The mattress-in-a-box leader captured its home market after launching in 2015. Yet when Simba moved to expand outside the royal kingdom, the road seemed doomed with able competition. Through careful intention, not speed, the company has found its best means to build lasting global growth.
The decision makers at Simba, the U.K. sleep tech brand, have molded themselves into experts in ecommerce, having sold more than $100 million in just three short years. And yet there are times when the top brass at this company convince themselves they know nothing at all.
Simba — Europe’s answer to competitors like Casper, Leesa, and Endy — has made quick work of the U.K., taking off as though it were an Andy Murray serve, fast becoming the premier option for local shoppers seeking a finer sleep solution. But Simba also knows that, while its U.K. success is something to hang its hat on, the path upward will be through the steady acquisition of global markets — the slow, measured kind of growth that this brand vows it will not cut corners to achieve.
When new territory is at stake, the team often pretends it is beginning from a position of zero. “You just have to do the research,” says Steve Reid, a Simba founder and its co-CEO. “We operate on the assumption that we don’t know anything about any new market.”
Such reservations have guided the successful launch of Simba online storefronts in more than ten countries, most of which have vastly different cultures, currencies, buying preferences, and language considerations. It is a sign of things to come, though Simba has found that such careful and reasoned growth is also its only way forward.
“We see many people trying to do too much, too soon,” says Reid. “We don’t rush. We wait.”
Not Hawking Mattresses, But Selling a Better Night’s Sleep
Simba debuted in its market in 2015, sometime after the mattress-in-a-box business had first been transformed. Though as Casper and Leesa were rising to ubiquity, this company was not just sitting on its hands. Nearly a year went into the research and development of Simba’s flagship product, a labor Simba insisted it would not compromise before it began to sell. What was left was a mattress Simba believed so greatly in that the brand just had to find customers to try it.
The company first had to identify exactly what its business was. Simba believed there required a shift in popular conversation, that it could help the world better consider the value of proper rest.
Simba wasn’t merely hawking a mattress. It was selling a better night’s sleep.
When word of mouth began to spread, Simba’s stubborn product engineering paid off. Its 100-night trial has been so successful that the company’s return rate sits around 7%. “Which is very low,” says Charles Tourny, Simba’s chief marketing officer. “It tells us that we have a good product for the long-term.”
Localize, Don’t Internationalize
By 2017, Simba had achieved a strong position in its home market. Its products were featured in John Lewis, the high-end English department store. They were shipped across the world by Amazon, too. But Simba began to look strongly at further global expansion on its own terms, under its own banner. How would it start?
Wherever it would go, Simba had to be sure it would stick. The company dedicated an entire in-house team to researching new regions, from the most advanced market data to the most common cultural considerations.
Nothing was too minute, nothing too small to make note of. Simba dispatched representatives all across the globe, talking to prospective customers to better understand their buying habits, running local Facebook surveys, speaking with retailers that might stock its mattresses and products in stores.
Three key markets identified themselves as immediate fits — the U.K., France, and Germany. Here was Simba’s ethos toward each: localize, don’t internationalize.
That was a catchy, business school-type phrase, though what did it mean? For Simba, it was not so much about expanding globally. It was about making global shopping in each new market feel like a local experience. In that distinction was room for the company to stand out.
Germany: ‘What’s right for the U.K. is not the same as in other markets’
Simba’s German efforts offer a fair look into the company’s philosophy when entering a new global market. Ostensibly, Germany is not a bridge too far from the U.K. This was not Timbuktu. This was not like going to Mars. But there were important things, small considerations that had a large impact on how Simba would be welcomed by the German customer.
Up front, Simba needed to understand the very cultural idea of sleep in Germany. The examples were simple. For instance, Simba’s research suggested that, unlike much of the western world, many people in Germany sleep on single beds pushed together. So, its German site would reflect those preferences in its imagery and product suggestions.
Or what about the checkout? Obviously, multi-currency payment methods are ground zero for any modern company expanding into fresh global territory. People want to pay with their local form of money.
But how they pay is often as important. “In the U.K., a good percentage of what we do obviously goes through credit card, debit card, and so forth,” says Reid. “In terms of the checkout in Germany, invoice after purchase (Auf Rechnung) is often the best offering.”
“Without those things in place, you can look at your conversion funnels and see things are going wrong," Reid says. "What’s right for the U.K. market is not the same as in other markets.”
‘We Win By Going Back To the Complete Basics’
The capacity to responsibly push new storefronts has allowed Simba to become an international player in a direct-to-consumer mattress segment that once seemed saturated. In addition to Simba's existing global sites, transactional storefronts in nations like Israel, Sweden, and the Netherlands are coming soon, Reid says.
And then there is China. Simba already has boots on the ground, staffing up in the nation it sees a new frontier. “The Asian market,” says Tourny, “is something we view as a massive opportunity.”
Imagine the care, imagine the nuance required, for the U.K.-based Simba to provide its trademark shopping experience for the Asian market. But that’s what Simba spends so much of its time and resources on. Getting it right.
Simba, at this stage in its growth, confronts a quandary not many businesses get to face: now that the company has become a $100 million business ... how can it continue to go up from here?
The answer at Simba may lie in the same philosophy that has carried it so far. “Many companies spread themselves too thin with too many different stores and worrying about too many different metrics,” says Reid. “We very much focus on winning. It sounds ridiculous, but we win by listening to our customers, by only going into those markets that we believe we can execute in.
“We win by going back to the complete basics.”