Scott Paladini spent much of his youth in suburban New Jersey helping out with whatever ventures his father got into. At one point, he found his way to Rockaway Mattress, a company where Dad was consulting. "I'd work in the warehouse, unloading trailers full of mattresses. I worked in some of the stores all through school," Paladini says. Over the years, during breaks from high school and college, he sold mattresses to all of his friends.
After a post-college stint in finance in New York City, Paladini wanted to move home to be closer to family. At the same time, he felt the call of entrepreneurship, so he decided to open his own mattress store in Bernardsville, New Jersey. It was a logical move, since his family was familiar with the business and it was an affluent area--Paladini figured his high-end and organic mattresses would sell well there. Hibernate Bedding was successful enough that after two years, in 2014, Paladini opened up a second store 40 miles east in Hoboken.
But, that same year, he noticed something was happening outside of the brick-and-mortar world. In the midst of the direct-to-consumer boom, which Warby Parker had helped usher in a few years earlier, a lot of other products formerly seen as "try before you buy" items were being sold online. Beds were among them. Casper raised nearly $2 million in January 2014, and sold $1 million in mattresses in its first month.
Paladini wanted in. He figured he could dip a toe in e-commerce while continuing to run his profitable stores. He built a website and developed a unique, American-made mattress to differentiate his company from an increasingly crowded field. Although he hired no new employees for more than a year, the strategy worked: In 2018, Bear Mattress had more than $20 million in sales--a 13,480 percent three-year growth rate that earned the company the No. 7 spot on 2019's Inc. 5000, the annual list of the fastest-growing private businesses in the United States.
To separate his products from those of other upstarts that were adopting the mattress-in-a-box approach, Paladini looked to the changing industry. He'd seen that a lot of manufacturers were developing new technologies, including foams infused with copper or graphene that could cool the bedding to make it better for sleep. There was also a fabric innovation called Celliant that had just been approved by the FDA for medical applications. It was essentially more than a dozen crushed minerals woven into fabric that transferred body heat into infrared waves. Bear's website boasted the technology would "help you sleep cooler, recover quicker, and wake up energized." (Celliant's maker, Hologenix, is a past Inc. 5000 honoree.)
Using both of these technologies, Paladini enlisted manufacturers around the country to create mattresses and covers. Riffing off his stores' name, Hibernate Bedding, he called the new mattress company Bear. It launched at the beginning of 2015, selling direct-to-consumer online and in Hibernate stores. Though it didn't sell $1 million in mattresses in a month like Casper had that April, the business did reach the million-dollar mark in its first year.
Paladini was pleased with the response but also knew it wasn't totally sustainable. He hadn't hired anyone yet to work on his new venture, even as it started to overtake his old one. "I was still doing all the customer service," he says. "I had my cellphone number listed on the site."
Things came to a head during Presidents' Day in 2016. Paladini knew mattress sales tracked with holiday weekends, when people were out shopping with their families--but didn't predict the huge spike online. Bear sold as many mattresses in five days as it had the previous year. His supply chain wouldn't be able to catch up for months.
Paladini turned the mattress stores over to his father so he could concentrate on Bear. "It was a huge leap of faith" to pivot entirely to internet sales while his stores were doing fine, he says. "But it paid off." Now he has a dozen employees based out of a Hoboken office that's a five-minute walk from his home.
Customers come to Bear's website through search results, as well as from paid and influencer social marketing. The company has a partnership with a self-proclaimed "Mvmt Ninja," Travis Brewer, who has more than 100,000 Instagram followers and who performs a combination of yoga and acrobatics with his partner on mattresses. Several other sports and fitness celebrities have endorsed Bear too. The startup's customers span a range of age groups, and the majority are women.
In a field rife with competition, Paladini is confident Bear can continue its growth because of the way he's distinguished it from the pack. "When someone does their research about other mattress brands, we do a very good job about educating them on our website," he says. "We inform people about the performance materials we use, and we have 10,000 five-star reviews. It's a lot of social proof from our customers."