As the founder of South Africa’s first and only comfort adjustable mattress – Sloom – Rudo has learned many lessons along the way.
The innovative ‘mattress in a box’ brand boasts a service offering that has been catered to satisfy all feedback received from customers.
He has learned the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur, growing the company to 18 employees in two short years, after four years of operation.
Experience of being a sales rep in the mattress industry, producing quality products, a loan, and a modern approach to marketing, have led the company to a space that Rudo could have only dreamt of.
Here, he shares his more prized lessons to date, which you can take with you on your entrepreneurial journey:
Believe in a concept and build off it
Rudo’s first and most important lesson. Having a strong concept that you wholeheartedly believe in is the most important lesson for success! You are your very first customer, and the most critical one at that.
When you are so incredibly invested in your product offering, you will ensure – without a doubt in your mind – that it will be successful.
“I spent a few years designing and developing the product to a point where I was confident with the quality and design. I needed to create a product that I can proudly put my name on.
I created a product that I was proud of for friends and family to invest in. I slept well at night, knowing that they would wake up feeling refreshed.” says Rudo.
Learning creates earning
It’s important for the founder of a business to become an expert in their field, to know their product backwards – this is done in many ways.
From experience to research – everything you do to grow and understand your industry has a purpose and a lesson.
“My career in the mattress industry started as a salesperson in a bed shop and I soon realized how important sales skills were to further my position in the industry.
I made it my mission to learn the jargon and technical specs of the products so that I can accurately guide the customer to make an informed decision.
I was never one for sales theatrics or marketing gimmick to persuade someone to buy. I always prided myself in my knowledge of the products and this allowed me to advance to securing a job at a mattress factory as the Foam Plant Manager. My time was spent researching and developing new foam formulas.” says Rudo.
Lucky for us, with this experience and in-depth knowledge, he was able to create South Africa’s first and only comfort adjustable bed!
Marketing an online shop vs a brick-and-mortar shop
Not only innovative in product design, but back in 2016 E-Commerce weren’t as prominent as they are now – this was a huge step in the right direction from founder of Sloom, Rudo.
However, being an online-exclusive brand meant that it came with it’s own challenges and uncharted territory. “We learned (very quickly) that marketing is an essential sales tool. Without marketing, it’s like having an underground showroom that no one knows about, the only way to get visitors is to guide and make people aware of its location.
It’s the same with a website. Sloom has an aggressive marketing plan and sales strategy, and we are slowly and surely getting our name out there!” adds Rudo.
Back in 2018, when they were still establishing themselves as a brand, they poured all their budget into developing the perfect mattress and unfortunately – ran out of cash flow.
“We were in a tricky predicament as we had stock to sell, but we did not have any money to spend on marketing. Without any sales, we could not generate funds for marketing, a vicious circle for a new business owner.” he says.
They proceeded to take out a loan on Rudo’s wife and business partner, Susan Kemp’s, name in order to drive marketing and in turn, sales.
“We spent the loan solely on marketing which was the catalyst to get the ball rolling and generate the much-needed sales.” Susan adds.
Rudo’s top marketing tips include:
- Invest in really good product photography and graphic design. You want to showcase your brand in the most aesthetic way possible, especially with an online shop. Ensure you brief your photographer to include: product, lifestyle as well as detail shots.
- Invest in social media advertising, but truly understand your target audience and key messaging.
- Paid media is an effective tool to expand your brand reach, drive traffic and ultimately sales. Linking hands with the correct media partner that understands your market will help create awareness, reaching new audiences whilst driving your brand message with existing clientele.
- A lot of new business comes from referrals; ensure your customers love you enough that a referral comes naturally (see lesson 1).
- PR is a strong driver for authentic marketing and communications. Ensure your messaging is coherent and stays consistent. In our case, we have an unique opportunity in that our product offering and brand story is one-of-a-kind and proudly South African!
Local really is lekker
Investing in local suppliers was a no-brainer, but it certainly came with its challenges. “The Sloom design required a few unique elements that the mattress industry in South Africa wasn’t geared up to manufacture cost-effectively, such as the compression element of our product offering.
In addition, from the zip covers to the flat-pack bases, local brands couldn’t manufacture according to my specifications and with order quantities that a young brand couldn’t afford..” says Rudo.
They stuck to their vision of creating a locally manufactured brand where we can control the quality and keep costs to a minimum, to ensure this doesn’t trickle down to consumers.
Having invested in local suppliers and manufacturing has proven to be invaluable during times when the international supply chain is disrupted and volatile. “We aim to stay positive and contribute to building and investing back into South Africa,” he adds.
Your business is as strong as the people in it
For the first four years since they launched back in 2016, Rudo was the sole employee of Sloom – from customer care to sales and all the admin in-between. In the last two years, they have grown to a team of 18, operating from their factory in Cape Town.
“As someone who had to fulfill most of the roles in the company, I have a good grasp of the ins and outs and what it takes to run the business smoothly.
I trust and invest in my team, without them we wouldn’t be able to offer the level of service that we do. Being involved and on the floor allows me to keep a close tab on the quality of service we provide for our customers.
From my experience, this is what’s lacking in the online space where there’s a disconnect which results in a poor customer experience.” says Rudo.
Make sure your team is as invested in your product and brand offering as you are in them. “Collectively as a unit, you are much stronger than you could have ever imagined!” he adds.
Your network is your greatest asset
“As a young entrepreneur in the e-commerce space, my biggest asset was my network within the mattress industry. It’s one thing to start an online shop and white-label your products.
It’s a completely different ball game when developing your product and brand. Luckily, my years in the industry working with mattress reps from around the country allowed me to have in-depth knowledge to effectively source the best materials for our products.” says Rudo.
Listen to your customers
“At Sloom, we continually strive to better our products, so keeping a close ear to the ground for feedback is essential.” says Rudo.
Due to the nature of operating from a virtual showroom, customers were concerned that they were unable to test Sloom’s mattresses regardless of being able to change the layers to their desired firmness and comfort levels.
“We made a bold move of offering the 100-night trial, which includes a full refund if customers aren’t satisfied with the product. We were the first South African mattress brand to offer this service.” adds Rudo.
Customers shared feedback that they wanted faster delivery times so Sloom made it happen! “We added a warehouse in Johannesburg and the option of express delivery which was made possible when we invested in a few Sloom vans.
This allowed us to schedule delivery with customers. Over the years, we have kept improving and fixing any shortcomings in our service offering and believe that we have the best service a mattress brand offers in South Africa.” says Susan.
Entering uncharted territories is never a comfortable space to be in, however growth happens when you are uncomfortable!
As an entrepreneur-duo and Sloom’s most critical customers, Rudo and Susan Kemp delivered a solution to a problem they’ve experienced first hand.
Now, 6 years later, many challenges, lessons and more innovation along the way, has proven that when you have an excellent product, an exceptional team and a plan in place – that you can achieve great success.
“We are so incredibly excited for what the road ahead looks like for us; we are passionate about offering South Africa an incredible night’s sleep – night after night – and it’s our customers’ comfort that drives us to develop our range and product offering every single day”. Says Rudo.
“Being an entrepreneur is no small feat and it comes with a lot of hard work and bootstrapping. It’s not glamorous, but when your end goal is so much larger than you, it makes every minute worth the work.” he adds.
Featured Image: Rudo Kemp, Founder, Sloom
Don’t miss important articles during the week. Subscribe to techbuild.africa weekly digest for updates