I get up early, very early. When I turn on the TV while eating breakfast, I almost always see a MyPillow infomercial. They are everywhere. It got me thinking. What is the story of MyPillow.
Early one morning in 2003, Mike Liddell was sitting at the kitchen table scribbling on a notepad. He couldn’t get an idea out of his head and that morning he came up with the name and logo. His daughter got up for a drink of water and before going back to bed she asked him what he was doing.
“I’m going to invent the best pillow the world has ever seen!” he exclaimed. “It’s going to be called MyPillow!”
“Dad, that’s really random,” and went to her room.
Mike Liddell had always been annoyed with pillows. The only time he ever got any rest was by adjusting the pillow multiple times throughout the night so it would keep its shape.
Mike’s perfect pillow would automatically adjust to keep its shape. He began by buying different types of foams and asked his son’s to help tear the foam into different sized pieces. He would then experiment by putting different types of foam and sizes into pillows. He would test it out by sleeping on it.
Day after day, as well as night after night, he tested. Finally, he settled on a mix of three sizes of foam, a pebble, a dime, and a quarter sized pieces. When he put the right amount of each size into a pillow it kept its shape. It was a perfect pillow. He thought immediately this pillow “would change lives.”
Hand stuffing pillows was not scalable. He tried every machine and apparatus he could find. Nothing seemed to work. Finally a friend suggested a hammermill, which is a machine that is used to grind corn into feed.
He couldn’t find one anywhere, and then a friend called and said he had spotted one rusting away in a field not too far from Lindell’s house. He bought it, fixed it up, and it worked.
He made 300 pillows and set up meetings with buyers from major big box retailers. “I said, ‘I have the best pillow ever made. How many would you like?’ ”
How about zero.
A friend suggested he try a mall kiosk. So in 2004 Lindell borrowed $12,000 to rent a kiosk at the Eden Prairie Center for six weeks. He sold his first pillow the first day the kiosk opened. But there was a problem. He priced the pillow below his cost to produce and the people that did buy them had problems finding pillow cases big enough to cover them.
The kiosk failed.
He then mortgaged his house and borrowed money from friends. He also learned to count cards at the blackjack table. He got so good at it he was banned from every casino within a day’s drive of his house.
The day after he closed his kiosk he got a call from one of his few customers that said “This pillow changed my life!”.
The customer convinced him to take 300 pillows to the Minneapolis Home & Garden Show. He took the standard sized ones instead of the large ones. They sold out. He then went to the Minnesota State Fair and they sold out again. “Those are your testing grounds. A product that works at the fair works, period.”
Over the next few years this is how the company grew its following. Lindell would drive around in a truck stuffed with pillows selling them at fairs.
This is when he was forced to make a tough decision. He was struggling with addiction. It had already ruined his 20-year marriage as well as put undue stress on his financial situation. He had been arrested three times for various things.
He had been addicted to crack since the late 1990’s. Especially when he hit a rough patch in life or in business he abused crack heavily.
In 2008, his drug use got so bad that even his dealers wouldn’t sell him drugs anymore. After Lindell had been on a drug rampage, and literally hadn’t slept for 19 straight days, he went back to them for more. It was unprecedented, but the three largest drug dealers in the city refused to sell him anymore crack. They had an intervention.
“I knew that if I didn’t quit that day, I wouldn’t be able to make the most of what was happening in my life,” Lindell said. “I couldn’t wait. Not even one more day.”
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the best comeback in the history of the U.S.”
With that, he prayed.
“I asked God to take away my desire to do drugs,” Lindell said. “I said, ‘Take it away, and I’m all yours.’”
God answered the prayer.
“The next morning, the desire was gone,” Lindell said. “Everything was gone. I woke up and felt the most peaceful I ever have.”
He’s been sober ever since.
Soon after he borrowed $30,000 to amend the relationships with his foam supplier and sewing company. He also went back on the fair circuit where several knockoff products were starting to show up.
History has proven it takes a lot of hard work to get a lucky break. Lindell’s break came when he was interviewed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in January 2011. They did more in sales that day then the prior six months. He started to run more print ads. He took out print ads in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Things were good, but the best way to sell his pillows was to present them live. He could sell anyone if he was in front of the customer. He raised $300,000 from friends and family to produce a long-form infomercial.
In August 2011, he rented a space with a studio audience in downtown St. Paul. He had a written a script, but defaulted to his own ad-libbed rendition where he used phrases like “Don’t change that channel because the next half-hour is going to change your life” and described the conventional down pillow as “the worst thing that ever happened to America.”
Before the infomercial aired he flew to meet with his fabric supplier and foam supplier to get them to agree to extend millions of dollars of credit to him for the deluge of business he was expecting from the informercial.
The supplier said, “He [Lindell] had no credit and wanted $1 million in goods on credit.” To this day the supplier doesn’t know why, but they gave it to him.
The foam supplier said, “He made this pitch to me about how he was going to be the biggest pillow maker in the world,” Smith recalls. “He had quite a story, and the other guys never said a word. I found out later he brought them as a prop.”
The infomercial aired at 3am ET on October 7, 2011. It became the most successful informercial in the world. He couldn’t hire people fast enough. In two months he went from 10 employees to 500. He bought more and more infomercial spots until he actually ran out of available spots. In 6 months he sold $100 million worth of MyPillows.
The growing pains continued. He couldn’t keep his costs down and was losing $250,000 per week. Up to this point he was paying FedEx retail rates. When a FedEx representative came to visit he offered Lindell a rate so cheap he couldn’t believe it. It was enough to make the company profitable.
Further growing pains occurred when he had to settle some lawsuits against advertising claims made in infomercials in California. All were settled and claims removed.
Lindell then got MyPillows into Wal-Mart and other retailers. He even got MyPillow into Home Depot and agricultural stores. It was easy to get them into retail. Retailers love it when a brand is spending $40-50-60 million per year on infomercials.
Lindell is obsessed with customer satisfaction. He gets alerts on his phone when customers are on hold for more than a few minutes. He gets more alerts on his phone when emails pile up and aren’t answered within a few minutes. Less than 3 percent of MyPillow buyers return products.
Annual revenues are now over $300 million. Lindell is building a new production plant that could produce 85,000 pillows per day. His goal is to hit $1 billion in sales. He says the key is just buying more advertising.
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