23 May 2024, 04:21
By Furniture News Jul 13, 2021

A league of its own – MLILY

MLILY may be a star player in the global bedding industry, but what does it have in store for the UK marketplace as the impact of Covid-19 subsides? This month, global sales director Bob Badman talks to Furniture News about new products, business strategy, and the brand’s enduring partnership with Manchester United Football Club …

Can you give us an idea of the range of projects you’re working on?

As I am sure you can appreciate, with a company the size of MLILY there are always projects ongoing – many of which are covered by NDAs. However, I can say that as well as ongoing product development, we are continually working with various partners to strengthen their MLILY offerings, and it is this dedication to individual customers that has seen us strengthen our presence in the UK and Ireland every year since our first show in January 2014.

How has the business fared during the past 15 months?

The business has continued to go from strength to strength, despite the challenges of the pandemic. The launch of the new Premier collection just before the pandemic took hold proved such a success – even though many of our key customers have been closed for months on end, we achieved significant growth last year, and we are confident of doing the same again this year. 

We’ve also backed up the Premier collection with a new range of pillows and a topper to further extend our offering, and we have also begun to look seriously at our approach to gaining more business online, with the launch of an ‘internet collection’ that has a different story to our core Premier product but still has that MLILY quality and story that enables consumers to make simple selections, and retailers/etailers to make margin on a quality, trouble-free product.

As well as further strengthening our relationships with our key customers, we’ve started to work with a number of key internet accounts, and are looking to build our internet business in the same way that we built our bricks-and-mortar partnerships – through support, and developing exclusive product for sale in-store and online to make sure our brand isn’t devalued.

In summary, we’ve tackled the issues by continuing to do everything we can to support our customers – including ramping up stockholding in order to ensure we maximise sales during the periods we have been able to trade.

How has the business changed in that time, and what have you learned?

The business has not significantly changed – rather, it has reinforced our philosophy about working closely with partners and developing more business with existing customers. Customers are now well aware of the quality of MLILY products, and have the confidence to dedicate ever-increasing space to them.

Give us a short rundown of your product portfolio …

In brief, there’s: the Basics collection of four, price-targeted memory foam mattresses (two foam-only and two hybrids); our Gel collection (as above, but with Gel memory foam); the Premier collection, an all-singing, all-dancing range of four softer models, four firmer models, and two top-end deluxe models, ranging in spring count from 2000-8000, all with our F-joint encapsulation and fashion-inspired covers;

Dream +, which remains our Manchester United-inspired and co-designed mattress, and is used extensively by Manchester United players and management alike, and which has gained popularity amongst our core customer base; and the Bamboo memory collection, another key product for the MLILY group worldwide, which we decided to launch as our online collection, differentiating it from our in-store product –  we combined it with different spring counts, a different look and, at the top end, incorporated ‘ice fabric’ to give online customers a great product, a great story and, as always for our customers, great margin opportunity.

Where does your partnership with Manchester United stand, and how does it influence how you approach the market?

We remain as committed supporters of Manchester United Football Club, and we’re only just halfway through our current contract period with them. Whilst it doesn’t really change our approach to the market in terms of the fact that we are – and always have been – dedicated to improving sleep quality around the world, the partnership has given us the chance to work with elite athletes and medical professionals at one of the world’s greatest football clubs (of course, I believe the greatest!) and in so doing we continue to work on R&D and clearly look forward to developing new products in the future.

I think generally it simply made people realise that we are a serious global player – we’re an elite sleep company, just as Manchester United are an elite football club.

We understand that you work closely with many retailers to maximise the brand’s reach – and in some cases also offer them white-label services?

We have a highly experienced marketing/ development team which will work with retailers not only on in-store graphics, but with various online assets and social media support, etc.

We also work with a large number of customers on an OEM/white label basis, and this includes retailers with just one store, up to and including multi-million-pound accounts. In order to get a white-label product, the customer only needs to commit to a container – which may sound a lot, but it’s only around 200-250 mattresses on average, and, of course, pillows and/or toppers could be mixed in, too – so I think its fair to say that many of our customers today would not have imagined themselves doing containers a few years ago, but now fully appreciate the huge benefits it brings them and couldn’t imagine themselves not doing so.

What are the advantages of working with Mlily as opposed to sourcing from local manufacturers? 

There are many great UK suppliers, but there’s no getting away from the fact that MLILY are a worldwide player, and bring with them a fantastic product with almost zero complaints, a product that looks great, feels great and above all is protected to ensure that all our customers can make margin – which, as traditional consumer numbers decline, becomes evermore important.

In my opinion, MLILY offers unrivalled value for money, genuine aesthetic appeal and comfort, whilst enabling our customers to make a great margin.

Is there likely to be any synergy with the Breasley (UK) business, which MLILY’s owner purchased last year?

Breasley was purchased because of its history, its reputation and its workforce, and it was never an intention to do anything other than to continue the company as a separate brand, bringing different things to the market – as evidenced by the complete revamp of their range to incorporate new, exclusive products. 

Breasley was, and will remain, a separate brand, with a separate identity to MLILY’s.Any synergy merely comes from the doors that MLILY can open in terms of supply base, and some management crossover.

Can you confirm any of MLILY’s investment or product directions?

Obviously, MLILY’s plans are closely guarded, but it’s no secret that we are always looking for the right opportunities – whether that’s building factories, new manufacturing plants or retail partners, and that will continue to be the case.

As regards products, with the volatility in supply of raw materials, the emphasis currently is on stabilising and controlling all product supply, rather than any imminent new products. However, I do get snippets from the R&D team that show me that as soon as normal supply returns, we will once more be developing new and exciting things – whatever they may be! 

Do you have anything special planned for Manchester Furniture Show at Harrogate this month?

Harrogate will see the official launch of our new pillows and toppers, as well as the new internet collection. We’ve also just confirmed that England and Manchester United legend, Captain Marvel himself, Bryan Robson, will be appearing at the show – as will the Ireland and Manchester United hero, Denis Irwin.

As always, our team are out and about, and our showroom is open for visitors, too. We’ll also be showing in Paris in November, and still hold some hope that Shanghai in September will be possible, too.

This profile was published in the July 2021 issue of Furniture News magazine (see related).

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