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Home » Blog » A Look Back: An Interview with the Founder of Savvy Rest

A Look Back: An Interview with the Founder of Savvy Rest

What inspired you to start an organic mattress company?

At the time, memory foam was really big. There were a couple companies that made natural mattresses, but they were awful. I bought an innerspring to try to sell and the person who made it said it was really good and comfortable, but it was dreadful. Right out of the box it was saggy. On the other side, there were comfortable mattresses, but they were filled with chemicals.

My wife Heather was always healthy her whole life. We’d been yoga teachers for over 20 years. We ate pretty healthy and had a healthy lifestyle overall. She found herself waking up with headaches and we had no explanation as to why until someone asked, “do you think it could be your mattress?”

Those two experiences dove-tailed. I knew there was a market for a safe and comfortable mattress, not safe or comfortable.

Savvy Rest founder Michael Penny

What was most important to you when designing the Serenity mattress?
The design for the Serenity came to me all at once in a flash.

One of the reasons people have disturbed sleep is because of pressure points. Most people sleep on their side, so it’s going to tend to create pressure in the shoulders, and sometimes in the hips and legs. That pressure is going to cause people to wake up and turn. We want to have as much undisturbed sleep as possible.

Really, what everybody wants is something that is supportive but soft enough that you have pressure point relief. It’s different for everybody because you have people who are 95 pounds and 95 years old, and then you have people who are 275 pounds and 25 years old and everyone in between.

Everybody will naturally want something different to suit themselves. Having a system where people can make their mattress as firm or soft as they like just made sense to me.

To offer both Dunlop and Talalay latex also made sense to me because Talalay allows for a certain kind of softness that you can’t quite get with Dunlop. That’s why we wanted to offer both and to have three densities.

We also wanted to be able to send the mattress through a small parcel service so it would be available nationwide.

What was the initial reception to the Serenity?
It was a huge success because there wasn’t anything that was both comfortable and safe. We were really the first ones to do that, so there was a big response.

The green and sustainability movement was beginning to be more prevalent. A lot of dealers picked it up, and our website became more popular.

Savvy Rest Serenity mattress

Savvy Rest has four values: Empathy, Health, Empowerment, and Sustainability. How do these values speak to you?
I lived in a spiritual community for 20 years, and we believed that the differences we find among people aren’t as great as they seem. We have a lot more commonality. We’re all human beings on this Earth and we all have hopes, struggles, and sufferings that we go through. We all have relationships that begin and end. We have so much in common and the differences are a lot more minimal than what people think.

Sales training, in general, is often about taking control of the situation with a customer and adding on products to make more money. That was never my goal when speaking to customers. I always felt like I was speaking to another human being and I genuinely wanted to help and support that person. I felt I was always as selfless as I could be when working with a customer, and I felt that way with employees too. It was never my goal to have a bunch of employees, but when that happened, I never felt I was separate from them, or that I was smarter or better.

I took a vow of poverty when I was in the spiritual community. I know what it’s like to have no money and feel really poor and to not have a job. I wanted to do whatever I could using the resources that came through the business to support fellow human beings because that’s just how I feel. So that’s Empathy.

Health is something that is important to us. We want to do what we can to support everyone’s health. We feel that our products do that, and in the workplace, we want to keep our employees safe so we have a good safety program. We have insurance to help people maintain their health.

Just being around other people who are healthy and who participate in a healthy lifestyle, and particularly get healthy sleep, makes a big difference.

I should add that almost every health-related thing you read is about getting more exercise or eating a healthier diet or doing yoga. There’s very little that encourages getting enough sleep. Most people in the western world don’t get enough sleep. There are countless studies that point to the correlation between sleep and health. The body needs sleep in order to rejuvenate.

Empowerment comes from a deep sense within me of the inequality that exists in the world. I encourage people of any age, gender, race, etc to speak out. I want people to use their voice because every voice is important. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s opinion has to go their way. Certainly, things don’t always go my way, and that’s the way it should be. That’s the way the universe works. There are forces beyond ourselves that make everything happen, and once we realize that, there’s no place for anyone to force their own opinion or will on anyone else.

I don’t want to be the person who thinks they know it all, and our Savvy Rest leadership team doesn’t know it all. We enjoying hearing from voices who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. We have a dialogue that opens us to all different kinds of views. This inspires a stronger community.

The last one is Sustainability. If something is not sustainable, it’s going to end. In one sense, everything dies and fades away. Even though this body I’m inhabiting will fade away also, while I’m here I want to participate in things that are sustainable. That means helping to sustain this Earth, helping to create a sustainable business that can last 100 years if possible. I would like young people to work here their whole career and feel fulfilled. If I can help create something that makes people happy and fulfill their life’s purpose, why would I want to do anything else?

Liz interviewing Michael Penny

When did Savvy Rest become an employee-owned company? Tell me about that decision.
In 2012, Savvy Rest became employee-owned. I always felt like it wasn’t up to me solely to make an organization successful–it takes a lot of people. I wanted to embed ownership in the company so that if there are 40 of us that are driving the company’s success, let us all share in that success, and if it isn’t successful, we will share in its lack of success. I wanted to make it as equal as possible.

Most people don’t have the chance to own a company, and it’s cool to understand how it works, how finances work, and the give-and-take that goes along with it. It can be very complex.

I think employee-ownership is a wonderful way to create more engagement and involvement within a company.

It’s a lot more fun when you own something because it puts your heart into it. It’s easy to just feel like you leave your heart at work and you come to work and do a meaningless job for someone else. But when you’re financially invested in it, it makes a difference. It’s yours.

There are so many different brands in the mattress industry today. What sets Savvy Rest apart?
I’ve always wanted to create credibility. There’s no reason for a customer to trust that what we’re saying is true, so I’ve always wanted to have third-party verification, whether related to organic certifications or being free from harmful chemicals. And I think we’ve done a really good job with that.

Our products are as safe and comfortable as they can be. There are lots of options that we’ve developed over the years besides the Serenity.

Most companies are interested in selling and they aggressively sell. They’ll do whatever they need to do to sell more. I think our salespeople feel that they’re there to serve, not just to sell. We care about having a good relationship with our customers and dealers. It really matters.

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