Founding a company with the express interest of helping others battle ailments you’ve experienced and overcome is a noble gesture that fits Unique Sleep’s beginnings and future goals perfectly. After living with serious back pain for years, owner Chris Whatley embarked on weekly trips to a chiropractor, followed by the realization that his bed was causing many of his ongoing issues. Chris and his wife Irene’s subsequent investigation into the world of mattresses led to a successful business that not only helped him, but many clients as well.
“My life was kind of miserable at the time,” says Chris of the years spent living with pain. “I couldn’t bend or pick up anything and needed a cane. I didn’t believe in chiropractic treatment, but I had nothing to lose at that point. Within two weeks of care the cane was gone and I could touch my toes for the first time in 15 years. I was re-energized.”
After seeing a chiropractor for a few months, the doctor told Chris he shouldn’t still need to be coming three times a week for treatment: Chris would go on a Monday, and by Tuesday or Wednesday, the pain had returned.
“We identified our mattress as the cause for prolonging the pain,” says Chris. “That’s when we started searching for a new mattress.”
It was an experience neither Chris nor Irene particularly enjoyed: the showrooms were void of comfort or cozy experiences, and the sales reps were eager to sell, but didn’t care about Chris’ or Irene’s particular needs.
The couple discovered latex mattresses and their benefits online. There weren’t many options in Canada, so they had one shipped in from the United States. The mattress was zoned on each side, and was still fairly generic, but did help reduce their sleep and pain problems. Irene is five feet tall, and Chris is over six feet. On this mattress she had to sleep further down the bed for proper lumbar support, says Chris. This makes no sense. Still unsatisfied and unable to find a company that provided completely personalized mattress fitting, the couple decided to take matters into their own hands.
Unique Sleep was the result: a completely bespoke, tailored mattress experience, designed and built specifically for each individual. If two people share a bed, each side of the bed is unique to individual needs, says Chris, from head to shoulders, lumbar and hips, all the way down to the feet.
“In the end we said, ‘this is a great idea,’ even though neither of us had any mattress experience,” says Chris. “I come from a manufacturing design and engineering background, and I thought, if we’re experiencing this issue, then others might be too. So we said, ‘we’re going to do something here in Canada, but we’re going to do be different and better.’”
The fact that every person is unique in shape and size, and has very personal comfort preferences helped form the idea that they believe is a first in Canada, and possibly North America. Unique Sleep treats each person individually, creating a personalized, long-lasting latex mattress with movable zones for a perfect sleep experience throughout life
Chris and Irene aren’t aware of anyone else who provides an intensive and personalized service that includes delivery and assembly in the client’s home. The couple also follows up a few weeks after delivery to enquire about satisfaction and to see if changes are needed.
“I’m an industrial designer, and am creative, so when I see something that doesn’t look or work right, I develop a way to resolve it. Some are simple issues, but many people have ailments or problems with their bodies or their ability to sleep well, so with them we may not get it right the first time. We often we have to go back for their hips or shoulders or lumbar zone, and adjust it until it’s perfect. This is what we aim for.”
Chris explains that the only previous mattress experience he and Irene had was sleeping on one. They don’t come from the industry, and they work to stay separate from it as they don’t have that experience. But the work they do is both unique and honest.
“Working with us is not like dealing with a sales rep that’s working on commission to sell anything they can,” says Irene. “The fact that clients come in and speak to an owner – a lot of people find that refreshing and different.”
Unique Sleep has several mattresses of different firmness levels in their Barrie showroom to try. When clients visit the showroom Chris or Irene will collect information from them including height, weight and sleep preferences. This helps determine which showroom mattress to try first. While clients relax on the mattress, their spinal alignment is checked and adjustments are made by unzipping the mattress cover to switch around components until they are comfortable and properly aligned. Pillow selection is also important when considering correct alignment.
“Determining the overall firmness is most important,” says Irene. “Once clients choose their mattress, we take measurements, some with a measuring tape and some with our eyes, looking at their body shape, recording everything, and then we design their mattress.”
Of course, no matter what they think they might like, clients won’t know for sure until they’ve actually had a few nights of sleep on their new mattress.
“We believe it’s impossible for anyone to figure out and choose a mattress in a showroom or online,” says Chris. “It’s not even logical from any standpoint. How do you choose an online mattress with the expectation that it will work for you or you and your partner? We build a mattress tailored to your needs and help you feel comfortable. We deliver it and assemble it in your home, and the real test starts after sleeping on it. We tell our clients: you need to sleep on it to see if it is right. You just bought a tailored mattress like you might buy a tailored suit. If it doesn’t fit right, or doesn’t feel right, it’s our job to make it right. That’s what separates us from all the other traditional mattress stores and retailers across the country.”
The company has a 99 night ‘Perfect Fit Promise’ policy during which clients can make as many changes as required until it feels exactly how they want. If adjustments are required, they can be done without removing the mattress from the home. The mattress cover has a zipper and can be opened, and zones can be moved and adjusted to suit the client’s needs.
“We either visit in person, when possible, or make recommendations over the phone. If they need something softer and we didn’t include it inside the mattress, we build it, deliver it and switch it out. For clients living further away we’ll ship it.”
Although the ideal personalized service is within a couple of hours from the company’s location in Barrie, Ontario, the company does sell across the country, with plans for building greater awareness and expansion in the future.
“The whole concept of a tailored mattress is brand new,” says Chris. “Our biggest challenge is education; most people are unaware of its existence. When someone is exposed or first introduced to a tailored mattress, there’s an education process involved. We have to explain to them what it is. The whole concept is revolutionary.”
Chris and Irene are also aware of how shopping is evolving and changing in general, and are aiming to have a larger online presence, with their trademark personalized service to accompany it, of course. “The concept of mattress shopping has been evolving, but we believe long-term that people will be coming and looking for a personal approach,” says Chris.
Many people have no problem spending a lot of money on a leather couch and big screen television which are only used a couple hours each day. But for whatever reason when it comes to a mattress they will spend far less. Irene adds, “We spend a third of our lives sleeping! It makes no sense to me. Buying a quality mattress might cost more but will be a tremendous investment in your health and society hasn’t caught up with that.”
Unique Sleep’s personalized approach helps show clients the importance of a good night’s sleep, as the company works to resolve any issues clients may have once they get the mattress home and try it out – something bigger stores don’t do. “We try to separate ourselves from the regular mattress industry,” says Irene. “I’m certain there are some great independent retailers, but there are a lot of companies who don’t seem to care about their customers, they only care about commissions.”
Unique Sleep would like to reach the point where people are aware of both the company and the personalized mattress concept in general. In the meantime, the company has its main markets it caters to, says Chris: The frustrated mattress shoppers who have had negative experiences, or are in pain, or have issues that aren’t being resolved. Unique Sleep offers quality latex mattresses that last more than 20 years, made using 100 percent natural latex, organic cotton, and wool, which ties into clients looking for healthy sleep options that eliminate harmful chemicals and memory foam.
“Sleep is one of the most important parts of life,” says Chris. “You eat, you move, and you sleep. Those are the most important parts of health. With that in mind, a mattress is absolutely critical to that process.”
It’s that motto that has continued to propel Unique Sleep forward, providing superior client service across the board, standing out from the numerous competitors that simply can’t offer comparable personalized service.
“Couples often have to compromise on a mattress,” says Chris. “We’re here to say, ‘there’s no reason to compromise, ever.’ Each person is catered to individually. We’ve actually helped couples who haven’t slept in the same bed for years do so again.”
That personal client relationship is something both Chris and Irene are very proud of and will continue to prioritize, whether they’re serving clients in their city, two hours away, or across the country. The entire concept of choosing and purchasing a mattress is personal, says Chris, and when Unique Sleep is invited into a client’s home, that’s a statement of trust and of building relationships.
“We never sat down and said, ‘let’s sell mattresses,’” says Irene. “Our goal has always been to help people sleep better and have a healthy experience. Our reward is someone coming back and talking about their amazing experience after buying our mattress. This happens often. We change lives one at a time!”