Vision and strategy. On their own, each has merits. Vision provides a prognostication of the future, informing the aim or direction in which to head, while strategy determines the approach to be taken in order to arrive at the desired destination or outcome. For many retailers and brands, these fundamentals of business are all too often sloganized, rendering them virtually meaningless and ineffective. However, when thoughtfully developed, they can be combined to significantly impact the trajectory of any operation, instilling clarity and purpose, and advising the creation of a tactical roadmap that leads to success and growth.
For a best-in-class case study of the positive results generated by a clear vision and adept strategy, one need not look any further than Sleep Country Canada. On the heels of a number of clever acquisitions and partnership developments, the country’s leading omnichannel specialty sleep retailer recently announced the expansion of its partnership with Walmart Canada and the launch of its innovative Sleep Country Express and Dormez-vous Express stores. It’s a decision that Stewart Schaefer, President and incoming CEO of Sleep Country and Dormez-vous, says ensures continued progress for the company and sustained evolution of the brand.
“From a business perspective, partnering with really relevant brands, both in terms of merchandising and product as well as the social and corporate values they stand for, is really important to us,” he says. “We’ve been very careful and deliberate with respect to the partnerships we develop. A company like Walmart Canada, which exemplifies a lot of fabulous things, is a great partner. And the launch of our Sleep Country Express and Dormez-vous Express stores will allow us to get our brand and product in front of even more Canadians on a daily basis. Philosophically, part of our job and commitment is to never become complacent, and to continuously challenge ourselves to make it easier for Canadians to access the Sleep Country brand. We recognize that the retailers that become complacent are the ones that don’t survive. And those that continue to innovate and understand the shopping journey from the consumer’s perspective are the ones that thrive. The expansion of our partnership with Walmart Canada is a great example of this innovation.”
The partnership between two of the most well-known brands in the country began back in March 2019 when Sleep Country’s Bloom collection of mattresses was made available on Walmart Canada’s online marketplace. In the short time that’s followed, the partnership has blossomed with all of the specialty sleep retailer’s mattresses under $1,000, as well as a curated selection of sleep accessories, now accessible on Walmart.ca. Through the expanded partnership, highlighted by the opening of ten pilot stores – seven in Ontario and three in Quebec – the company has been able to broaden its customer reach and maintain its growth around channel innovation. With an average footprint of approximately 500 square feet, prominently situated inside Walmart Canada licensee locations at the front of the stores adjacent to the checkout lines, Sleep Country Express and Dormez-vous Express stores further increase the visibility of the brand. And, according to Schaefer, the introduction of the brand-new concept also represents an important addition to the ways by which the Sleep Country brand can be accessed by Canadians, offering them something new while still providing the expert customer service that Sleep Country has become known for.
“We’ve made sure to procure the most popular SKUs for these locations,” he asserts. “The look and feel of the Express stores will be very similar to the Sleep Country colours and branding with an experience centred around ease and convenience. The back wall of each store houses compartments containing bed-in-a-box products that can be pulled out and purchased via cash-and-carry right there. In addition, we also offer our white-glove delivery service if the customer wants to make the purchase in-store and have the product delivered to their home. There will also be three mattresses on the floor for customers to try and test. And, the stores also feature something we call the ‘crib’, which resembles a bookcase, that holds about five mattresses which can be pulled out to test as well. In addition to mattresses, our Express stores will feature a curated assortment of our most popular sleep accessories including pillows, sheets, mattress and pillow protectors, headboards and adjustable bases. Most importantly, however, the stores will be staffed by Sleep Country’s expert associates who will be there to assist customers and answer any questions that they might have.”
Crest of incredible growth
Schaefer describes the partnership with Walmart Canada as a mutually advantageous one in which both retailers reap rewards, benefitting from the other’s brand strength and appeal. However, it’s not the only development of the like that Sleep Country has orchestrated recently. In fact, the company’s been extremely active on the acquisition and partnership front. In 2018, it finalized a deal to acquire Endy – Canada’s largest online mattress brand – while also teaming up with Europe’s leading mattress-in-a-box provider, Simba. A little more than a year later, in October 2020, Sleep Country became the exclusive Canadian retailer of Purple – the leading mattress-in-a-box creator in the U.S. And, most recently, in June of this year, the specialty sleep retailer announced a new partnership with another renowned brand, Best Buy Canada, equipping the electronics retailers’ online marketplace with a curated selection of Sleep Country’s sleep solutions. Supporting much of these efforts has been the fully transactional SleepCountry.ca website (Dormezvous.com in the province of Quebec), which was launched back in November 2019. These partnerships, acquisitions and digital enhancements are emblematic of the retailer’s penchant to grow and the results, says Schaefer, of many years of hard work and determination.
“People are starting to observe a lot of innovative new ideas being generated by Sleep Country,” he admits. “But these things have been building behind the scenes for a long time now. During this time, the entire team has been incredibly focused and committed to remaining on course with respect to the Sleep Country brand and the values and innovative thinking that have served as the foundation of the company for so many years. We’ve been clear with our vision and have persevered through many recent challenges in order to start to reinvent the way retail is perceived by all stakeholders. All of our partners have been tremendous to work with and have been instrumental in our efforts to continue innovating and delivering our brand to more Canadians across the country.”
Filling customer needs
Given the success of Sleep Country’s current relationship with Walmart Canada, combined with the fact that the retail giant with the lowest everyday price operates 400 stores nationwide serving 1.5 million customers each day, there remain immense opportunities to grow the partnership further. Schaefer stresses that the Express pilot locations are meant to serve as a testing ground for Sleep Country in order for the brand to properly gauge the effectiveness and success of the new concept. Based on its track record and performance to date, however, it seems that Canada’s specialty sleep retailer, which currently operates 287 stores, 17 fulfillment centres and 2 storage hubs across Canada, may be on to something extraordinary.
“With respect to our Express stores, we’re going to test, test and test some more,” he says. “Over the next few months as we monitor and analyze results and performance of the concept, we’ll be able to hone in on what works and what doesn’t in order to determine the optimal experience for the customer. And, if results prove to be what I expect and all goes well, then I can foresee comfortably growing these locations by between 60 and 100 across the country. In fact, we may end up rolling out even more than that given the flexible, adaptive nature of the concept that we’ve created. The Express store doesn’t need to be exclusive to Walmart Canada locations. They can be anywhere, as long as the experience the stores offer fills a customer need and increases engagement with the Sleep Country brand.”
Shifting consumer preferences
With respect to the retail experience, it’s one that Schaefer says continues to change with ever-evolving consumer preferences that have been significantly influenced by impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. As consumer preferences shift, so do the ways in which retailers must engage with their audiences. And, considering all of the channels and devices available to today’s consumer to facilitate and support research, review and purchase of products and services, the task at hand for retailers seems as complex as it is nebulous. However, as Schaefer points out, Sleep Country’s endless curiosity and propensity to consistently improve its offering enables its ability, providing it with an impetus, to continuously broaden its understanding of the customer and their journey with the brand.
“The lid has been lifted on ecommerce,” he says. “There’s no question about that. The acceleration of online shopping is one of the biggest results of the pandemic on retail. However, what we’ve also come to realize through the pandemic is that the physical, experiential component to retail is perhaps more important now than it ever has been. People like to visit the stores of their favourite brands. They like to touch and feel product. They like to experience wonderful atmospheres. Only, today, it represents one piece of the omnichannel experience. In the end, people want choice. So, we need to be cognizant of the fact that the retail journey is evolving and including more touch points today than at any time previous. Fortunately for Sleep Country, the team is made up of curious souls who have embraced these shifts in consumer behaviour and changes to the landscape to continue pushing the brand forward, broadening our community of customers as we continue to grow our sleep ecosystem.”
Removal of borders and limitations
Recounting the work that’s been put in by Schaefer and his team over the course of the past five-plus years in order to support the success that Sleep Country is currently enjoying is no doubt impressive. Its collective vision and strategy have lent extremely well toward the creation of a roadmap that seems to be leading the brand to further expansion and enhancements. The digitization of the business, the clever acquisitions the brand has made and the innovative partnerships its developed with one-time competitors are all results of the team’s dedicated focus. And, as Schaefer reveals, there’s still plenty of road for the company to cover as it continues to make incredible gains and grow the Sleep Country brand even further.
“Our brand and business used to be defined by the landscape and geography of Canada. People looked at us as a brick-and-mortar retailer. But the world has changed and the digital transformation that’s been accelerated by the pandemic has just opened up borders. Does that mean borders outside of Canada? Maybe one day. But, most importantly, the digitization of the industry has removed limitations with respect to the ways by which we can reach our customers, beyond the geographical footprint that we’ve created from coast to coast. So, we’re going to continue exploring and talking to innovative and relevant brands that have the same vision of the future as we do and partnering with them to deliver excellent value. And we’re going to maintain our focus on our customer, the ways they want to engage with the Sleep Country brand and how we can continue to improve on the service we provide for them.”