Hear the spectacular entrepreneur journey of Eugene Alletto, the Founder of Bedgear, a performance bedding company. Learn how overcoming the loss of his father as a teenager, in large part, drove him to eventually succeed as an innovator and business owner. Listen as he shares his wisdom on the topics of perseverance, resilience and utilizing your strengths to overcome life’s obstacles.
Top Takeaways From This Episode:
(1) You can teach yourself to not be a victim of your circumstances. Successful entrepreneurs have a key trait of not taking on a victim mentality.
(2) “Being an entrepreneur is not something that you can say you are. Being an entrepreneur is something you become. I had no idea. I wasn’t born to be an entrepreneur.”
(3) “Part of being an entrepreneur is learning every day. And if you’re not learning, you’re not growing personally. And if you’re not growing personally, you can’t grow professionally.”
(4) If you aim your mind towards things that you’re passionate about, you can become a great learner. And learning can deliver you success.
John Benzick: This episode of Product Launch Rebel features Eugene Alletto, the founder of Bed Gear. I walked away from the interview feeling inspired by a guy who became really transformed by entrepreneurship and by following his vision of a better bedding company. This is a guy who had lost one of his parents at a very young age and at face value, didn’t have anything special to offer; not being particularly good at schoolwork, not being a great athlete, having bad skin, a bad haircut, and as he describes — lacking confidence as a young man — not being one of those “chosen ones” within his peer group. But as you will hear in this episode, you’ll see how starting a business built his confidence in not just his career, but other areas of life. A value packed episode is in store for you as you hear an entrepreneur’s story about persistence, pursuing what you’re good at and passionate about, and learning that you’re capable, and not a victim, of your poor circumstances.
Eugene Alletto: Just the ability to just move on and not not get pissed off at what you’re not good at, or not get pissed off at circumstances, or not get angry when someone says no to you and blame it on somebody else is really, I think from an entrepreneur’s perspective, the people I meet that start businesses and are successful entrepreneurs and are happy are ones that are not victims and it’s really an lesson — and I think it’s something you can even teach yourself.
John Benzick: Greetings, Product Launch Rebels and welcome to the Product Launch Rebel podcast brought to you by VentureSuperfly.com where we help double your entrepreneurial courage, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Please visit the Venture Superfly website and check out the contact page to join our mailing list. Today I’m excited to interview Eugene Alletto. He’s the founder and CEO of a super cool bedding product company called Bed Gear. I met him at the massive Las Vegas Market furniture trade show and I was blown away by the smart products his company is offering, which includes some really high tech mattresses, pillows and sleep related products. In fact, as I was walking through Bed Gear’s showroom, I thought that if Nike got involved in the bedding industry, this is the type of stuff they’d be doing, Bed Gear has done a great job of applying the concept of performance to bedding, applying things like their Air Tex, Dry Tech and Vertex technologies. To learn more about Eugene’s company, visit BedGear.com. Hey Eugene, thanks for being here and welcome to the Product Launch Rebel podcast.
Eugene Alletto: My pleasure and look forward to spending the rest of the next 30 or so minutes with you.
John Benzick: Oh man, it’s going to be great. So Eugene, within this podcast there are three segments. The first is called give me the basics, which helps set the context about your company for our listeners. The second part is let’s get personal or we get into some of the more personal topics about what it’s like to start a business. And the final part is what I call tell me how where we’ll get to the heart of the matter on issues that aspiring entrepreneurs want to know now to help them move forward. Eugene, what do you think? Are you ready for some questions?
Eugene Alletto: I am.
How Bed Gear Started
John Benzick: All right, fantastic. Here we go. Eugene, tell us the story. How did you originally come up with the idea to start Bed Gear.
Eugene Alletto: The Bed Gear idea really morphed over time, both the name and the product assortment. The part that really is interesting is like you’ll hear in most entrepreneur stories. Solving a problem is typically what what we see as entrepreneurs. And that’s where this becomes interesting. We had a son who was suffering from allergies. He’s now 20 and this was when he was around six, seven years old. And we were told by the doctor to go to the surgical supplies store, which probably don’t exist today because of the Internet, and pick up a vinyl mattress protector to encase the mattress so that we could eliminate the dust mites from his room. While we were successful in eliminating the dust mites, however, when he would wake up, we would notice that he was waking up in a pool of sweat cause you can imagine sleeping on a piece of vinyl with our body temperature being at the level that they are, you’re going to wind up taking that heat and transferring it into moisture.
Eugene Alletto: So he really had a tremendous amount of restless sleep. Even though we solved one problem, we created another. And looking around an industry that I’m aware of because of my background, I’ve been in home furnishings for many years. I realized that there was nothing being manufactured that would be breathable, yet still secure the need for reducing allergens in your bedding. And that’s really where the idea came from. It was a far cry from what it is today in terms of what we’ve discovered along this journey. However, that was the solution and the problem solving that we were looking to accomplishment when we first started with our very first product, which was a mattress protector.
How Bed Gear Differentiated Itself from Other Products
John Benzick: Eugene, the bedding industry is so competitive. And so tell me, what’s unique about Bed Gear and how did you cut through the clutter among so many bedding products in those early days?
Eugene Alletto: Very, very difficult. In fact, the frustration for me, and I’m sure for many entrepreneurs, is just how do you get that traction? How do you get the white space or the opportunity is really the easy part. The hardest part is actually getting people to believe in your vision and see that there’s a need for this product or an idea that you may have. So what I innately did based off of my journey I’ve been on is I realized that you needed to go talk to somebody that could actually sell your idea in volume. And so I had gone to a company called Sleepy’s, which was a large bedding manufacturer retailer in the northeast. They had at the time, they had a couple of hundred stores and they did lots of business. And I was able to work directly with ownership and management there.
Eugene Alletto: Both our companies were based on Long Island, New York, and I shared with them the story. I explained to them the value that this would bring to consumers. And I was able to get the product on the floor. And within a very short period of time of going to the stores and sharing that story, even with the sales associates on the floor, we were able to get some really good sell through. And I’ll tell you just to add a little piece of what you talk about in terms of clutter. What really made us unique and different was the value proposition wasn’t just the fact that we were able to have moisture wicking airflow and still maintain if you have allergies. Not Everybody has allergies. So the product became wildly successful because it was something that was health and wellness related to the customer.
Eugene Alletto: The clutter that you speak about is that the category that we started in was filled with many, many people that were manufacturing products to protect the mattress. However, most people don’t even want to spend money on a mattress. The last thing they want to do is spend money protecting it. So we didn’t know this, but what we found throughout the next several years is what built our company and brand promise was that we focused more on what’s going to be good for you as a consumer, not what’s good for mattress. And most of, even to this day, most people that sell mattress protectors are there to protect the mattress. And what we build is a product that protects you but also helps you get better night and healthy nights sleeps. So it really was the sales process as much as it was the, the product itself.
John Benzick: How many retailer doors do you sell to now and what types of retailers do you sell to?
Eugene Alletto: So we’re currently in over 450 furniture and bedding retailers. The other big decision we made was how to distribute this product. We recognized it was really important to have a store that’s got what’s called self-guided. So going into a mass merchant where there are no salespeople, there’s no sales support, you have to navigate yourself. We chose to go to a place where consumers go to buy their mattresses and at that time have a product that would be presented to you by a professional salesperson explaining the benefits and features. And it really is what propelled us to where we now have brand awareness with, with professional athletes, to doctors, to bus drivers to firemen and policemen. So we’ve become a brand, not because of going to the mass merchants and hoping that the consumer finds it.
Eugene Alletto: It was really more of a recommendation while you were purchasing a new mattress through your sales associate. So stores like a Raymour and Flanigan or Hom Furniture in Minnesota or The Brick in Canada. And now the beauty of it is we’re a global brand, we’re in multiple countries doing the same thing that we’ve done here in America. We’re in Russia, we’re in China, we just launched in Thailand. The beauty of it is as we get more into this interview, we are no longer a one product company. We are an entire assortment of products that all support the same brand promise. So we’re actually having stores being built. We have both freestanding stores in countries I just mentioned. However, here in America we now have in store galleries. So you can walk into like Nebraska Furniture Mart in Dallas or Kansas City or Omaha, Nebraska, and you’ll see a destination, a small version of what you had seen when you came into the Las Vegas showroom.
Eugene Alletto: We’re in Art Van furniture. There is a hundred of those stores in the midwest or Raymour and Flanigan’s in the northeast. And so what’s interesting is what helped America start to do these types of stores, these stores within a store concept, these popups as as they’re called today, is actually our international business. When the international buyers and owners came into our showroom and they saw this incredible brand of performance around the bedding category, they said, we want this, and I thought they wanted our product, but they said, no, we want the brand. This is an iconic American brand and we want to put these in an independent stores associated with our brands throughout the country, so we’ll have over 350 stores in China within the next three years. We’re already up to 35 and only a few months, 16 in Thailand we’ll have over 300 stores in Russia. We already have I think it’s 72 to date when the American companies saw what was happening with our brand globally. That’s what finally helped me to develop this in store experience that would really differentiate both our product as well as the retailer. So it’s an amazing journey.
Progressing from Few Employees to Many
John Benzick: Eugene, just to give our listeners some perspective, how many employees did you have originally when you started your company, maybe in that first year, and how many employees do you have now?
Eugene Alletto: There was me and I shared employees from some of the other small businesses that I had started in home furnishings. And so it was, it went to two and then it had a four shared employees. And then we are now 240 employees. We have a factory in South Carolina, over 300,000 square feet of factory and warehousing. Now we have an office for our creative suite here in the New York area. We have a warehouse in California and we just opened up our very first international manufacturing facility, outside of Shanghai to support all of our international growth. And what’s really, really awesome is the amount of American jobs that we’ve created. However, we also have taken the American ingenuity to open up the factory to duplicate the factory in China is identical to the factory that’s in South Carolina. And we share best practices and have really become more global citizens because of Bed Gear.
Working With International Distributors
John Benzick: So internationally, do you work with distributors or do you go directly to the retailers in those countries?
Eugene Alletto: So we start, and I highly recommend this, it’s really hard to sell a distributor and understand what they’re doing or not doing for your, your idea or your brand or your product. So I literally just got on an airplane and went and visited retailers where my product would be sold and determine what the value proposition would be. Determining where the right fit would be for us before determining how best to distribute the product. It’s always really important to know how your product is going to be sort of reviewed and expanded and understood what the, what the adjacencies are. And what I mean by adjacencies is, if your product is on the shelf, what’s to the left and the right of it so you can determine how best your products need to be priced and how they need to look.
Eugene Alletto: Because a lot of times distributors of products, they do it at a defense and they’ll tie you up in these countries. However, if you understand them, the value that you bring to the country and start working with the retailers first, then you create the direction that’s best for your brand and your product. And I think one, one of the things I think would be really helpful, John, is we talked about what was it that started the business, what was the product that got me started? And I think to give the listeners a little bit more context as to, what exactly we do is really important at this point because we’re getting into so many, so many sort of growth initiatives that we’re talking about, it’s hard to understand that.
Eugene Alletto: I think if it’s just purely what, you know, what we talk about in terms of a mattress protector. So would it be okay if I just gave a little bit of an overview of what you saw in Vegas in terms of product specific?
John Benzick: Yes, of course. That would be great.
Studying Consumer Behavior
Eugene Alletto: Awesome. So after we got started with this protector and we started to see that health and wellness and the customers reacted really well to products that were gonna benefit them, we started to get into this category of where people buy mattresses and we saw a huge, huge gaping hole. So even though it was a very small step, it gave, it gave us the opportunity to kind of get your head around like, oh my God, how come nobody thought of that? And here’s the big Aha moment. Well now that we’re in, we’re embedding stores and furniture stores and we see people laying on their backs with their legs crossed and their heads on these giant fluffy velveteen pillows that were supplied by the bedding manufacturers, recognizing that there was no process to buy mattresses.
Eugene Alletto: People just jumping from one bed to the next, over and over again on their backs. And what we started to see and when talking to the salespeople, it was really about price and comfort and it was very hard for people to navigate this sort of assortment of 50 to 75 mattresses that all essentially are white rectangles. With that in mind, we know that when people leave the bedding store, they were given like free pillows. Well, when I looked at the pillow, I realized, wait a minute, some of these not only are the pillows garbage and you know, seven, $8 Walmart like pillows. However, the pillow is an important piece too. I know how I sleep and I wouldn’t want to just have some random average pillow when I’m going to spend a thousand or 2000 or $500 on a mattress because the pillow is an intricate part to the overall sleep and comfort.