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Its second store will open in Chicago's River
Sleep Sherpa opened its first showroom in 2016 in Minneapolis. North neighborhood in late November. (Sleep Sherpa)
Lauren ZumbachContact Reporter
Leesa, Saatva, Helix, purple, Tuft & Needle, Yogabed, GhostBed, Oso, Bear — staying up to speed on the dozens of companies trying to sell you a mattress online could keep you up all night.
A new mattress store in Chicago wants to make it easier for shoppers to test drive at least a handful of them.
As Mattress Firm shuts down more than 200 stores, including several in the Chicago area, the creator of mattress review website Sleep Sherpa is preparing to open a 2,500-square foot showroom for online mattress brands in late November in the city’s River North neighborhood.
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Ben Trapskin, the Minneapolis-based founder of Sleep Sherpa, started reviewing mattresses and other sleep products about three years ago. Frequent moves in the previous couple years required mattress purchases, and the shopping experience left him unimpressed.
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While many of the online-only mattress brands offered risk-free trials, returns were still a hassle, and products could be tough to compare online, he said.
Trapskin had no intention of getting into retail. But as his audience grew, he got the idea for a store where customers could try the different brands for themselves. He left his job as a librarian to focus on Sleep Sherpa, which makes money on commissions from mattress brands when visitors make a purchase. Trapskin opened his first bricks-and-mortar showroom in late 2016 in Minneapolis.
“This … hopefully helps (people) make the right decision the first time,” he said.
At the second location in River North, shoppers will be able to test mattresses from brands including DreamCloud, Nectar Sleep, Leesa, Brentwood Home, Luft, WinkBeds and Snuggle-pedic, Trapskin said.
“We do cycle in some newer (brands) to see how customers react and get rid of some that don’t resonate,” he said. “It’s a kind of curation of mattresses people are digging.”
Most mattresses won’t be available to take home immediately and will need to be ordered online. Trapskin plans to start stocking one popular brand, Nectar Sleep, about a month after the showroom opens and may add others if space permits. The store will also have pillows, mattress protectors, organic cotton sheets and adjustable beds.
At least some of Mattress Firm’s woes have been blamed on having too many bricks-and-mortar stores. But where that chain tried to use a big footprint to make itself the go-to mattress seller in a city, Trapskin said Sleep Sherpa’s concept is novel enough to make its store a destination.
Trapskin isn’t the only one who has realized some shoppers aren’t crazy about splurging on a new mattress without seeing what it feels like first. Only about 35 percent of the population is open to buying a mattress sight unseen, according to Wedbush Securities' consumer surveys.
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Earlier this year, mattress-maker Casper, which began as an online-only brand, announced it would open 200 stores within the next three years. The company has stores in Chicago’s Fulton Market district and at west suburban Oakbrook Center. Other primarily online mattress brands have opened showrooms or temporary pop-ups or partnered with other retailers willing to carry their products in stores.
But Sleep Sherpa appears to have the widest variety in a single location. One you won’t find: Casper.
The company sued Trapskin in 2016, alleging Sleep Sherpa’s reviews favored brands that gave him commissions on sales through the website. Casper was among the companies that provided commissions before it ended its affiliate relationship in 2015, according to the lawsuit. Trapskin declined to comment on the lawsuit, which has been settled.
Sleep Sherpa’s website still drives most of the business, but Minnesota accounts for a disproportionate share of sales, which Trapskin chalks up to the store’s presence.
If Sleep Sherpa’s model succeeds in Chicago, Trapskin said he’d be interested in expanding further.
Trapskin said he chose the name Sleep Sherpa because he thinks of himself as a guide, like the Sherpas who led mountaineers up Himalayan peaks.
“I went into this not as a salesman, but as a guide,” he said. “It’s been a journey for me too. I’m not the sleep guru, but I’m on a journey and want to share what I learned.”
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