Mlily – a whole new ball game
Want a better life? Buy a better bed. Catalysed by the online disruptor brands, the mattress sector has been quick to tap into growing consumer demand for a good night’s sleep. According to Mlily’s vice-president of global marketing and PR, Chris Thomas, the message should be about performance, not just product – but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a dream line-up on your side, writes Paul Farley …
Mlily entered the UK in 2015, and made its presence known by enlisting the help of its biggest football team, Manchester United. The company’s turnover has doubled each year since, says Chris, who has been instrumental in growing the brand’s reach.
“Although we’re a B2B company, there’s a synergy between our marketing and our product that appeals directly to consumers,” says the marketeer, who relocated from the US to Manchester to help manage the operation. “My focus is on making the brand appeal to both the consumer and the retailer. Luckily, we’ve got a great product to start with – and that makes my job much easier!”
The cornerstone of Mlily’s offer is its Harmony Collection, a hi-spec hybrid mattress range – “the best of both worlds” – that hits a remarkably competitive price point, and is encouraging a growing legion of independent retailers to make room on their floors for a product with a difference.
“Hybrid is what we do best,” says Chris, “and the Harmony Collection is our most successful line. Once people try it out, there’s no stopping it!”
Alongside assorted gel and pocket-sprung models, pillows and toppers, there’s Aria, Mlily’s answer to the bed-in-a-box, which has performed steadily since its launch this January (keep an eye out for Aria’s new commercial, shot at the Royal Academy of Dance).
Topping the league is Mlily’s Dream Series. Delivered in partnership with Manchester United, Mlily’s premier mattress line is a game of two halves, says Chris. “It’s basically two mattresses in one – a comfort layer above a more supportive layer.”
The engineering behind the Dream Series was informed by Manchester United’s own sleep experts, who worked closely with Mlily to help it create a mattress that is both comfortable and robust – and good enough for the players’ own bedrooms. “If the Dream Series works this well for athletes,” asks Chris, “imagine how well it can perform for everyone else?”
This universal appeal is the lynchpin of the brand’s D2C marketing strategy – an area that has enjoyed significant investment, says Chris, yet has delivered even greater returns.
Instead of focusing solely on one aspect of our lifestyle – how good sleep can enhance sporting prowess, for example – Chris’ team looks at the bigger picture, and attempts to convey how quality of sleep permeates every aspect of our lives, from how we study, eat and play, to how we think. We’re not all preoccupied with being match-fit, but we may care about being the best worker or parent we can be – and good sleep is crucial to achieving this.
“Love or hate the bed-in-a-box, you can’t deny that it’s affecting consumer culture,” says Chris. “There’s a reason online sales are through the roof – all the money these brands spend on advertising is making consumers appreciate sleep more. And while a mattress purchase used to be a throwaway decision for some, the marketing is encouraging people to think about what they’re buying.”
According to Chris, there’s a cultural shift taking place across the board. From news articles and TV shows to the phenomenal growth of sleep tracker apps, people are hungry for advice about why a good night’s sleep matters, and how they can get it.
“Sleep ties in with so many other factors of your life, but the common ground is ‘performance’ – for example, being more energised as a parent, or more focused as a worker,” Chris explains.
“At Mlily, we wanted to build a solid foundation of helpful, useful information that gives something back to our customers. If you have a great product, everything falls into place – but it’s not just about product, there’s much more at play here. And that’s why we’re taking a more holistic approach to our marketing.”
A quick browse of the brand’s website and social media channels reveals a cornucopia of messages, from the helpful to the inspirational. Tips on how to improve a running schedule. Interviews with psychologists. Meditation lessons. Healthy meal plans. Yoga for beginners.
There’s also more focused campaigns such as #watchmerise, which, informed by brand ambassadors such as life coach Emma Mumford, promotes the achievements of women fuelled by a good night’s sleep.
Working with lifestyle influencers like Emma, Mlily curates a valuable yet digestible stream of content across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, driving traffic to its website (and, crucially, its stockist finder page), all the while tracking and analysing growth.
“In terms of enquiries, we’ve quadrupled traffic since the campaign began,” says Chris, explaining that by encouraging brand recognition at every turn, Mlily is quietly but effectively driving traffic to its stockists. “We could take a similar approach to the bed-in-a-box brands and spend a tonne on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising – but we’d be massively in the red if we did, and we’re in it for the long game.”
Win or lose
Mlily’s long-term vision is evident. Its partnership with Manchester United is a global one, reflecting the manufacturer’s immense capacity and reach – the brand’s parent company operates factories in China, Thailand, Serbia, Spain and (shortly) the US, and exports Mlily mattresses and pillows to the majority of the world’s key consumer markets.
Such scale makes Mlily uniquely equipped to weather fluctuations in national markets and emerge unscathed, ensuring its relationships with stockists are preserved come what may.
“We’re definitely feeling the effects of Trump’s trade war,” says Chris, “but we do have factories outside of China, which has lessened the impact of the new tariffs. To help mitigate their effects, we’re building a factory in South Carolina and training the employees up right now – as well as expanding our operations in other parts of the world.
“That’s one of the benefits of being a global company – you can adapt, and deal with any problems. Generally, if something adverse happens and we have to adjust prices, we’ll take the heat in the short term rather than see our stockist relationships harmed. Yes, there’s always going to be a gradual price increase due to inflation, but there’s never been a sharp rise in our prices, and I don’t foresee one any time soon.”
Mlily is also quick to dispel any lingering notions that ‘Made in China’ means low quality. Would-be stockists are invited to visit the factories in Rugao, Jiangsu, to see for themselves how cutting-edge and efficient its mattress manufacturing can be.
“As soon as people visit our factory in China and see what’s going on there, the scale of what we’re doing, and the global shape of our business, becomes evident,” Chris explains. “Everything is vertically integrated – when we make a mattress, we make everything that goes into it. It’s global manufacturing, and we’ve always maintained a high standard. Mlily is publicly traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, so there’s a board we need to keep happy, too!”
The devil’s in the detail
Despite its size and rapid growth, Mlily hasn’t taken its eye off the ball, and still maintains that smaller independent retailers are its priority in the UK.
“We’re one of the largest memory foam mattress manufacturers in the world,” says Chris, “so we do a fair amount of white label and OEM production – but here our principal mission is to give our independent retailers a unique selling point.”
Chris explains that the business is happy to support its stockists with marketing resources, or to offer them advice on developing their own websites. He reiterates how Mlily’s partnership with Manchester United doesn’t just open doors with new stockists, but provides a high level of brand visibility at every turn. He assures me that Mlily will return to the January Furniture Show next year with new products (“something that relates to the changes we’re seeing online and on social media – but I don’t want to spoil the surprise!”), a re-scaled portfolio and a familiar face from the Red Devils’ past.
Ultimately, he’s confident that Mlily offers some of the best-value mattresses money can buy – and that by focusing the company’s marketing efforts on performance together with its quality product, he is rewarding stockists with a steady enquiry pipeline while giving back to the UK consumer.
“By selling a lifestyle rather than just a product, we’re making Mlily a brand everybody can relate to,” concludes Chris. “We’re trying to enrich people’s lives – and I sincerely believe that’s the best way to sell mattresses.”