Marino and Park present their new mattress foam.

Building a better mattress

Shopping for a mattress with his new wife, J.T. Marino experienced first hand the frustration and complexity of the process, which seemed almost like purchasing a car. They wandered through neon-lit showrooms where they encountered countless determined salesmen. It seemed that the ultimate goal was to close a deal, instead of ensuring that the customer was satisfied. After spending $3,300 on a luxury mattress that Marino felt should have been the definition of comfort, he realized his disappointment with the product. However, the company’s strict return policy meant he was stuck with a subpar mattress.

At work the next day, he shared his experience with his friend and colleague, Daehee Park. Marino soon discovered he wasn’t alone with his feelings of frustration; Park had encountered similar problems when he shopped for a mattress. Rather than accept the status quo, the two decided to take action. They wanted to solve the problems of the mattress industry and develop their own company.

The team began by creating a list of things they disliked about the entire process, and then brainstormed solutions to address those issues. They took Marino’s lackluster mattress and dissected it, piece by piece. They contacted suppliers for price quotes on materials and were astonished that the so-called luxury mattress cost roughly $300 to produce. Marino and Park ascertained in that moment that this industry was just waiting to be disrupted.

Jump ahead three years and you’ll see that the duo has found success with their company, Tuft & Needle. The company is headquartered in Phoenix, just south of Chase Field in the warehouse district. Each mattress is crafted with materials sourced entirely from the United States, from zippers to threads. The mattresses are made to order and employ a new type of foam developed by the Tuft & Needle team.

To solve some of the problems they experienced with the mattress-buying process, Tuft & Needle sells their mattresses via e-commerce. This allows them to cut out any unnecessary middlemen and maintain a fair price point. It also makes the set up process a breeze, as the mattress is easily transported in a small, compact box.

To ensure customer satisfaction, the mattresses come with a 100-night trial and a 10-year warranty. What’s more, any mattress that’s returned to Tuft & Needle doesn’t go to a landfill. Instead, the mattresses serve a better purpose. “Any mattress that is returned is very lightly used,” Park said. “We can’t sell those mattresses once they’ve been returned and there are nearby charities that can put those to good use.” Tuft & Needle is also devoted to helping local Arizona schools through their donations.

Although the company sells their products direct-to-consumer, Tuft & Needle has a showroom that allows people to experience the mattresses firsthand. “There was a lot going against us. Our showroom is in the warehouse district, which has very little foot traffic,” Park said. “Despite that, we’ve had tons of customers driving in from Phoenix, Tucson, even Los Angeles.”

With the validation they received from their Phoenix showroom, they recently expanded to open a second showroom in San Francisco. While it’s possible that more expansion is on the horizon, Phoenix will remain the company’s base of operations. “Phoenix has great talent coming out of ASU, that otherwise would have left the state, and it’s great to be able to contribute to the state’s startup scene,” Park said.