“The only way for a scale to succeed is if it zigzags when other people zigzag. Failure is definitely in doing what everyone else is doing. Because we can’t do that too,” says Cheryl Calverley, CEO of sleep wellness brand and mattress supplier Eve Sleep, is exactly what her job is to ensure that a popular and growing brand – but still in the network – long-term success.
One of the ways Eve tries to achieve this is to work differently. Instead of trying to beat the competition in terms of speed, price or logistics, it changes the sleep game by focusing on brand. Branding, says Calverley, plays a moderately small role in people’s relationship with their mattresses.
But, sleep, on the other hand, can be influenced more by a brand beyond just the mattress on the bed. “So the role that brands can play is really huge,” she says. Instead of talking about mattresses, Eve talks about good mornings and good nights. It’s about putting sleep first and communicating with consumers about what they’re really looking for when buying a mattress: a good night’s sleep. This, says Calverley, “becomes a powerful business differentiator.”
Added to this is the changing role of product-centric thinking within companies. Calverley harkens back to the early 20th century, when brands were product-driven. This quickly changed in the middle and second half of the century to focus more on operations and financial performance. But now, Calverley predicts “a return to great products that meet consumer needs very well. This is what will make businesses prosper. It’s a boon for Eve Sleep then, as Calverley’s background is in marketing for Birds Eye, Unilever and AA.
While not an unusual path for a business leader, marketing isn’t quite the typical path to the big chair.
“I’m brutally transparent,” Calverley says of her approach to leadership. “What is good and bad.” Just like his experience at Eve, in fact. In its early days, the culture corresponded to what one would expect from a startup. Casualties were rampant and people were literally skateboarding around the building.
“The culture change has been broad and underpinned by a very low level of trust across the team,” she says. She focused on change. But, as she points out, “It’s really, really difficult because we’re a scale-up,” which means the levels of uncertainty in the business are unlikely to change.
Staying strong through this can be difficult and lonely, however, and Calverley relies on his chairman and chief executives in different organizations as his support system.
But the view from above can also be a stimulating notion. Retail – and e-commerce in particular – could be set to change dramatically as a result of the pandemic, with inflation, recession and a number of other macro trends affecting consumption today and in a near future.
Calverley says, “Great e-commerce doesn’t replicate truly effective retail. The opportunity in e-commerce is to digitally create retail at scale. She says that many e-commerce brands have worked to make the online shopping experience as close to that of the in-store experience as possible. But that ignores some of the power of digital, where interactivity, content and personalization can play a part in connecting consumers with the brand and the product.
The next few years could turn out to be “one of the biggest resets we’ve ever seen”. Brands that build their lens credits, but without a solid foundation, can find themselves in shambles. Likewise, those who don’t care about service and value will struggle to compete. “A lot of marks are discovered,” says Calverley. “I think you’ll see huge clearance and what you’ll find in the middle is a core of well-run brands that deliver great customer experiences with great products. But it’s going to be a bloodbath.
The future may prove difficult for retailers, but at the very least, a good night’s sleep is becoming a more attainable dream.