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As the founder of Sloom, South Africa’s first and only comfort-adjustable mattress, former salesperson Rudo Kemp has grown his one-man show into an exciting start-up now employing 18 people.
“I spent a few years designing and developing the product to a point where I was confident with the quality and design,” says Kemp. Although his start-up is now six years old, he’s had his fair share of no’s before turning the tide.
“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 Kemp.
Today, Sloom boasts a simplified buying experience. Each mattress is compressed, shipped in a box, and delivered straight to your door. Testament to the excellent quality of the foams used, the mattress fully recovers after you take it out of its packaging.
Kemp shares some of the top lessons learnt in his entrepreneurial journey.
Believe in a concept and build off it
Having a strong concept that you wholeheartedly believe in is the most important lesson for success, he says. 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 – that it will be successful.
Learning creates earning
It’s important for the start-up founder to become an expert in their field, and 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 realised how important sales skills were to further my position in the industry,” says Kemp.
“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.”
Marketing an online shop
Back in 2016 when Sloom started out, e-commerce wasn’t as prominent as it is today. This was a huge step in the right direction for Kemp. However, being an online-exclusive brand meant that it came with its own challenges and uncharted territory.
“We learned 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 Kemp.
Also, when Sloom was still being established 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 the name of Kemp’s wife and business partner, Susan Kemp, in order to drive marketing and 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.
Keep suppliers local
Investing in local suppliers was a no-brainer, but it certainly came with its challenges.
Kemp says, “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.”
They stuck to their vision of creating a locally manufactured brand where they could 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 its Sloom’s launch, Kemp was the sole employee – 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.”
Listen to your customers
At Sloom, they continually strive to better their products, so keeping a close ear to the ground for feedback is essential, believes Kemp.
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.”
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, delivered a solution to a problem they’ve experienced first-hand.
Now, six years later, many challenges, lessons learnt and more innovation along the way, Kemp declares, “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.”