses, and other soft furnishings. When Meghna first started she was unclear about how to sell the products. What she did know, however, was that since pricing is one of the biggest influencers of consumer buying behaviour, getting the products in an affordable range was vital. After a lot of research and talking to a few friends, she decided to start selling online.

A major challenge she faced was how to figure out the right thickness of pillows, which could help the consumers by relieving neck pain and other bodily discomfort and ultimately providing comfortable sleep.

Memory foam greatly depends on the quality of raw material, the right composition of chemicals, and the density. Since memory foam products are bulky, finding the right logistics partner, who could deliver the pillows to consumers in a timely manner, was another challenge.

Memory foam is also 30 percent costlier than other microfibre or traditional filled pillows, which made it hard to convince customers to go for it.

Highlighting the benefits of memory foam after conducting extensive research and creating the right product helped in overcoming these challenges.

Team and revenue

Meghna works with a team of 15 manning data analysis, operations, customer relationship management, R&D, marketing, delivery, and dispatch. Working out of a warehouse in New Delhi, as of early March, the team was selling 1,500 pillows every month at an average price of Rs 1,200 each.

Meghna says The White Willow caters to numerous online portals across the globe with a range of 20 memory foam bed pillow fillers, 10 decorative cushions, bolsters, lumbar backrests, maternity pillows, and the travel pillow collection.

“We are grossing monthly revenues of Rs 18-20 lakh through various online marketplaces,” says Meghna. Currently, there are several brands like Sleepwell that are already big in the space. There is also Hush, which manufactures and sells its own memory foam. Since most doctors today recommend it to people suffering from neck and back pain, memory foam pillows and mattresses are in high demand.

Meghna adds that one of their biggest differentiators is their customer service and satisfaction rate. “I speak with most customers and resolve their queries. We spend a lot of time understanding the requirements of each customer. Most of our conversations are about suggesting to the customers the most suitable product according to their needs.”

Future plans

The White Willow, bootstrapped and cashflow-positive, is in talks with a few angel investors and HNIs for their first round of funding, which they intend to use for developing more products and the expansion of their distribution channels.

The team is working on a new range of cool gel memory foam pillows. They are also working on tailor-made mattresses, which will help customers be well aware of the kind of foam or density they will be given in their product.

The team plans to increase their online business internationally and expand into the offline space by opening experience and guidance centres, where a customer can experience and learn fully about their range of products.

“We also want to make investments in technology, where the customer can choose and customise the choice of his/her mattress online with the click of a button. With this vision and mission, our team at The White Willow continues striving and works passionately to provide the ‘gift of sleep and comfort’ to all,” says Meghna.

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