Innovation: SmartWake alarm clock
Milwaukee-based Verlo is no longer just a mattress company, but also is focused on developing new products and services that help people sleep better.
“Verlo’s very committed now to not just selling mattresses – that will always be a core part of our business – but also being innovators in the category of sleep; that’s where we see the future of the business going,” said Kathy Thornton-Bias, Verlo president and chief operating officer.
She said the mattress industry has seen a resurgence, partially driven by consumers, “but also kind of changing how we’ve historically done business.”
“There’s been kind of an evolution happening in what was typically considered a very commodity-based product and now mattresses, the product, and sleep, the idea, are actually very popular, not just with consumers but with investors,” she said.
A new retail concept, a revamped e-commerce platform, a focus on sleep wellness and shipping mattresses in boxes are all examples of how the company is shifting its focus. But perhaps no example suggests Verlo is going beyond its role as traditional mattress retailer more than the introduction of what the company describes as the world’s smartest alarm clock.
The device, called SmartWake, is a small disc about the size of a hand that is placed under a mattress and connected to a power source and to a smartphone.
It monitors things like movement, respiratory rate and heart rate. A user programs the timeframe during which he or she would like to wake up and the device sets off the alarm when the data suggests the user is sleeping the lightest.
“Sleep is a big deal and waking up at the right time can really help propel your day,” said Scott Baitinger, Verlo chief marketing officer.
SmartWake was developed with Israel-based monitor maker EarlySense. Verlo designed the user experience and interface on the SmartWake app, while EarlySense provided the hardware and the back-end technology.
Verlo initially began its search for a sleep monitoring partner at the International Sleep Products Association trade show.
“A lot of the stuff when we started a year-and-a-half ago on this path was really early stage development,” Baitinger said.
EarlySense’s technology has primarily been used in hospitals and health care facilities, and the company was just venturing into consumer products when Verlo connected with it.
Baitinger said that background gave the company confidence in the partnership.
“While our device is not FDA cleared, because it’s not a medical device, it was created by someone who has done that a lot, which is very valuable, because I think at the core, you need the confidence that the device is collecting the right data,” he said.
It can be used by multiple people in the same bed, although each person needs his or her own sensor, and also sorts through animals sharing the bed.
“It basically takes out all the bad data and just leaves you with a pure stream of data,” Baitinger said.
The device sells for $199, which Baitinger said is less expensive than similar technology from other manufacturers.
“I think there is an opportunity because, ultimately, if this can make you feel better, just waking up smarter and actually being confident in the data that’s waking you up, you see it pretty quickly,” he said.
In addition to developing a sleep monitor and alarm clock, Verlo also is expanding into shipping mattresses in boxes. The Verlo-To-Go program compresses the mattress, flipping and rolling it to a size at which it can be shipped across the country for $45 instead of the $300 it would typically cost, said Tom Metz, vice president of product development at Verlo.
“It’s just incredibly economical to ship mattresses in boxes,” he said.
Many other mattress makers have launched similar offerings, partially in response to startups like Casper. But Metz said the technology to compress mattresses has been around for roughly a decade. It’s been within the past few years that the flipping and rolling has been added.
“They’re a significant percentage of the industry,” he said of box-shipped mattresses. “They’ve captured the attention of the industry, for sure. No one believes that they’ll ever take over, because people always want to try before you buy, always, so brick-and-mortar stores like this are never going away.”
Verlo’s model comes with a zipper and the ability to adjust and exchange foam pieces inside the mattress, giving the user some of the customizability on which the company prides its factory stores. Metz said the company has started to push for more innovations in the past few years.
“We’ve really ramped that up in the last three years, since (Marcus Investments) has taken over the company. We’re really pushing the envelope a lot more and really incorporating some of the ideas that we’ve been thinking about,” Metz said.
For now, the Verlo-To-Go concept is limited to foam mattresses, but Metz said it is possible to shrink spring models down as well and the company hopes to launch that later this year.