At a time when many retailers are looking for ways to adapt to new and immediate challenges, South Bay International has emerged as a vital partner. With more than a decade of experience in the ecommerce segment, the company has the insights and expertise to help retailers develop specialized online programs—and the operational structure to efficiently address any logistical need. South Bay works closely with all of its retail partners to create exclusive private label programs that will resonate with their specific customer base. From the big picture to the small but ever-important details, the company understands how all of the different pieces—product development, marketing, fulfillment and customer service—must work together in the ecommerce space. Simply put, South Bay delivers the strategy and support that today’s retailers need to really succeed online.
While no one could have predicted the scope and scale of the pandemic’s impact, South Bay was, in some ways, uniquely prepared to weather the storm. Not only did it already have a well-established ecommerce strategy in place (in fact, approximately 95 percent of its business is in ecommerce), it has long been a company both willing and able to adapt to new circumstances. When we spoke with South Bay’s COO, Dani Serven back in May for an episode of the Sleep Retailer Podcast, she reflected on this as an aspect of her leadership style: “I am someone who always plans for the worst case scenario: good, bad or indifferent. The big joke around here was that I have been preparing my entire adult life for this (the pandemic). I am one of these people who always has contingency plans.”
Because of its manufacturing ties in both China and Europe, South Bay was aware of the looming COVID-19 crisis early on— which meant it was ready to adjust its operations to protect the health and safety of its employees even before any stay-at-home orders went into effect. Not only did this ensure that its team was safe and supported, it helped the company keep moving forward without missing a beat.
This mentality has been a defining trait of the South Bay brand since Serven took over as COO in 2014. Savvy, detail-oriented and prepared for anything, she has transformed the company into the agile, forward-thinking business it is today—and propelled it to record-setting sales numbers this year.
Originally founded as an equipment manufacturer back in 1993, South Bay has evolved significantly since then. In 2008, the company began to expand its offerings to include more private label options, and soon recognized the potential of the ecommerce space. Under Serven’s thoughtful leadership, South Bay has honed and adapted its approach to ecommerce as consumer confidence in buying online continues to grow.
Of course, that steady upward trajectory suddenly skyrocketed this year when shutdown orders left a lot of people sitting at home, bored and paying closer attention to their surroundings at home. With things like vacations and restaurants and concerts on hold, many of these consumers took to upgrading their homes. And suddenly those last remaining barriers to buying a new bed online toppled—catapulting companies like South Bay towards record-setting sales numbers. And while company COO Daniella Serven predicts that there will likely be some degree of leveling off once things go back to “normal,” we shouldn’t expect things to just snap back to the way they were in 2019.
“Once you break a habit and learn another way to do something, and it becomes comfortable, then you’re going to keep doing that,” she explains. “It just takes a while of back-and-forth until you break a paradigm and move onto the next standard way of doing things.”
And even though there will no doubt continue to be consumers that prefer to shop in-store, retailers that don’t have an effective ecommerce strategy in place are at risk of losing out on a major portion of the mattress market share.
So you want to build a new ecommerce mattress program—what happens now?
South Bay is there to guide its retail partners through every stage of developing and selling a new ecommerce program. And for some retailers, that starts with shifting their very understanding of the category itself.
“If you’ve been a retailer for a long time and you’re used to that person walking in on the floor and doing your sales approach, know that it’s a totally different animal online. You have to be open and ready for that. You cannot think that you know just because you’ve been doing it as walk-ins for years.”
—Dani Serven, COO of South Bay International
But it’s not just in-store sales either. Selling a mattress online is different than selling other furniture products online too. While aesthetics are often the primary priority when purchasing case goods, function and feel take precedence when buying a mattress—and those types of features are often more difficult to communicate via text and images alone.
Recognizing this common challenge, South Bay works with all of its retail partners to develop very focused custom programs. Rather than relying on a plug-and-play approach, the company collaborates with each retailer to develop a program that is suited to their unique needs and customers. This means that the line-up will not only be specifically designed for the ecommerce space, but exclusive to their store.
“If you are going online, you really need to figure out your story first,” Serven explains. “You need to know what’s going on in the market and decide: are you going to be a ‘me too’ product? Or are you going to concentrate on offering a program based on a certain type of feature or technology? There’s so many different things you can do now, and you really have to differentiate yourself.”
The overarching story of the program can come in many different forms, depending on the retailer’s goals. For some, it may mean targeting the value shopper with a simple all-foam model at an entry-level price. Others may want to build a wider program centered around a common material, technology or feature—like bamboo covers or charcoal-infused foams or “cooling” more generally. Or perhaps the focus is the marketing message: retailers can craft their collection around a specific theme, be it athletic performance or waking up without aches and pains.
“We always start with that really consultative sales process, where we sit down and understand what it is they want to do,” Serven explains. “And if we get into a conversation and realize they have no idea what they want to do—then we pivot and help them figure that out first.”
While the stories may vary, the underlying goal is to identify a niche and really zero in on it. Rather than boxing the retailer in, this type of focused approach is necessary for the online space because it helps them differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace—and minimizes confusion for the consumer.
Once the niche has been identified, South Bay is able to build out all the different pieces of the program. The company touts a vertically integrated approach, with one manufacturing facility in Southern California and its own foam factory in Jiaxing, China. Between these two facilities, South Bay has been able to consistently grow and meet all of the demands of the marketplace. In fact, this structure allowed it to elude many of the supply chain issues other companies have been struggling against over the past few months.
In addition to mattresses, South Bay also offers an array of accessory products, including adjustable bases, pillows, toppers and sheets. Working with one company to handle all of these different categories makes it even easier for the retailer to maintain that level of cohesion—each accessory can be designed to tie back into the story of the collection. It also simplifies the fulfillment process, as all the products in the program can be delivered to the consumer together at once.
It’s these types of logistical considerations that elevate a standard ecommerce program into something more. How will inventory be handled? Delivery? And what about returns? Serven understands that these decisions are not only crucial to the retailer’s operations— they contribute to the overall buying experience for the consumer as well.
“So from an ecommerce perspective, you’re balancing: how do we give them the experience they want, give it to them at the price they want and get it to them as fast as they want it?”
—Dani Serven, COO of South Bay International
This is where that adaptability once again comes into play. Not long ago, all of South Bay’s products were sent to the consumer via white glove delivery. But over the years, the company began hearing more and more from retail partners looking for threshold delivery options. And so, South Bay switched gears. Today, 95% of its products are delivered via FedEx, which is both quicker and more affordable than white glove. The company ships directly from its California facility, delivering anywhere in the country within five to seven days. Operating with just one distribution point allows South Bay to better manage costs and quality control, for both the products themselves and how they get to the end consumer.
But switching to faster delivery does not mean South Bay stopped thinking about the fulfillment experience. The feeling the consumer has when their new mattress shows up at their door often shapes their impression of the product and the brand. This is especially true at this moment in time, as consumer sentiment has changed in response to the pandemic.
“Right now, you’ve got this pent-up feeling of people being at home, people feeling all of this chaos and craziness and not feeling good about things,” Serven explains. “So when they do make a purchase and spend money on a furniture product, a mattress, an adjustable bed—they want it right away. They don’t want to wait four to five weeks; they want the immediate gratification for the money they spent. I think that, as a collective, we’re looking for soothing right now. And, good or bad, when consumers buy things, they’re looking for a feeling that’s going to come with that purchase. When it shows up at their door, you want them to feel like they’ve made a good decision.”
Things like product packaging contribute to that feeling—as does customer service. And what works for one retailer’s end-consumer base may not work as well for another. Being able to carefully curate and adapt its strategies to each unique audience has allowed South Bay to offer its partners next-level support.
Above all else, the company is committed to helping each retailer fulfill the vision of their brand while also meeting and exceeding the needs and wants of consumers. Using the tools it has developed and optimized over more than a decade in ecommerce, South Bay is able to not only help its retail partners weather the challenges of today—but prepare themselves for a stronger future.