Most Americans spend about a third of their day in bed, and yet few have a go-to brand for sheets. Paul Saunders wants to change that.
After launching as a one-man operated e-commerce site from Saunders's garage in Evansville, Indiana in late 2009, eLuxurySupply.com is now the fourth fastest growing company in America. Last year, the company posted more than $30 million in sales--a three-year growth rate of 23,619 percent.
Selling luxury sheets was not a novel idea. In fact, Saunders says it was "the worst idea ever." But after spending hard-earned money for a new set for his wife that turned out to be poor quality, he knew he could do better. And for an ex-Marine officer and Naval Academy graduate, that meant working harder than anyone else to achieve it.
Saunders spent more than two years working on the site, originally named Exceptionalsheets.com, before he was able to quit his corporate management job in 2012. "Products started taking over the entire house before we were able to move to an 8,000 square foot warehouse in 2013," Saunders says. "As the business grew, we were always checking the weather to see how much of the parking lot we could use."
And those products quickly expanded beyond just sheets: Unlike upstarts in the mattress industry like Casper and Saatva, which only sell two or three products, eLuxurySupply.com now sells hundreds of items under the bed, bath, home, and garden categories (including mattresses). And despite starting out with a direct-to-consumer model, it now also has a growing wholesale business with a presence in hotel chains like Marriott, as well as government contracts for military barracks.
"Paul has a great sense of timing," says Indiana Small Business Development Center regional director Kim Howard, who has worked as an adviser to Saunders's company. "He really knew that the mattress industry was ready for some kind of a shake up." To compete in the industry, eLuxurySupply.com acquired a majority stake in "bed in a box" memory foam mattress manufacturer Sleepmade, based in Mississippi.
Making It Big
ELuxurySupply.com separated itself further from e-commerce competitors in early 2014, when it became a manufacturer, after acquiring its largest mattress pad supplier in Tennessee, Regency Pad.
"We got into the [manufacturing] business because we had to," eLuxurySupply.com general manager Jeff Cox says. "It was a product that was selling so well we couldn't source it fast enough. And so, in short, we took control of our supply chain."
In the U.S. home and garden direct-to-consumer industry, Saunders says they are the first to have in-house manufacturing: "It's a big part of our success," he says. "Manufacturers haven't really figured out how to build organically in-house, and e-commerce companies haven't figured out manufacturing."
Supporting Fast Growth
Despite the higher capital requirements of entering the manufacturing business, eLuxurySupply.com has continued to post growing sales. Surprisingly, it has managed to do so without turning to angel or venture funding. Saunders has recently received venture capital offers, but securing financing in the early days of the company was not as easy: He was turned down by 10 banks before finally receiving a loan for the first warehouse space.
"A small, family-owned bank ended up coming around and gave us a character loan," Saunders recounts of his meeting with Illinois-based Legence Bank. The bank extended him a $250,000 Small Business Administration-backed loan. A year later, to help fuel its international expansion, the company secured an additional $2.9 million loan, also backed by the SBA. The company has since expanded to the U.K., Canada, and Europe. It'll soon launch in Japan.
Saunders says the company's definition of success stems from the original 1806 Webster's dictionary: a generous, prosperous, and kind person. "We take care of each other and try to do right by our customers and our community," he says. Cox, who joined eLuxurySupply.com earlier this year, says that mentality is felt throughout the company.
"If you work here, it's because you have a higher purpose than just selling sheets," Cox says.
Still, Saunders's Marine background also begets high expectations for his team to work hard and work smart. That's made the company's culture fast-paced, naturally--but it has also made hiring the right people imperative, says Cox.
"The thing about e-commerce is that it changes so rapidly. In six months, it will be different. So we're trying to build a team that is highly adaptable that can continue to learn," he adds.