26 May 2024, 07:24
By Furniture News Sept 12, 2022

Millbrook's Ross Thurston chases the American Dream

In 2020, established Hampshire manufacturer Millbrook struck up a deal with Bedding Industries of America to collaborate on the development and distribution of new bed ranges on both sides of the pond. Millbrook Beds’ operations director, Ross Thurston, has led the charge – but what do all those stars and stripes mean for the UK business?

Briefly outline Millbrook Bed Co’s US partnership …

We formed our partnership with Bedding Industries of America in early 2020, and then Covid struck and delayed everything two years. It wasn’t until January this year we officially launched Millbrook into the US at the Las Vegas Market.

We have a fantastic relationship and partnership with Stuart Carlitz and the entire Bedding Industries of America team, and although Millbrook Beds in the USA is still very much only in its infancy, the future is looking very good in the US for us.

What has this entailed for you personally this year?

Since August last year I have been back and forth to the US a lot, and after 18 months of barely being able to travel in the UK, let alone overseas, it took some getting used to again.

It’s an amazing project to have started and been a part of, considering we set off only two-and-a-half years ago to explore the possibilities of launching in the USA – to now see Millbrook Beds on 30 shop floors including a retailer in Manhattan is an incredible feeling, and an unbelievable achievement for everyone at Millbrook.

Have you picked up any new mannerisms/phrases/appetites from visiting the US so frequently? Please share!

Every region of the US is so different and unique, and I tend to find myself slipping into the mannerisms depending on the regions – New York and New Jersey are very similar to the UK, full on, constantly 100mph, whereas California and Miami are a lot more relaxed and laid back (this is the strangest feeling, as we are just not used to this approach).  

You naturally start to pick up phrases, and they have some very random ones relating to beds, but we just have to keep teaching the guys how to speak the English language, as they all seem to think we speak like Peaky Blinders. 

Are there any emerging US bed trends you’re keeping a close eye on right now?

The omnichannel approach between manufacturer and retailer in the US is really interesting right now. Certainly, more and more manufacturers there seem to be taking this approach and working with their retailers to create real fluid process from factory to online to retail shop floors.  This works really well in counteracting the impact of the direct selling and boxed mattress brands.

What’s struck you as the most interesting similarity between the markets?

The mattress industry in the US is surprisingly similar to here, with lots of historic family businesses, and just like the UK all the manufacturers seem to be friends. The mattress industry worldwide seems to be entirely unique in that there is friendly competition between brands and manufacturers, but at the end of the day everyone is friends and there is no animosity.

… and the most notable difference?

The most noticeable difference is the amount of motion bases sold. It is unbelievable that in the US 40% of all divan sets sold are with a motion base. We are so far behind in regard to motion bases and the significant health and sleep benefits they offer. 

How does the US consumer differ from the UK shopper?

The biggest difference I have noticed is the time the US consumer will spend in store trying beds. They will spend hours in store trying mattresses, but then I think this is also down to the sheer scale of retail in the US and the size of the mattress stores.  Families will make it a day out shopping for a mattress (and, as I said above, there’s a willingness to invest in motion bases and more lifestyle product).

How might UK stockists benefit from your US-based activity?

I think it is just really interesting seeing different manufacturing and selling techniques, and certainly on both fronts I have learned a lot that will help make Millbrook a very interesting proposition to all retailers.

Can you bring us up to speed on any UK developments?

Following on from the huge success of NemoFlex over the last year, we are continuing to push the boundaries of how to make mattresses even more sustainable.  For us it’s not just the story of how sustainable the components are, but what happens to the mattress at the end of its life. We certainly see this as the future of mattresses, and we continue to explore how we can incorporate Nemoflex into more and more of our ranges.

After launching your smart bed at last year’s Bed Show, how has it performed?

Our smart bed was hugely popular last year, but unfortunately like so many things its launch was delayed by Covid – it is now scheduled to launch in Q4 with a couple of major retailers.

Given US trends, what potential is there for models of this type in the UK?

You can already see the influence of US trends within our ranges – both our Chittenden and Eastman Smooth-Tech range and our Eclipse memory foam collection, which are both made under licence from Bedding Industries of America and draw heavily on US mattress styles.

What can visitors to this year’s Bed Show expect from Millbrook?

We have lots of exciting new products and innovation coming to the Bed Show this year, including our brand-new Antler divan and a few other surprises. Anyone visiting the show should certainly spend some time on our stand (D20) to see the most diverse range of products on show from one manufacturer – we will have something for everyone.

Is there any information you can provide on the Millbrook company sale to FWG? 

It’s a very exciting time for Millbrook Beds, and having worked closely with [new co-owners] Andrew [McClements] and Jane [Waugh] for a number of years, and with all their experience in the industry, I am really excited about where they will take Millbrook Beds and what we are going to achieve in the coming months and years.

Read more about this year's Bed show in Furntiure News' Bed Buyer supplement.

Pictured: SmoothTech Crescent 3000, from The Millbrook Bed Company

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