Back in 2009, entrepreneurs Irwin “Sandy” Pearl and Tom Williams attended a chiropractor trade show, searching for their next big thing. After learning that patients often ask doctors for mattress recommendations, the pair started a made-to-order mattress company with a distinct marketing strategy: Chiropractors would sell the beds.
“If a doctor recommends it, it must be good for me,’’ said Pearl, 77, explaining the rationale behind the doctor-driven sales approach that eventually expanded to include other practitioners. The business partners called their Long Beach-based firm BioPosture Inc.
But their foray into the bed business was hardly restful. Their business model turned out to have a serious flaw: Many doctors didn’t have the time or interest in being mattress salespeople.
“A chiropractor does 100 to 200 adjustments a day, so they literally have their hands full,” said Williams, 73.
In 2016 the two called it quits from BioPosture Inc., and in 2017 they formed Sleep BioLogics, a new mattress firm that markets its product under the brand name BioPosture. They also went to Plan B and launched an e-commerce site to sell directly to the public. But since the company remains a doctor-recommended brand, health care providers can still sell BioPosture, which is crafted to resonate with consumers who follow holistic medical principles.
BioPosture’s mattresses and bed toppers, as well as its pillows, are made with Celliant, a licensed, patented fabric technology that the company claims repairs minor aches and pains by increasing blood flow throughout the body. In addition, Sleep BioLogics has zeroed in on some consumers' concerns about carcinogenic chemicals in fire retardants by securing government approval to omit those chemicals for customers sensitive to such substances. But since the company's fire-retardant-free offerings are considered medical devices, consumers need a doctor’s prescription or chiropractic letter of medical necessity to purchase them.
And therein lies the firm’s Plan C: Sleep BioLogics’ website features a nationwide network of some 1,200 doctors, including about 80 on Long Island, who are amenable to writing scripts for fire-retardant-chemical-free beds without an in-person appointment. Customers can also get a prescription from their own health care providers.
Depending on the custom mattress’ size and density, prices range from $1,200 for a twin to $2,400 for a king, with network doctors receiving referral fees ranging from $200 to $400 per unit.
While Williams said the firm has never encountered a problem in New York or elsewhere regarding doctors receiving referral fees, Sleep BioLogics recommends they check with their state associations to see whether such remuneration is permissible. Doctors can also buy the beds at wholesale, resell them at any price that doesn’t exceed what they cost on the web and turn a profit as high as $500 on a mattress sale, said Williams.
According to Bruce Bachenheimer, a clinical management professor and the executive director of the Entrepreneurship Lab at Pace University, enlisting doctors to drive online sales is not a unique marketing approach. Getroman.com, for instance, connects consumers with its online network’s doctors so that they can purchase pharmaceuticals including Viagra.
“For price and convenience, more things are going online,” Bachenheimer said.
Although Ron Greenstone, CEO of Greenstone Marketing in Port Jefferson, said he has “a problem” with a company compensating doctors for their recommendations, Pearl said his firm’s business model presents no ethical issues as long as the product supports the treatment the doctor is providing to the patient.
John Gehnrich, a Rockville Centre chiropractor, displays a BioPosture bed and the company's brochures in his office. Gehnrich said that he uses everything he sells to patients, including essential oils, supplements and an air purifier system in addition to Sleep BioLogics' mattresses.
“I’m not a salesy, pushy kind of guy, but people ask me all the time, ‘Doc, do you think my mattress is causing me a problem?’ ” he said. “Once people lay on it, it’s a done deal.”
Sleep BioLogics sold 40 percent of its offerings last year to chiropractors and their staffers at wholesale prices to facilitate their personal use of the beds and recommendations. Its revenue grew by 30 percent, from $525,00 in 2017 to $650,000 in 2018, said Pearl.
He and Williams are the concern’s only employees. Both have ad agency and startup experience. Pearl’s background also includes opening the U.S. market for an Italian company that sells a bed that comes in a box, a design concept embedded into BioPosture, which also is sold in a box and takes shape as it unfolds.
Sleep BioLogics uses a Massachusetts manufacturer to produce its mattresses, bed toppers and pillows.
Despite Sleep BioLogics’ lean overhead, the two septuagenarians are thinking big — but with an exit strategy in mind.
Keen on growing the firm's doctor network to 30,000 in the next five years, Williams said they're seeking angel funding to build an “A-team of young people who can manage the company into the future,” take it public or sell it.
At a glance
Company: Sleep BioLogics Inc.
Founders: Irwin Pearl, Tom Williams
Headquarters: Long Beach
Prices: $1,200 — $2,400
2018 revenue: $650,000
Network doctors: 1,200
Units sold to date: 1,300