“Effective Executives” Series with Beantown Bedding Founders, Kirsten Lambert & Joan Ripple

Here at PerkettPR, we are not only avid Red Sox fans, but many of our employees are proud to call Beantown our “home.”  This week’s interview is with the founders of a  local Massachusetts-based company, Beantown Bedding. Beantown Bedding, LLC was founded in December 2011 by Joan Ripple and Kirsten Lambert, two mothers of college students. The company is located in Hingham, MA, a suburb of Boston (“Beantown”).

The concept behind Beantown Bedding was to offer a solution to busy college students who had little time to launder their sheets.  Beantown Bedding developed a line of linens made from a fiber called Tencel, derived from Eucalyptus trees, which you can simply toss into a compost bin or trash can when they’re dirty. The sheets are both compostable and biodegradable and available for purchase on their website and at Amazon.com.

We caught up with the founders and asked them more about where the idea came from and what they have planned next.

 

Please tell us a little bit about Beantown Bedding and where the idea came from.

We met when our oldest children began dating in high school.  When they each went off to college, we quickly learned that they, like most college students, just didn’t take time to wash their sheets.  The health and hygiene implications were simply gross.  We wanted to find a way for them to have clean sheets without the hassle of laundering. Essentially, we decided to rethink laundry.  We joked about sending them the rolls of paper sheets found in a doctor’s office.

 

We decided to take the idea seriously and began searching for material that would be both comfortable and disposable in an environmentally responsible manner.  Easier said than done!  We identified the material we liked, organized focus groups with students and mothers, and began to explore sources of supply. Once we had a product, we conducted product testing with students from 22 universities over a two-month period.  The findings indicated we had a winner.

 

When you were researching what type of materials to use in your products, where did you turn for information and how long did the process take?

The better part of a year was spent researching the market, fabrics, and supply options. Initially, our secondary research focused on sustainable textiles through sources such as fiber and fabric manufacturers, trade organizations and publications,  trade shows and published white papers and articles.  Our first fabric choice didn’t perform well in the qualitative research stage, so we continued the search until we discovered a fiber called TENCEL®, which offered the properties we wanted… softness, strength, and compostability. Lenzing, the manufacturer of TENCEL®, was instrumental in helping us establish our supply chain and has been tremendously supportive as we’ve grown. In fact, they recently hosted us as part of their Innovation Platform at the Home Textiles Sourcing Expo in New York City.

 

How did your previous education or career prepare you to be a business owner?

While we both have degrees and backgrounds in business, we feel it’s the versatile skills we learned as mothers and volunteer leaders in our communities which best prepared us for our entrepreneurial duties.  Like all entrepreneurs, we wear many hats and must be resourceful. Joan’s Management and Human Resources background nicely complement Kirsten’s marketing and research experience. For everything else, we either learn quickly, consult with experts, or cover the gaps with outsourcing.

 

One extremely valuable resource was the team of graduate students from Stanford University who worked on our business as a class project this past spring.  After presenting our pitch at a competition for startup companies at Stanford last April, we were selected by one of the teams. It was one of many tremendous opportunities we’ve had in bringing bedsox to market.

 

You are passionate about the environment and sustainability especially with your product offerings. What else are you passionate about?

Yes, sustainability is a central theme in our messaging and we’re delighted to have just received USDA certification as 100% Biobased®.   That said, we really love college kids!  Their energy, enthusiasm, work ethic, and desire to make a difference in the world is inspiring.  Our own college kids are the basis for our story, but we’ve worked closely with many others as we’ve researched and gotten to know our primary target market.

 

Our dogs are also an integral part of our story. Since our earliest conversations about the concept, the local dog park has been the venue for many of our strategy sessions. We each have yellow Labrador Retrievers – Fenway and Sunshine, who receive an undue amount of attention since we sent our youngest children off to college. (For the record, the younger kids also dated!)

 

What is next for Beantown Bedding in 2013?

College kids aren’t the only time-starved consumers who can enjoy the convenience of laundry-free linens. We will soon roll out additional sizes of sheet sets to serve markets such as overnight camps, vacation homes and travel.   Though the retail launch was only weeks ago, via our ecommerce site (www.BeantownBedding.com) and Amazon, our wholesale business took off before we received our first inventory.   Universities nationwide began purchasing bedsox this summer for their overnight conferences and events.  As a result, our next steps are to generate awareness for bedsox in both the retail and business sectors.  Fortunately, Beantown Bedding has received quite a bit of media attention in recent weeks to convince consumers to rethink laundry.

 

When Is Your Product Ready to Launch?

Space Shuttle LaunchMany of our clients are passionate entrepreneurs and CEOs with brilliant ideas and products. Our role (or process for?) in bringing products to market begins as soon as we engage with a prospect. Below are five of the typical questions we ask each of our clients before we set a launch date and begin planning. If you are thinking of launching in the near term, ask yourself these questions to ensure you are fully prepared, before you make the investment in a launch and open the flood gates on PR activities:

  1. What is the value you offer to customers/users that no one else can provide?
    When launching any product the media and influencers covering the market will want to know what makes you unique. Be sure to do your market research and have at least 2-3 differentiators you can point to that set you apart from the competition.
  2. Who are your competitors? (Note: everyone has them)
    Competition comes in many forms. Direct competitors like Microsoft and Apple are to each other for example, and indirect competitors that are in a position to capture your market. These may be smaller players entering the space, with similar products, or larger players like Google that have a potential to erode your market share with a future offering currently in development. Reporters will ask and if you don’t have competitors in mind, they will find them for you. Be sure to know your position in the market and defend it with your differentiators.
  3. Have you beta tested? What references/user benefits/highlights can you talk about?
    Reporters and influencers will be interested in hearing about your product from your company spokesperson, but they will want proof that your product serves a real customer need. Hearing actual use cases from your customers adds needed credibility and increases your chances for positive coverage. Be sure to build positive relationships with your customers and have 2-3 in your back pocket that you can offer to the media as needed.
  4. Do you have an articulate spokesperson?
    Media training is an essential component to ensuring your launch messages are heard and understood. Be sure your company executives are well trained and prepared for media interviews and can convincingly articulate key messages concisely, enthusiastically and consistently. If not, consider holding a messaging session to refine messages, followed by media training for your key spokesperson. This should take place well in advance of the launch date.
  5. Can you confidently demo the product to media?No matter how articulate your spokesperson is, if the product has bugs in it and isn’t ready for primetime, your media coverage will certainly suffer as a result. Be sure to build a solid demo, highlighting the strongest features of your product, well in advance of launching. If your product is difficult to demo in a short time frame, consider building a product video demo/or screencast that can be sent to media to insert into their posts or articles.

Were these tips helpful? Are there any other questions you would add to the list? We look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Credit: cosmobc