Hopping into the bed market

Jun 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

It’s an obvious jump from selling a $599 down comforter to selling a $12,463 hand-built Tudor bed. At least it was for Freeport, ME-based Cuddledown of Maine. Founded in 1973 as a marketer of high-quality bedding, the $20 million cataloger has within the past three years expanded its product line to include bedroom furniture.

But while Cuddledown president Chris Bradley says that the new merchandise is “doing well,” he admits that branching out into a different product line has its drawbacks.

For one thing, Cuddledown had to expand its merchandising department and send people farther afield to source product. “There are new trade shows to go to, new vendors to meet with,” Bradley says. And the new products, which are made by outside manufacturers, have thinner margins than Cuddledown’s private-label comforters and pillows.

What’s more, “the logistics of fulfillment is a whole different issue now,” Bradley says. “‘White-glove handling’ [personally setting up the furniture in the customer's home] is one of the challenges. We’ve hired employees who have experience with that stuff, but we’ve mostly been figuring it out ourselves.”

Then there’s the drop-shipping issue. Depending on where the furniture is coming from, a buyer’s order can take up to eight weeks to fulfill. This waiting period can “short-circuit the customer’s impulse to buy,” Bradley notes. “It’s like a cooling-off period, during which buyer’s remorse can set it.”

Others paved the way While Cuddledown’s move parallels similar expansions into furniture made by other catalogers, among them The Company Store, Pottery Barn, L.L. Bean, and Coldwater Creek, Bradley denies that competitive positioning was an impetus for expanding the merchandise line. “It all comes from the responsiveness of the customer,” he insists.

Clearly, however, these other catalogs have helped pave Cuddledown’s way. In fact, the continued success of competing mailers is to Cuddledown’s benefit, Bradley says. “We’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t see Coldwater Creek and Pottery Barn as our competition, but what they’re doing is helping improve the market for buying furnishings over the phone.”