After getting barraged with texts and calls about a possible pillow shortage at the Olympics in Sochi, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell dashed to help, shipping 3,000 pillows produced at the company’s plant in Shakopee.
As of Friday evening, the pillows were on a plane heading to U.S. Olympic headquarters in Colorado Springs, but it doesn’t appear they will get much farther.
Blame Russian customs, Lindell said.
“We tried every way, shape and form to send them to Russia, but they blocked them,” said Lindell, who founded his Chanhassen-based pillow manufacturing firm in 2005. “We surely tried.”
FedEx spokesman Steve Barber said shipping the pillows to Colorado was the best the global shipping company could do. “We concluded that this is as far as we can go at this time, given the restrictions on getting things into Russia,” he said.
Russian customs would accept only five pillows and wouldn’t deliver them for six weeks. The shipment also could not exceed 200 euros or weigh more than 62 pounds.
“They had all these crazy restrictions,” Lindell said. “It was just so frustrating.”
Lindell’s journey from optimistic do-gooder to frustrated business owner began Thursday when he started receiving dozens of texts, e-mails and news reports saying that Olympic athletes were suffering a pillow shortage. Then a Chicago radio station called him and asked him to intervene.
“We were told there was a pillow shortage there. That’s embarrassing,” said Lindell, a longtime Olympic ski fan who was determined to help.
If news of a shortage is true, it is just the latest in a series of embarrassing moments for Sochi at this year’s Winter Games. The airwaves have been flooded with news reports suggesting that Russia was far from ready for the event. The conditions in Sochi set social media ablaze this week, as complaints poured in of subpar hotels, brown water from faucets, twin toilets and long security lines. And during the Opening Ceremony on Friday, the Olympic symbol had a ring missing because of a technical malfunction.
News of the pillow shortage first emerged earlier this week when pictures on Instagram showed fliers in Russian that were allegedly given to Sochi apartment dwellers. A translation of the flier claimed that apartment pillows would be taken and given to athletes and media guests in the Olympic Village. Reporters from Newsweek, Fox and other publications sent in their own missives about hotels that had missing blankets, doorknobs and pillows.
“We heard they are short on other things, too. But pillows are a necessity. To be short on pillows just doesn’t make sense,” Lindell said.
Lindell worried that any athlete who didn’t have a pillow could be at a competitive disadvantage. “It really is going to be unfair if our athletes don’t get a decent night’s sleep over there. They will be at a big disadvantage. So I’d like to ship them all pillows so at least they are on the same playing field.”
Asked how much his donation will cost, Lindell said, “Who knows. It could cost anywhere from $30,000 to $150,000 when all is said and done.”
The plan now is to let the Olympic headquarters try to wrestle with Russian customs officials to get the product through. “Even if they can’t get them through, I am going to donate one pillow to every Olympic athlete. That is my word and you can take that to the bank.”
The 9-year-old MyPillow, with an annual revenue of about $102 million, has 600 workers and manufactures 15,000 pillows a day at its factory. So pulling inventory for the donation was not a problem, Lindell said. The foam pillow, which retails for $80 each and can be reshaped to fit each owner’s neck, is sold across the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and has been shipped to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.