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Mike Lindell, president of MyPillow, sews a pillow.

, Star Tribune

Mike Lindell, president of My Pillow, with some of the pillows that are ready to ship.

, Star Tribune

Pillow awakens opportunities for Carver inventor

  • Article by: TODD NELSON
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 2, 2011 - 6:29 PM

Sleepless nights may bother other entrepreneurs but not Michael Lindell , founder and president of MyPillow  in Carver.

Lindell stopped tossing and turning, overcoming pain from severe neck injuries and more recently defying that nightmarish recession — by developing his MyPillow product, which he said is one of few patented, domestically produced pillows on the market.

Years of research, including cutting and tearing up dozens of different kinds of foam, went into developing MyPillow, which Lindell said promotes deeper sleep because of its unique combination of comfort, coolness and adjustability.

Lindell attributes those characteristics largely to the pillow’s unique mix of different-sized pieces of open-cell poly-foam, chopped to specification by a machine he developed based on a piece of farm equipment. The machine, which he declined to identify, happened to be running in reverse when he first began feeding foam into it. The mix also contains a resin that enables the foam to retain much of whatever shape a user might mold the material into to provide neck and shoulder support.

MyPillow doesn’t collapse flat like most mass-market fiberfill pillows and it doesn’t retain heat like closed-cell “memory foam” pillows, he said. It’s also is antimicrobial, non-allergenic, dust mite resistant, washable and dryable and comes with a 60-day money-back comfort guarantee and a 10-year limited warranty.

It also carries a greater price tag than those mass-market pillows: A standard/queen size retails for $69.95 on his website.

The price has not deterred buyers, who have snapped up more than 250,000 MyPillows since Lindell went into business in 2004.

 The company had sales of $3 million in 2010. It has 22 employees making pillows and 27 more who work on commission selling pillows at fairs, including the Minnesota State Fair, and trade shows nationally.

A MyPillow kiosk is operating through January at Burnsville Center.

Lindell, who formerly ran a carpet-cleaning company and a lunch wagon, invested proceeds from selling a handful of Carver County bars into developing his pillow product. Lindell was injured in a car crash and also sustained motorcycle and skydiving mishaps. So he enjoys what he calls deep “healing” sleep when using his MyPillow.

'Where’s my pillow?’

He realized he had a hit on his hands — and a name for his fledgling company — when his prototype kept disappearing into his children’s rooms. “I’d come home and say, Where’s my pillow?’ My daughter finally said, 'Why don’t you make them for all of us so we can all have 'my pillow?’”

Perhaps the greatest challenge initially was figuring out how to market his creation. He turned to fairs and trade shows when major retailers rebuffed him and now doesn’t worry about getting into retail stores.

Lindell also has appeared frequently on local-access cable TV and plans to travel to New Zealand and Australia to produce an informercial that will run in those countries. He hopes to produce a self-financed infomercial to run broadly in U.S. markets and is looking to expand the slate of fairs and trade shows where his company exhibits. Earlier this year, he invested in developing four websites to promote and market MyPillow. He struck an unusual agreement to supply pillows to a resort hotel in Nevada, which in turn leads to an estimated 50 sales a month to hotel guests. He’s trying to develop similar arrangements with bed-and-breakfast associations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

MyPillow also is available from a number of chiropractors’ offices, including Dr. Felicia Conner’s  Child and Family Chiropractic Center in Edina. Conner said she has sold the pillow to patients.

“It allows good support for the neck and also has a good warranty,” said Conner, who has appeared in MyPillow commercials without compensation from the company. “The construction allows you to mold it into a good position for you. I’ve been using it for more than a year, and so have my husband and both of our children. As a mom, I love the fact that I can wash them.”

The expert says: Duane Hoversten , small business management instructor at MnSCU’s South Central College, said that Lindell should continue to stay out of retail stores and praised his old-fashioned, one-on-one sales approach.

With so much emphasis on online sales and social marketing, many businesses, especially start-ups, have gotten away from basic selling, Hoversten said, though many products need this to get off the ground.

“Many companies could take a lesson from Michael Lindell on marketing,” Hoversten said. “Get out there in different venues and market your product one-on-one. It is time-consuming but very effective.”

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.
 

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