E08.1 - How to Design a Business and Absolutely Crush It Online

Learn how Hayley Worley is building an online bedding empire
September 22, 2020 / 1:08:18
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In this episode of This is The Goods, you'll meet Hayley Worley - Founder of The Sheet Society

You'll hear how she and her team of dreamers are taking on the global sleep industry with bed sheets worth dreaming about.

In our conversation, we cover:

  • What makes a great bed sheet and why it starts with the cotton
  • Why The Sheet Society are re-engineering fabrics like Courdoroy for the bedroom.
  • How Hayley launched The Sheet Society with just a $20k investment

Hayley also shares:

  • How she saw the opportunity and built a scalable business.
  • What it's like to design products with manufacturers in China
  • And how to lead a successful company with vision

This is also 2 part episode.

Both parts are just over an hour long, and released at the same time.

That way, you can listen at your own pace, or all at once.

If this episode inspires you, please pass it on.

I hope you enjoy it

- Mike 👨‍🔧

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Hear the full episode

Mike Rowe: Hi, my name is Mike, and this is “The Goods.” Today you’ll meet Hayley Worley, founder of The Sheet Society. In this episode you’ll hear how she and her team of dreamers are taking on the global sleep industry with bed sheets worth dreaming about. In our conversation we cover what makes a great bed sheet and why it starts with cotton, why The Sheet Society are re-engineering fabrics like corduroy for the bedroom, how Hayley launched The Sheet Society with just a $20,000 investment.

Hayley also shares how she saw the opportunity and built The Sheet Society into a scalable business, what it’s like to design products with manufacturers in China, and how to lead a successful company with vision. This is also a two-part episode. Both parts are a little over an hour long, but will be released at the same time. That way you can listen at your own pace or all at once.

If this episode inspires you, please pass it on. If you like this show, you can get even more at thisisthegoods.com. That’s where I post show notes, transcripts and more, and you can get it all for free. That weblink again is thisisthegoods.com. Okay, I hope you have your note-taking app ready because there’s a lot up for grabs here so let’s get into it. Please enjoy episode 8.1 with Hayley Worley.

Welcome to the show, Hayley, it’s so great to have you.

Hayley Worley: Thank you, Mike. I’m so excited to chat.

Mike Rowe: I’m hoping that we can start with a little bit about you, your background, and what you’ve built with The Sheet Society.

Hayley Worley: Yeah, sure. So based in Melbourne, I’m a new mother, and my boy Jake is 15 months old, and I’m having another child in Feb.

Mike Rowe: Congratulations.

Hayley Worley: Thank you. A bit crazy adding something else to the plate, but I love a good juggle. So yeah, I’ve got a background in clothing production, and design, and just kind of fell out of love with clothes one day. And I remember the moment exactly, I was just you know, the girls were saying, “Oh, you know, did you see what Gigi Hadid wore this weekend?” And I just couldn’t care less, and it just kind of, you know, the penny dropped. I needed to get out of fashion and I wanted to find a way to really use my skills across fabric, and colors, and textures and adapt that for a different market. And found a bit of a gap with bed sheets, and fashion-led designs in that area, so I started The Sheet Society back in 2017.

Mike Rowe: That’s really cool. What was the inspiring moment that kicked off this vision for The Sheet Society? You mentioned like you can remember a time where you fell out of love with fashion, but was there a moment where you went, “What if I put this with that and created something new?”

Hayley Worley: I wouldn’t say it’s one moment, but it’s kind of been a bit of a slow burn. If you look at bedding, you know, a lot of people are living in smaller houses at the moment, you know, staying at home with their parents a little bit longer, so your bed is such a focal point in your house. And the offering that’s out there before I started my business just, it wasn’t enough to really express your personal style.

And at the time I started the business it was when that really beautiful millennial pink color was popular, and I just wanted to wear it, I wanted to have it on my clothes, I bought millennial pink shoes, and I just it came time to, you know, redoing my bedroom and there was just no option. No one was doing those fashion-led colors for the bedroom, and you know, bed sheets were something that you kind of just bought from a department store and you weren’t really in love with. So, yeah, it was kind of something that I always knew needed improving, but then when it came time to actually, you know, pull the trigger and start a new business it felt like a really good decision.

Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm. And what did your life look like at the time of starting the business? Was it you mentioned you have a background in fashion, were you working somewhere and just frustrated that then, you know, you decided to leave it all and start this business? How did you actually kick that off there?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. If I paint a picture of my life at that time I think it was right at the time, I guess people go through that in their 20s, where it’s like, “Hang on, I need to get my shit together. I haven’t got really anything to show for myself. If I wanted to buy a house I’m gonna have to really knuckle down.” And it was just kind of making decisions to set yourself up in the future and the brand that I was working for at the time I just couldn’t see myself there forever. You know, fashion is such a flash in the pan thing, and you have to have that passion behind you to do that day in and day out.

So, yeah, we made a lot of life choices, and I probably could quit my job way before I should of, but it really threw me in the deep end, and it was kind of sink or swim, which is the pressure that I work really well under.

Mike Rowe: Mm. Interesting. Yeah. Cause some people really, you know, they need low pressure and time to adjust to change whereas it sounds like you really thrive under that pressure and in those constraints of, you know, needing to make money to put food on the table.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Definitely. It is no better no way to make sure it works out when there’s no other option.

Mike Rowe: And you mentioned like you’ve got a background in fashion. When did you actually discover the passion for fashion that you had?

Hayley Worley: I’d say around high school I was really intrigued with, you know, using clothes to say something about you. You know, and really understanding the power of how a good outfit can really make your day. You can be in a shit mood, but if you put on a killer outfit, you’re like, “Hang on, I can own this.” And it’s more than clothes like I think every young girl has that dream of, you know, working in fashion. But it was about, you know, how clothes made you feel and how you were able to express yourself through that and that’s where that love came from.

Mike Rowe: That’s so cool. Given your expertise in fashion and now as the founder of an online bedding brand, can you walk us through what makes a great bed sheet?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think the way the bedding industry talks about sheets is a little bit broken, to be honest. It’s turned into a bit of a marketing play if you think about, you know, the words that are used when shopping for sheets. It’s like Egyptian cotton, 1,000 thread count, and like all of those things really are a bit bullshit, to be honest. I think what makes a good quality sheet is a good quality base fabric, and for that, that’s something that’s 100% natural. So things like 100% natural cotton, 100% natural linen.

So it’s more about, I guess, what it’s made of rather than how many threads there are and, you know, where the cotton is—you know, Egyptian cotton and things like that.

Mike Rowe: And what is the problem with thread count as like a quality metric for bedding fabrics?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Thread count doesn’t speak at all to the quality of the actual threads. So, I mean, you can have 1,000 of them, but if they’re all really shitty, then they’re no good. So a lot of the problem with a high thread count sheet is that the brands that are making really high thread count sheets they’re just trying to get as many short, stubbly, stuffy fibers into a square-inch of fabric just to claim a higher thread count. And then you end up with really crappy threads that peel, and like you get a really thick fabric that won’t breathe, so yeah, I think thread count is just a complete wrong way of looking at it.

Mike Rowe: Mm. And you mentioned that it’s important to have like natural cottons, and natural linens, and things like that. Like why is that core fabric so crucial and why is natural fabric so crucial?

Hayley Worley: Well, like I guess the features in the natural fabric are that they can breathe and they really work with regulating your body temperature. So like a cotton, for example, you’ll find that when you need it to be warmer, it’s warmer, when you need it to be cooler it helps you breathe. So, yeah, natural is always best in the bedroom.

If you’re putting things like polyesters and synthetics into bed sheets, they’re the ones that will kind of like make you feel a bit sweaty, and stuffy, and you know, really clog you up at night. So natural is just so important and 100% natural too. Like a lot of sheet brands, you know, claim this is a cotton sheet, but have really put 50% polyester in there to kind of keep the price down. So, to me, that’s just such an oxymoron and, yeah, ours are just 100% natural through and through.

Mike Rowe: Mm, it’s interesting, too cause polyester has typically been advertised to me as a sweat wicking or a sweat removing fabric. So it’s interesting to hear it being spoken about as something that actually makes you sweatier in bed.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Definitely. And like there’s definitely technical fabrics that are synthetics that do perform best for active wear, or you know, rainproof materials and things like that. But when you’re in bed, and you’re not really doing any of that regulation yourself, yeah, natural, natural fibers are really best for that.

Mike Rowe: When it comes to bedding, how does good quality sheets and good quality natural fabrics improve the quality of your sleep, and how are the products that you’re making designed to give people the best night’s sleep they’ve ever had?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think a really good answer to that question would be, you know when you’re kind of tossing and turning in your bed, and you just have that stuffy feeling, and you don’t know what it is but you’re just like, “Ugh, I can’t sleep, I’m a bit hot, and I’m just overly frustrated.” It kind of happens when, you know, your sheets aren’t breathing, and you’re not kind of expelling that sweat or warm air that you need to, to feel comfortable. So using 100% cotton or 100% linen it has that natural hypoallergenic element to it so that will help you breathe and help you regulate your body temperature.

Mike Rowe: Mm. Now speaking of materials, I wanted to dig in a little bit about the uncommon materials that you tend to work with at The Sheet Society. Like I’ve noticed that corduroy is making its debut and I’m wondering like how did you adapt that fabric to bedding, like when did you fall in love with it? It’s a really uncommon fabric and it kind of excites me to see it being used in a different way, so when did that fabric become so important to you and why are you working with it now?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. A part of our business is always introducing that fashion element. So we look at trends that are coming through the market and how we can adapt them for the bedroom. And now not always… trends aren’t always right for the bedroom. Like we had a bit of a neon trend a few years ago and I wouldn’t definitely recommend bringing that into the bedroom, but we’ve got like a little ‘70s revival at the moment, and so if you look at ‘70s as a category and as a trend, you know, things that stick out to us are like a fabric like corduroy. And I think it’s got that nostalgic kind of twang to it. You know, you remember your parents putting you into that kind of corduroy dungarees when you’re a little bit younger. And, yeah, you kind of have a bit of a love for it.

So that’s why we brought it into the bedroom, but we couldn’t bring that kind of scratchy, thick corduroy that you remember straight in there. So we re-engineered it to be 100% cotton, to be lightweight, to be breathable, to have that beautiful tactile nature. Our corduroys are one-by-one rib, so it means the upbits and lowbits are equal, so it has that beautiful hand-feel, you can feel the pile of the fabric. So, yeah, it’s a really great way to kind of introduce that trend into the bedroom without having to kind of redo your furniture or anything like that in the bedroom. So, yeah, customers are really loving it at the moment.

Mike Rowe: You mentioned that with corduroy you’ve re-engineered the fabric and you’ve made it 100% cotton. Can you talk me through that process and what that looks like? Because I imagine it’s a pretty complicated thing for one, but what does it actually look like? Like how do you do that?

Hayley Worley: Yeah, so usually my process would be to go over to the supplier. So we produce out of China, so the first point of call would be to head into the fabric markets, and to do some research. And, you know, inventing anything new here, we’re kind of re-engineering it, so it gives us a bit of a better springboard to work from. So from there we’ll find suppliers that already make corduroy and perhaps they’re making it in the thicker weave, or perhaps they’re making it with a polyester blend fabric. And then we’ll reach out to a few different suppliers and say, “Okay, right, here are our specs, this is what we want to use it for, we want it 100% cotton, we need it to be this certain weight, you know, can you re-engineer that for us with the machines that you’ve got?”

So, yeah, it’s a bit of a iterative process, and we usually kick that off with maybe two or three different suppliers and, you know, carry on the conversation so we can get different samples, and test them, and see how they work. And then, yeah, we were really lucky with the corduroy to come back with just such a beautiful fabric. And it’s really hard with, I guess our bedding suppliers, because they’ve never seen anything like this before. So trying to get them onboard with the dream has probably been the hardest thing. So, you know, we can find the right mills, and we can find the right suppliers, but usually they’re working with apparel companies.

So when I kind of bring that to our bedding factories, you know, a few times they’ve just said to me like, “What? What are you… we’re making bed sheets here, we’re not making, you know, jackets, or pants, or things like that.” So then there’s a whole re-education piece on okay, you know, it’s going to look like this, and you know, the fabric’s are gonna be on the top side of the cover, how we’re going to use this piping. So, yeah, it’s an education piece for them.

And then they need to have a bit of trust in me too that I know what I’m talking about and I kind of had a vision for the final product. But when we get there it’s completely worthwhile, like our corduroy we actually launched it last season and it was kind of like really new to the market, and I think a lot of our customers were a bit hesitant, to say the least, to invest in corduroy. That then, you know, they’ve seen it kind of come through, and it’s probably more of a winter fabric so when it came time to relaunch it this year that being able to digest the idea.

And, yeah, it’s just been so crazy, it’s been our best-selling product this whole last season. So, yeah, it’s really encouraging that, you know, I’ve kind of got the right idea. You know, you can work independently and say, “Cool, I think this is gonna work.” But then when it kind of comes full circle and you’re seeing people on Instagram feeling so passionate about the product, and you know, getting it and styling it in their room. Just absolutely loving it, it makes it all worthwhile. We had a guy in our store right before it closed for COVID, and you know, head to toe covered in tats and he brings his phone in, and he’d screenshot our Instagram. And he was like, “Guys, I need this whole bed look. I want corduroy everything.” And, you know, just to see this 30-year-old guy, you know, covered in tats just to be so passionate about his new corduroy cover, it just makes it all worthwhile.

Mike Rowe: Mm. And can you describe what that feels like to you, something that, you know, you had to really fight hard to have other people see and have it made has had such a positive response. Like what does that mean to you as a founder and designer, and you know, hustler?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Just that people get it. Like when an idea’s in your head, and I kind of can understand a vision, I think the hardest thing is executing that and getting people to come on the journey with you and to then really feel as passionate about a quilt cover as you do. And it’s a funny product because no one’s really been that passionate about quilt covers before, so when you’re able to kind of really win them over, and you know, they come home every night and they look at their quilt cover longingly, and they’re just you know, they get a sense of joy from something that used to just be, you know, an everyday item in their home. It just makes it all worthwhile.

Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm. And when it comes to corduroy as a fabric itself, like you described it from the dungarees and the really like thick, heavy fabric that it was, and I’m curious about how you might identify other fabrics like it from kind of bygone eras and modernize them for bedding today. Like is there a particular process where you draw on your fashion knowledge from your background and go, “Ooh, maybe like this fabric could make a really cool feel.” Like is there some kind of remixing process that you’ve got?

Hayley Worley: Not specifically. I would say it’s more driven by the fashion trends that are coming through, and then definitely mentioning the ‘70s trend and how we can best interpret that. But I guess the new thing we’re seeing coming up in the bedroom space is looking at living a bit more of a simpler life. And we’re looking at like organic fabrics, we’re looking at like fabrics that have a beautiful tactile nature.

So a new fabric that we’re working on at the moment is called a boucle, so it’s an uneven weave, it’s got kind of like little knots in the yarn so when it’s woven together you get these beautiful peaks and troughs and the ridges of the fabric. It’s all about kind of embracing those imperfections in a fabric and noticing that that’s what makes it unique so it feels like a beautiful special piece.

And we saw boucle coming through in the interior space probably for the last six to nine months, and it’s a really great upholstery fabric because it is so thick because it does have these little knots and ridges in the fabric. It’s really great for, again, sofas, and chairs, and things like that. You know, there’s a company out there doing amazing boucle bed heads at the moment. But recognizing that our customers can’t afford, you know, a new furniture piece every season to really buy into this trend. So, yeah, we completely stripped that back and, you know, my first [???][17:50] so obviously to bring it into a natural fiber. So 100% cotton is a non-negotiable for us.

Mike Rowe: Is that like the first step in your process, Hayley? Like first step is always going to be converting this or re-engineering the fabric to be a natural fabric? Is that always a key part of your process?

Hayley Worley: I think so. Yeah. It’s really so I understand that I know it’s going to work well. When you’re adding things in like synthetics, and spandex, and all these other things that needs to go through such a rigorous testing process to make sure that it’s not going to peel, and it’s not going to be too sweaty, and you know, it’s not going to perform badly. But if it’s in 100% cotton or 100% linen, and finding out to know how that performs as a fiber because the raw materials are just so important to the performance that it’s almost like a failsafe for us. To say okay…

Mike Rowe: It’s almost like a base to build the product on, right?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Totally. So that was really important when designing this boucle. And obviously we needed to take a lot of weight out of it, which was a real challenge because, you know, the thing about boucle that makes it so beautiful is the height and it’s the depth between these ridges and the knots of fabrics.

So we wanted this fabric to sell all season long, although it’s a thicker fabric traditionally, it’s a trend that we’re seeing. And sometimes trends don’t really work to seasons because the way that we jumped on boucle is that we’re coming into summer at the moment, so our customer doesn’t want to sacrifice not having this trend in their home until next winter, they want it now. So making this fabric a trans-seasonal fabric was really important, and that’s just a lightweight and the breathability behind it.

So, yeah, it’s been about nine months in the making. And it’s been a bit hard cause, yeah, usually I would go over and deal with the fabric suppliers directly, and I’d be there to communicate the handful that I’m after. But, yeah, we haven’t been able to go over to China obviously this year, so it’s all been over calls, and emails, and I’ve been banging my head against a wall quite a lot. But we’ve got the final product here, we’re launching it next week, and we’re just so stoked with it. And, yeah, we’re the first ones in our game to be bringing that out, and that just makes me so proud.

Mike Rowe: Aw, that’s so cool. With boucle and the trend that you described and it being not seasonal, how did you start to identify that the trend was coming through? Was there some kind of identifiers or markers through the industry that you saw it kind of emerging and you jumped on it early? Cause there’s a lot of background work to, you know, engineer, manufacture, mass produce, market. You know, there’s lots of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. How did you kind of spot that trend and then get onto it early so that you could be ready to kind of capitalize on the trend?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think that’s just me and I’m just always looking at that stuff anyway, and then I don’t see that it’s a step in the process cause that’s, you know, a hobby, it’s what I like doing anyway. You know, I’m always searching on Instagram, and looking on Pinterest, and things like that. So I would say that was quite natural.

And I’ve always, when we first launched the business, it was around about the time that velvet was really popular, and that started with these velvet couches, and you know, velvet cushions, and then it filtered down into the velvet quilt cover. And I kind of saw that whole product life cycle, and I’ve always kind of had in my mind on that. And I thought, okay, when I see that next, and I know that that’s going to be the way that it works, so my ears were kind of pricked up and ready for the next thing.

So as soon as I saw this boucle, and I just loved it too. Like I really fell in love with it, and the story that comes with it. So, yeah, just noticing that, and that’s what made me so excited that I could kind of see the potential.

Mike Rowe: Mm. And I’m kind of curious you mentioned velvet. And I know you’ve got in development some work around ribbed velvet, and I’m curious around like what does it actually take to, you know, make a new version of something that people have such a history about what it should feel and look like.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Well, a ridged velvet is actually corduroy.

Mike Rowe: Aw… Showing my inawareness of fashion right there.

Hayley Worley: No, but I mean it’s great, because yeah we went from a velvet to a ribbed velvet. So I think that trends do need that sense of understanding too. Like we were happy with the velvet, we were happy with the tactile nature of it. You know, the piles on it, we liked how it felt. And so then when corduroy came along we were still familiar with that, and it just had this rib through it, so it was a really good update for that. So I think even if you’re not aware of it, you still kind of, you know, remember the way it looks and feels, and you’re kind of primed for that next thing.

Mike Rowe: Yeah. Something like as a Sheet Society customer myself, like I love the quality of the sheets. But what I think I find really impressive is how they can be mixed and matched together. So like your entire product line could kind of work with other aspects of the things that you’re making. And I’m wondering like from a vision standpoint how do you think about the different products that you launched and how they all come together under the banner of The Sheet Society?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Well, we approach it with, I guess the way you would pull together and outfit, right? You’ve got your wardrobe, and you’ve got your favorite pieces. You know, you’ve got your jeans that go with everything, you’ve got you know, your highlight pieces, you’ve got your colors that are a bit out there, but when you web, and you know, you’re really proud, and you feel really different and unique. So it was the same approach when designing our range, it was really important that all our colors go together, and that was a case of, you know, a lot of them have like a really beautiful gray base undertone so they’re not too loud. They all really pair back beautifully together so it’s really hard to kind of stuff it up.

Mike Rowe: Can you tell me a bit about what that means having a gray base undertone? It’s something I haven’t heard before.

Hayley Worley: Yeah, I guess every color has kind of a foundation for it. And, you know, using a gray base it kind of mutes it down a little bit. So, you know, if they’ve all got the same undertone, you know, nothing’s too red, or nothing’s too warm, nothing’s too orange. So it just it means like the colors, you know, pair really well together and mesh really beautifully.

Mike Rowe: They’re not like the neon like you were describing before, right?

Hayley Worley: No. And they’re not chosen in isolation from each other too when we pick a new color. We kind of bring it into the family and see how it’s going to look with all of its friends, and see who its best friends would be, and you know, what other combinations we can achieve with that color.

So we’re really picky about adding in new colors and it’s really important to us that, you know, if you’ve bought our blush sheets three years ago if we bring out we’ve got a new color called “butter” coming out, which is like this beautifully milky yellowy color, we need to know that that goes with your blush sheets. So you’ve got no hesitation bringing that into your home and being able to mix and match it with what you’ve got.

So, yeah, just the ability to kind of express yourself a little bit through your bedding, it was something that we saw was really missing in the industry. You know, if you bought some sheets they come in like a block and it would be that would be it. You know, if you lost your pillowcase, you’re kind of fucked.

Mike Rowe: Yeah.

Hayley Worley: So with us, you know, if you lose a pillowcase, or if you want to add a couple more, you know, you can always get that and it’s always the same color and the same fabric.

Mike Rowe: Mm, and you mentioned throughout COVID-19, like you’ve had to change a lot of things. The what that you do your work, the way that you deal with your manufacturers and make product. What, like, what challenges and what new ways of working has that presented for you moving forward? Because it doesn’t seem to be like encumbering you. The business seems to only be growing and getting bigger and bigger, so I’m curious like how do you see yourself now working with manufacturers and what’s the process like given that you can’t physically be there and touch and feel those fabrics when they’re being developed?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. I mean it’s so funny, we haven’t had time to stop, I would say. But the bottom of our hockey stick was right when COVID kicked off, so you know, and people are kind of thinking of ways to kind of work more slow, and you know, plan it out a little bit more. We just had the opposite, we had to run out at full bull. And so that’s encouraged us to, yeah, use technology more, you know, communicate more openly with our suppliers. You know, usually it would be, okay, this is my vision, and this is what I want you to execute.

But now the conversation is, okay, this is my idea, how can you help me with this? Like how can you go out to those fabric markets on my behalf and, you know, put yourself in my shoes?  You know, these are the trends that are coming through, bring me back some fabrics that align with those trends rather than this is A, B, C, and D, I need you to… I’m going to go and source these exact things.

So it’s been such a struggle, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t saying, you know, it’s so disappointing to not be able to get over there and really do my job properly the way that it used to be. But you’ve just got to make do, don’t you?

Mike Rowe: Yeah. How are you finding working with manufacturers in this era as well? Like you mentioned that someone’s got to go on your behalf to fabric markets, and you know, test and try and gather samples. Are you finding that the manufacturers are willing to do that kind of stuff or is it a real negotiation to get them to do that work for you?

Hayley Worley: With setting up the business I would say that there was a lot of pushing and pulling, and it was a little bit harder. But I think everyone’s in the same boat, right, with this COVID thing. Everyone in the world is being impacted so everyone’s just got this attitude of like, “All right. I’ll just do whatever I can to make this okay.” So, yeah, we’ve got a sense of that from our suppliers. And it’s actually really sweet, it’s nice to know that, you know, not everyone can do it perfectly at the moment, but we’re all just going to give it a go and it’s easier to adapt to different ways of working now because there’s no other option.

Mike Rowe: I feel like that’s a really common thing that I’ve seen too is like there’s this era of adaptability. Like it’s very imperfect right now for a lot of people and a lot of people are really struggling hard, but you know, we’re all just working with the pieces that we’ve got. Like we’ve had this interview and I’ve had a mailman at the door, we’ve had multiple issues, but we’re trying to make it work as well.

So I actually think it’s a really nice segue point though to like go back in time a little bit. And I’m curious if you can take us through like the set up and the start of your business. And what you might have considered before you decided to launch into sheets.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think it’s a really interesting question. And I’ve listened to your podcast before and it’s all really focused on, you know, the design of the actual product. And I think it’s interesting to think of the design of the actual business because that’s the first point of call. And the processes that you use to design a business are quite similar to the processes that you would use to design a product, but no one really kind of talks about that.

So yeah, designing the business per se was really important to me to get it right. I’d just come from working in the fashion world, and there was a lot of barriers or things that could go wrong when buying clothes online. You know, you’ve got to really like the branding, and the aesthetic, you’ve got to have the right size, it’s got to look good on you.

And there was all these different barriers and so when thinking about launching a business, I wanted a huge market. I wanted to appeal to as many people as possible— male and female, different demographics. I never wanted an instance where it didn’t fit, which is great with bedding because, you know, 80% of our customers have a queen bed. So it never really doesn’t fit, it never really doesn’t look good on someone’s bed.

So immediately, you know, looking at it from an e-commerce space, or going into bed sheets was a really conscious decision that we made at the time in order to set ourselves up for success even before we started designing a product.

Mike Rowe: And do you think that the bed sheets with their almost like their template sizes like you’ve got queen, king, double, single in Australia, in America you’ve got different kind of standards as well. But it sounds like once you’ve got the base template size, like and you adjust for variance of fabric, you could easily like replicate that and scale that up. So there isn’t so much of an issue about it not fitting right. Like it’s not like a crop top or a set of leggings. It has to feel and fit in a certain way.

You mentioned as well like you wanted to be open enough to as many people as possible. Were like market sizes or demographics or anything like that important to you at the time of starting the business?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Definitely. And I think it’s a really sensible discussion to have with yourself when you’re starting a business. Okay, if it’s viable, you know what does the market size look like, and you know, what percentage of the market do I need to have a successful business? And so although, you know, a lot of businesses are founded on a passion for a certain product, and you know, some really great ideas that you’ve had, you have to still have that hat on that says is this going to be viable?

Mike Rowe: Mm. Are people going to buy it? Yeah, is there a market for this? Those kind of background questions.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. And like sometimes you might not want to answer them because they might not be the answer that you want. But I think that’s what’s been the key to our success that, you know, our business is thriving and we only have a 1% market share in Australia. So the growth potential is just huge and that’s due to the decisions that I made before even deciding to go into sheets.

Mike Rowe: And do you think those decisions that you made at the start are really the base that the success of the business is built on right now. Like so I could see how, say, an alternate future is that you went into fitness wear. Obviously, there’s a lot of different, you know, complications with that, but choosing bedding and then taking your background of fashion and maybe applying to this different era seems to have given you a whole lot of like ways to explore the ideas of fashion but just pulling it into the home almost. Like it does feel like you’re making bedding accessible to people but in a way that reminds them of fashion, the things that they wear day-to-day. It’s almost like, you know, styling your room and your décor and your bedding to match.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. And I think I’ve really thought about that over the last few months, especially when we’ve been so busy during this time, and you know, we’re working the warehouse, and getting all these orders shipped out. It’s taking me to kind of stop and think like, okay, the core of the business here is that people love the product, and they you know, live the handwritten notes, and they love all the features about the product. And, yeah, those decisions were made four years ago and that’s what’s kind of been driving the business today.

Mike Rowe: What’s one of the maybe small decisions that you’ve made that has unexpectedly given you great positive results?

Hayley Worley: We write handwritten notes with every one of our orders and our customers just bloody love it. And it was kind of, like at the time we launched the business, I was just genuinely so passionate about people buying my products that I wanted to tell them thank you, and I wanted that to seem personal. But we’ve never stopped that, and I think with e-commerce brands, you know, there is that option to kind of just use a third party logistics provider and just kind of use the, you know, forget about the warehousing and dispatch and just kind of put that on an autopilot.

But the power of sending a customer a product that is perfectly packaged in beautiful tissue, and they open it up, and there’s a note that says, “Hey Mike, thanks so much for ordering sheets. I hope you love this terracotta color. It goes really well with the dove gray that you ordered a few months ago.” That is just so powerful and it’s such a simple thing.

And, yeah, it’s probably, you know, a waste of our time and resources to write that note, but we will just never stop doing that because it gives you that best experience when you open the product.

Mike Rowe: And it really sounds like it delivers an unexpected positive experience for that person on the end. Like opening up what would only feel like a gift box and gift wrapping. It’s almost like you’ve sent yourself like a pandemic gift, in a way, right now to like contribute to the quality of your life.

Hayley Worley: Absolutely. People say like, “Oh, thanks so much for the present.” And we’re like, “Well, you kind of paid for it.”

Mike Rowe: It’s interesting that some people refer to it as a present though as well because that is what I think of when you describe the experience that you just mapped out. It’s like it feels like, you know, you as the founder of the company have really taken a lot of time and care to package something to design that end experience. It’s not just about, you know, the sheets on the bed, it’s about every stage like the way that the e-commerce works and the way that your bed builder works to the email and the tone of voice of the emails that you get and how pleasant and friendly they are.

And then when it turns up, when you’ve got that handwritten note, it just feels like this brand really does care about me as a purchaser and a consumer. And it could only build a stronger build, particularly when you start seeing how you’re mapping this vision of all these different fabrics and color palettes together so that, you know, anyone can kind of remix their own look.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Definitely. Like we genuinely just bloody love our customers so much, and just appreciate them so much. So yeah, any time we can let them know that, that they’re the most important thing about our business we will.

Mike Rowe: And you mentioned like, obviously, customers are important and at the beginning like you were looking at market sizes, and demographics, and things like that. Knowing what you know now, like after a few years in operation, is that stuff still important or are you focusing more on the people that purchased the product and like user personas and things like that?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. It’s a lot of [???][36:36] Like we’ve got a really high customer repeat rate so around 30% of our existing customers purchased again.

Mike Rowe: That’s impressive.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. And it’s impressive because when we mapped out the business we thought, “People probably buy sheets once a year. Like maybe twice or like maybe if it’s an event like they’re moving house or something like that.” But the way we created the business was that you keep adding to your linen wardrobe, it wasn’t just a one-off purchase. So the mix and match, I guess, plays into that a lot too. So there’s that element of nurturing the customers that we already have and that’s by kind of offering them new products, and new colors, and new ways to style what they’ve already got. And then there’s that element of bringing new people in so getting them along for the journey too.

Mike Rowe: And at the very beginning, you know, you know that you wanted to launch into bed sheets, you know you wanted to apply some of your background in fashion to bed sheets. You know, what was maybe… what occurred after that? Like was there a barrier? Like I imagine it didn’t all just come together beautifully and easily. What happened next? Like was there… what did you have to work through to get this thing launched?

Hayley Worley: I think the biggest thing for me was articulating the vision. Because no one had seen a brand like ours before, when I left the fashion world people were saying, “Well, you know, what are you working on now?” And I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to make bed sheets.” And everyone was like, “What do you mean those like blocks of bed sheets, you know, from a department store?” And everyone’s like, “Well, you make clothes, like that sounds really boring.” And it was just a bit less [???][38:12] for everyone to conceive.

But I had this vision in my head of, you know, these beautifully messy styled beds with like relatable content. You know, you eating pizza, watching Netflix in bed, which is pretty much what you use your bed for. But because there wasn’t any, I guess, direct inspiration for that, the hardest thing for me was articulating on that vision. And I’d, you know, ordered the stock and it had arrived into Australia, and I was kind of ready to go.

And it was that first photo shoot that was really key in, you know, bringing the brand to life. And I’m a product person so I guess building the brand and the tone of voice and all of that, I was very foreign to at the time. But, you know, I just had the passion for it, and that pulled it out. And then once everyone saw the photo shoot, and understood the brand when it launched, it was kind of like, “Ah, you’re making bed sheets, but cool bed sheets.” And, yeah, it’s a funny product to be passionate about, and to kind of sell the dream of, but I think we’re just absolutely nailed that.

Mike Rowe: Yeah. It sounds like people really needed to see it to believe it.

Hayley Worley: Absolutely. Yeah.

Mike Rowe: And you mentioned the department store plastic sheeted boxes, like that’s typically my experience of buying sheets, right? It’s like you go into in Australia like a David Jones my type department store, you get that really tacky thick plastic box with a cardboard slip of what this thing looks like, and you kind of just try and make the best decision that you can.

But it sounds like because everyone had that same understanding of that’s how sheets are bought, something so different would have been almost inconceivable to a lot of people because they know no different.

Hayley Worley: Yeah, and it’s so funny, isn’t it? Like you go into the same store to buy clothes and you’re able to touch, feel, take it into the change room, try it on before you buy it, yet you’re supposed to buy this sweaty, plastic block and you’re required to spend a third of your life in it without even really touching it.

And it was just such a disconnect for us. And, you know, using natural fibers, like there’s no way we should wrap them in plastic, like the cotton needs to breathe. Yeah, so there were just so many things wrong with that and it was never a fun experience. And it was so expensive, too, like you would walk in and you would drop like $500 or $600 and you wouldn’t be happy with what you’ve just bought. It was just the only option for you.

Mike Rowe: Mm. And you mentioned that like one of the biggest challenges too was having people see your vision. Was that like colleagues in the industry or was it like manufacturers? Or was it fabric designers? Like I’m not quite sure, but like who had the problem seeing the vision?

Hayley Worley: I think it was everyone, to be honest. Like my suppliers couldn’t really understand why I wanted to, you know, use certain trims, or make certain changes to, you know, what’s been done before. And then yeah, I guess all of my friends and even my husband was like, “Are you sure you want to make bed sheets for the rest of your life?”

Mike Rowe: I bet he’s not really saying that now though.

Hayley Worley: No. I definitely remind him of that conversation though.

Mike Rowe: And in terms of getting your first product made, so the vision was a real challenge, a lot of people couldn’t quite see it. You know, did you make your first prototype locally in Melbourne in Australia or did you go straight overseas? Like how did that look for you and your business?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. I went straight overseas because that’s kind of my jam, and I knew what was required from me to be able to find a supply chain over in China. And the China thing is a really interesting one because it’s met with so much negativity, and you know, it was a conscious decision to produce in China because they have the best processors, they have the best you know, resources, and they can actually produce the best product. So it really annoys me so much when people say, “Oh, they’re just made in China.” And really that was the biggest draw card for me because I knew that these guys were making the best sheets in the world and I wanted to be a part of that.

So, yeah, I guess the first product experience, you know your first item is never correct, but for me, it was kind of picking the battles one at a time. So the fabric was the thing I wanted to get right first, and that was bringing it back to the drawing board and saying, “Okay, I wanted a long-staple cotton because I didn’t believe that it needed to be a higher thread count so get me the best yarns that you can.” And so the plants that we use to source our long-staple cotton just have the natural ability to grow longer and stronger fibers than a standard cotton plant. So that was my first box that I needed to tick.

And then it was deciding on, you know, what weave we wanted to use to make our sheets. And we went with a satin weave, which is where kind of the yarn goes four over and then one under, so you’ve got more surface area of the fabric, which makes it softer. And it also gives this a tiny bit of a sheen. And because we knew we were going to be a color and trends-led business, we wanted a really good vessel to show those colors off properly. So that was the second box that I wanted to tick.

And then the, I guess the product design came into it, too. So you know, I knew from, you know, my whole life of making the bed that it was an awful, awful activity. So anything that we could do to make that better we did. So the fitted sheet has like a really deep side you could tuck it right under your mattress. We introduced a really thick elastic along the edge of the fitted sheets so it doesn’t go crunchy, you know, it’s got enough stretch and recovery to be able to get it over your mattress, but also hug it really tight from underneath.

So we’re just ticking off these boxes of things that were pain points that, you know, you kind of just put up with and just say, “Okay, cool, that’s just changing the bed. It’s annoying.” But we wanted to change that around and even our zippers on the bottom of our quilt cover, so we’ve got an invisible zipper that opens the whole way. So you can get right in there, however you change your quilt, you’ve got the whole thing to play with. So you can jump in, put your quilt in there, and then you know, you’re not doing up these pesky little buttons that, you know, you get to the end and you’re like, “Oh fuck, I missed one. I’ve got to do it again.”

You’re able to just, you know, it’s so satisfying, you just slide your zipper and then it’s almost invisible, you don’t know where it is. So just those little things that, you know, annoyed you at the time you couldn’t do anything about it, but just kind of ticking them off and iterating too. Like a lot of our first prototypes didn’t have all these features, but it was through trialing, and you know, figuring out the perfect weight of zipper, you know, what gauge did we need? What did the puller need to look like? You know, in the early days we had a lot of zippers that were breaking because the fabric requirement of the zipper, it was so heavy. So then we had to go up a size and now we only use branded zippers that we need to test for each order.

So I’m a really big believer of kind of really iterating product as you go along. And you know, we’ve got a really great product at the moment, but you know, anything that I can do to kind of improve on that incrementally we will always do.

And, yeah, if you’re kind of waiting for the perfect product to launch, I feel like you’re too late because your customers can always give you that feedback and say, “Okay, when we launch first, we had the 30 centimeter deep walls on our fitted sheets. And we thought, okay, the Australian standard’s 20, let’s go 30, and like we’ve nailed this.” But there were people out there that had like 50 centimeter mattresses, and they were saying, “Your fitted sheets don’t fit.” And we’re like, “Are you joking, guys? They’re huge.”

So then we kind of made them even deeper. But when, you know, you’re making them deeper, you’ve got people that still have, you know, 20 centimeter mattresses, and they’ve kind of got too much fabric. So then we’ve got to make the elastic tie there, so even if it’s, you know, they’re different mattress sizes vary in depths when the sheet’s on, it hugs it properly. So all these iterations, you know, and it will never stop. But, yeah, that’s kind of what makes us special.

Mike Rowe: It sounds like that even though you’ve got pretty set template sizes like king, queen, double, there’s still the affordance that you need to give for people who might have a mattress with a topper or two toppers. Or, you know, who knows how high they can be it sounds like in what you’re saying.

Actually, your zipper is possibly one of my favorite details of the product. I’ve always hated having buttons cause, you know, as a designer myself if I see a button undone and the white duvet hanging out the bottom of, you know, my beautiful koala bear, and I’m just like, “Oh God! Just can’t you look nice and neat for once? I’ve tried so hard!”

Hayley Worley: It’s like an untucked shirt.

Mike Rowe: Yeah. It really is, right? It just kind of just, as a designer, like it gives me a little twitch in my forehead when I see that kind of stuff. But your zipper, like what I’ve noticed is the pull of the zipper, it’s smooth, and it’s really nice, and as someone who wears a lot of active wear, does a lot of outdoor stuff, like zippers are really important for things like good jackets and stuff like that. So, you know, you learn to love brands that make good quality zippers because if a zipper breaks on your favorite hoodie or your favorite product, it’s really frustrating to get it replaced. Cause, you know, one it’s a lot of effort and work, but it just doesn’t feel that great thereafter.

But the zipper, I’ve noticed on your product and your bedding, just seems to like flow really nicely and makes that end of that annoying experience of making your bed just that little like 2% better. Which is, I think, really nice.

Hayley Worley: Yes! Yes, it’s all about that, right? And, you know, we haven’t skimped on the zipper. Like we’ve literally bought the most expensive zippers that you can buy. Cause, you know, the price difference is a couple of dollars, but like if it means that it’s not going to break, then it gives you that satisfaction. It’s 1,000% worth it for us.

Mike Rowe: Yeah. Another detail, actually, about your sheets that I really love is that thick elastic that goes at the base And, you know, in our pre-interview we were actually talking a little bit about that, and it’s not actually an elastic that’s used for bedding typically. Can you tell us a little bit about where you discovered this elastic and why you use it?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. So, I guess one of the frustrations I had with fitted sheets were that the old ones that I had in my cupboard, you know, the elastic will go kind of crunchy, and it would like lose its stretch, and the elastic was kind of embedded in the fabric. So it’s kind of inside the seam, so you could only stretch the elastic as much as the fabric would go. And it would just never have enough stretch in it.

So I guess having a product background and, you know, working with apparel previously, I knew that there was a better option. And, you know, what better option than the elastic that you use on your undies, cause that doesn’t fail. You can’t have your undies around your ankles.

So fundamentally I knew that that worked as an option. And so, yeah, I remember going out to China and sourcing in the markets. And there’s, yeah, a beautiful market just near Guangzhou, and you can go there, and there’s like an accessory market, and it’s just like a kid in a candy store. You can find any option.

And so I sourced this beautiful ribbed elastic and it has the best stretch and recovery, and I was so excited for it. And I flew back up to my suppliers, which is a little bit north of Shanghai, and I showed it to them, and I was like, “This is it, guys, so excited.” And I remember there was probably three or four guys in the room, and they were all just looking at me, and like kind of scratching their heads. And they’re like, “Oh, I’m not sure.”

And I had the factory’s business card who made the elastic. And so one of them gets on the phone, and he’s like, “Hey,” you know, I couldn’t understand what he was saying, they’re speaking in Mandarin obviously. And so he walks out of the room, and there’s this big kerfuffle, and it’s kind of going on for ten minutes, and I’m just sitting there being like, “Okay, can I have my fitted sheet now?” And so the guy that I deal with at the factory, he kind of sat me down and he was like, “Look, unfortunately, we’ve called the supplier and they don’t have any elastic that’s for bedding, it’s all for underwear. So it’s not right.”

And I just had to kind of laugh and say, “Okay, I do understand that this is an underwear elastic supplier, but can we just order something in and just give it a go?” And they just looked at me like I was an absolute idiot. So we had ordered some, and we’d given it a go, and they just went, “Not sure how to sew it,” so I jumped on the machine, and we trialed it. And, yeah, after a few iterations we got there, and it just makes such a difference. And now, like you’ve talked to my suppliers, they’re like claiming it as their own. Like, “Oh you know, we’ve got the best elastic on our fitted sheets.”

Mike Rowe: It’s like, thanks, guys.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. So, yeah, it’s a really interesting story, and you don’t have to push the limits a bit and, yeah, I’m glad we persevered and really pushed through.

Mike Rowe: Mm. Yeah. It is, I think, a remarkable detail for the product. And even like the way that it hugs the base of the mattress as well, and it does feel like it has full coverage. I think you’ve done a really good job there.

Hayley Worley: So satisfying, isn’t it? Like flinging it over and it hugs there. You’re like ooh… yeah.

Mike Rowe: This is coming from a guy who like I think ironing and making the bed has always been—and vacuuming—have always been like household tasks that I’ve always not enjoyed the most. So any brand or business that makes those things easier for me, like totally has my support. So, yeah, you’re doing great work there.

I’m curious about your journey in China and going from your supplier down to the market and seeing that elastic. You know, can you describe like what you were looking for when you went on that journey? Was there a particular aesthetic or feel or something that was a match for your vision that you were looking for or did you just you saw it and that’s the one that you wanted? That was the right kind of fit.

Hayley Worley: I think it’s important to keep an open mind with that. I knew what I wanted to improve and I didn’t know exactly how to improve it, but you know, I think the best thing about going out there, and meeting people, and going into markets and speaking to suppliers is that you can openly say, “Hey, I’m trying to solve this problem. What do you think can help it?” And just learning, and you know, absorbing information wherever you can.

Mike Rowe: It sounds like bringing the supplier in on the problem really helps the process for you as well.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Definitely. And I’ve especially noticed that recently not being able to be over there and to offer a solution, a clear solution, the best thing is to bring them on the journey of the problem.

Mike Rowe: Now like coming all the way back, like you started very much as like a one-person or a two-person shop with you and your husband Andy. How did you actually like get your start? Like you’ve got this vision, you’ve got these ideas for what this product’s going to look like, you’ve got connections to people in China who can make this brand, and this business, and this product, and get it off the ground. But, you know, how did you actually get the thing started? Did you use your own capital in the beginning and just buy a ticket and go over to China or how did you actually, you know, make the start to your business?

Hayley Worley: Yeah, well, I think you just got to start one thing at a time. And if I look back at, you know, everything I’ve done over the past four years, they’re just little things that I’ve ticked off that have equated to the big thing.

So in the early days, I would just allocate a weekend and say, “Okay, I’m going to spend this weekend designing a flat sheet. And it’s going to be the best bloody flat sheet you’ve ever seen.” And once you’ve got that, then that’s in your portfolio, you’ve done that. And then the next week it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to figure out a logo.” And then, you know, after a few weeks you’ve got this suite of what the business can look like.

And, you know, that traction early on of just like growing it, and adding to your knowledge base, and building on what the brand looks like, it’s so important. And, you know, I think you can get overwhelmed with, “Okay, where the hell do I start with building a business?” But you start just by doing and the tiniest things add up to bigger things along the way. So it was just about sitting down and knocking a few things off, and you know, I’m still here today knocking a few things off.

Mike Rowe: It seems like minimalism is a big part of the brand as well—everything from the fabrics, the colors, the styles. Like there’s flair there, but your logo, like it’s very discrete and minimal, and beautiful. And I want to like ask you some questions around your website because typically what I’ve seen when a brand first starts like they might have an amazing product, they might have a great logo, but their online experience is either too complicated, or it’s overwhelming, or just kind of breaks down.

What were the challenges you faced in the beginning like knowing that you probably wanted to be an online brand and people were going to buy bed sheets online? What challenges did you face getting your website started and trying to perhaps have the same aesthetic qualities of your fabric ring through to your online side?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. It was hard to pull it all together, but I think there’s so many great resources out there in launching a website. You know, we’ve been on the Shopify platform ever since we’ve started, and that is just such an amazing tool. You can jump in the back end and it’s so user-centric. So, you know, you know where you put your product photos, you know where you can type your description in, and you can choose from a whole bunch of template. So it is easy to get started in that sense.

You know, we did all of that on web design for the first six months of the business. You know, I took our first product photos on my iPhone. So where there’s a will there’s a way. And, you know, we’re getting into more iterative things at the moment. You know, we’re really upping our tech, but yeah, making the call to be an online only business meant that we did need to have that really strong aesthetic. We needed to have a really strong story. We need to sell a tactile product that people can’t feel before they buy it.

And I think brands like, you know, the mattress in a box brands, and you touched on Koala before, they’ve really paved the way for people buying products like that that you haven’t really touched and feel, but they can give you confidence in that purchasing journey before you even kind of started to check out. And that’s things like, you know, peer-to-peer reviews, you know, making sure you’ve got, you know, that chic website that tells a story that you feel confident about the brand, and you feel willing to invest in it.

Mike Rowe: Yeah. Great. And being someone that came from fashion, was digital something that you found natural or was it something that you had to really like learn and adapt to as you built the business over time?

Hayley Worley: No, I felt like it was quite a natural progression or me. The fashion brand that I worked in before I started my business was purely an online fashion brand. So they sold mostly through Instagram and through their social following. So that, I guess, digital first mentality I really had a handle on that. And I knew that that was key to growth, so I guess if you’re looking at bigger supply or bigger brands that have, you know, that retail footprint that also have an online strategy, it’s always like one is prioritized rather than the other.

So having that tech focus and knowing that, yeah, this is an online business and that’s where we’re focused on has really made us make decisions like building our bed builder as a really important investment for us. And I think it’s easy—or as I said before, it’s easy to set up your own website and get started, it’s also easy just to keep that out of the box solution ticking on.

But where we’ve really noticed that we can grow is investing more in being a better website and offering more to our customers. So, yeah, we’ve got some really cool things that we’re working on at the moment. Like our bed builder, which had been in works for I think a couple of years I think it was something that we always wanted to launch. There was brands like Shoes of Prey, and you know, those configurated brands where you can log on and almost design your own shoe or design your own pair of sunglasses or whatever it was. We wanted to do the same for bed sheets.

So, yeah, launching that in March this year was just such a huge achievement. And our customers really love it, too, and it helps tell the story of our brand. You know, we want you to mix and match, we want you to express your creativity through your bed. Here you see inspo images on Instagram, but now you can actually design your bed, you can see what it looks like, you can look at different angles, you can add different pillows in, you can change the quilt cover, you can flick through different images. So that was a really, really important part of the brand’s growth in the digital space. So, yeah, we’re really proud to have done that.

And then just last week we’ve launched that whole experience into augmented reality. So you’re able to build a bed of your dreams, click a little button, and project that onto your actual bed and see what it looks like in the space. So, yeah, I think being a digital first business we’ll always have that as our main focus, and we’ll always be pushing the boundaries there.

Mike Rowe: It sounds like all of that is or could be attributed to your decisions in the very beginning that you were making about how the brand was going to look, how the business was going to be designed, and how it was all going to work. Because you probably could have followed that typical path of trying to get into a department store, and putting your product in plastic bags, which they probably mandate that you do. So it sounds like those decisions that you made at the start really are paying off, particularly now in this era of online e-commerce.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Definitely. I’ve got a few friends that have brands that they wholesale as well to bigger suppliers. And obviously when you’re setting your margins up for a wholesale price, you factor in that to your final retail price. And we knew that we didn’t want to do that. So instead we factored in a cost per conversion price to our margin. Because we knew we would always need to sell via digital marketing. So what is that cost to sell and let’s make sure that that’s always factored into the cost of goods and our first margin.

Mike Rowe: Mm. That’s really cool. I think a lot of younger entrepreneurs probably learn that lesson the hard way throughout time.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. It’s a tough lesson to make because, you know, people always say, “Okay, what did it cost you to make? What did it cost you to get it here? And what are you selling it for?” And that’s a discussion that happens independently too. How much are you gonna spend to sell that? And, you know, if you look at a traditional PNL, you know, your product costs are above the line, and your marketing spend is below the line, and we were kind of like, “Okay, well, what’s our marketing budget?” And not having a lot to spend on marketing we needed to make sure that every dollar we were spending we were getting it back.

And, yeah, I think that was the exciting thing in the beginning because we were able to use tools like Google Adwords and Facebook Business Manager, and we were able to set daily budgets on that. And say, “Okay, in the beginning I’m going to spend $300 on the Facebook platform. How many conversions can I get?” And if you, you know, you get six conversions, great, okay, and the cost per conversion is X. Does that work into my pricing model? No. Okay, I need to keep my cost per conversion down to this, you know, required amount. And then once you kind of find that sweet spot, then you’re able to scale and grow out your digital ads like that.

So that was the exciting thing at the start that you’re able to take that into your own hands. You know, you don’t need a marketing agency, you just need to—I did a few online courses to learn how to use Business Manager, and that was the key to our growth originally. And the fact that we can kind of start that every day, start a different marketing campaign, with a different set of images, with a different set of messages with different copy to a different audience. Yeah, it was really fun.

Mike Rowe: It sounds like that control really gives you a lot of affordance to just test really cool and interesting ideas just as regularly as you like, which maybe some brands don’t get the chance to.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. You’ve got to… I think it was good for me because I had a handle on, you know, what was great about the product. And so I knew that if I could edit a video of a really satisfying slow-motion zipper undo I could target that to someone, you know, my demographic or even your demographic. And, you know, really hone into like what’s great about the product and what your pain points are when having a normal quilt cover. That was what was really powerful in that digital space early on.

Mike Rowe: And you mentioned at the start of the discussion about your website that it was important to have the tactile nature of the product be kind of visible through the purchasing experience. An I’m wondering like did that perspective on thinking like that change the way that you design the site or did it influence decisions that you made about the builder so that you can inherently like pepper the tactile experience through there as best you can? Cause digital is like famously like not tactile, right? Like not even an iPad, which we touch, gives us much of a tactile sensation outside of the glass. But I’m wondering like in terms of your design how did you think about the experience of the touch sensation in the purchasing experience?

Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think that all goes down to the storytelling too. Like I guess touch is quite, you know, it’s an evoking sense. So we were able to, you know, tell stories about, you know, comfort in bed, and you know, draping fabric and things like that, and trying to evoke that sense of touch even without having that tactile nature.

But it was really important for us to get people on board with, okay, is this going to be the right product? How can we show people coming to our website that people have liked that before and so that’s where the review platform has really, really played a huge part in our growth. And I think, yeah, going back to brands like Koala they’ve got amazing review platform. And that’s almost probably the thing that gets their customer to convert at the end of the day.

So that was really important. We offered to send out swatches of fabric to anyone free of charge. So they’re able to touch, and feel, and look at our whole color solution. So that kind of breaks down that barrier a little bit. And then we have a 30-day great in bed guarantee. So if you take our sheets home and sleep on them for 30 days, and you’re not sold, we’ll give you a refund. And so just like kind of like backing yourself in that sense it kind of takes away that need to touch and feel because you’ve been given the confidence in other areas. And even if we talk back onto the design thing, you know, the fact that we’ve covered off this zipper, and this elastic, it’s kind of assumed that of course we’ve got the fabric right too.

Mike Rowe: And out of all of the details, and all the stories, and all the work that you’ve done, like what’s your favorite thing about The Sheet Society so far?

Hayley Worley: Oh, that’s like what’s your favorite child? I think what I love about the product is that it’s not one thing that appeals to the masses. You know, you mentioned before that yours is the zipper, but a lot of people it’s the elastic. And, you know, a lot of other people it’s their pillowcase, they’ve got a really deep flap, so it kind of traps the pillow inside and doesn’t pop out. So everyone’s had their different frustrations with bedding and sheets, and how they, you know, buy that product and interact with that product. So the fact that we’re able to fix so many elements means that, you know, one of those at least will appeal to you and you’ll kind of get won over with that one thing that has made your life better.

Mike Rowe: Yeah, there’s probably like one key annoyance that you have that’s the trigger, and then you’ve got those other little things that bother you that you can live with. But it sounds like by going after the three of them, or however many you’re going for, you can kind of check all those boxes so that regardless of your concern, like it’s taken care of.

Hayley Worley: Yeah. Exactly. And then, you know, all of these other things that you weren’t concerned about and we’ve kind of exceeded your expectations it’s like, oh, cool, I didn’t know I was annoyed by that but now I like this even more.

Mike Rowe: Well that sounds like a perfect place to park part one. How about we end there and we’ll pick up again soon?

Hayley Worley: Awesome.

Mike Rowe: Well, this has been huge, but everything good must come to an end. If you liked this episode and want to hear more, you can get “The Goods” on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast network, or listening app. Thank you for listening. Until next time, this is Mike signing off.

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