Sweet Dreams: Pillows That Combat Pain Bring Business Success for BC Couple
Many entrepreneurs encounter growing pains when they are starting a business. But for one British Columbia couple, pain was the very reason they started their business. Today, they’re not only sleeping better but helping others do so as well.
Alan and Barbara Poulton are the founders of Kuseno Comfort Products of Langley, BC. Their story began in 2012, a time when Barbara was waking up with terrible headaches and neck pain. The pain was so bad that she was throwing up, had blurred vision and sensitivity to light.
“Her doctor would prescribe pills for the pain but it wasn’t getting to the root of the cause,” says Alan. He also suggested Barbara might want to change her pillow, so she tried that many times without success. Desperate for relief for his wife, Alan continued to do more research. That’s when he came across buckwheat hulls – the hard, outer shells that house the seeds of buckwheat grain.
Alan discovered that buckwheat hulls are strong, odour-free and don’t retain or reflect heat. In other words, they are an ideal allergy-free alternative to feathers and foam and had already been used to make pillows for centuries in Asia. But are they comfortable?
“Initially it’s weird,” says Alan. “When you first put your head down [on a buckwheat pillow], your first thought is ‘oh this is too hard,’ but before you can complete your sentence you’re asleep. The pillow holds your head at the right height, it lets your neck muscles relax and from there your body gets a signal that everything is okay and you get that whole body relaxation. It’s interesting because it is a firm pillow, but you get a better sleep because it provides so much support and lets you relax.“
After about three nights of sleeping on her new buckwheat pillow, handmade with love by Alan, Barbara woke up pain free for the first time in years. “That pretty much started us on our way,” Alan says.
After losing her job as a long-time retail manager, Barbara and Alan decided to make the pillows for others and sell them to earn some extra money. “I noticed there were companies selling buckwheat pillows in eastern Canada but nobody was filling that need on the west coast in BC, so I suggested we start a new business. We started off slowly, took baby steps along the way and eventually just kept expanding when we could.”
Four years later, Kuseno Comfort Products is a full-time business. The Poultons make the pillows during the week in their home-based factory and then spend weekends selling them at farmers markets and craft fairs, where they are getting rave reviews.
“I love the customer feedback,” says Alan. “ We get reviews that people post online after they purchase a product, but the biggest [thrill] is when we are at a farmers market or one of our craft fairs and somebody tells us they bought their pillow last week, last month or even last year and they tell us how amazing their sleep is now. That they used to toss and turn all night, never woke up without a sore neck and now they are sleeping all night long. Just how much they rave about the products to us, that’s what I enjoy most.”
The Poultons have already increased their product line, selling flax therapy wraps and cooling ties in addition to their pillows. They are also trying to expand into more retail locations but, for the most part, continue to focus on the venues that have brought them so much success. In just nine months last year, they sold Kuseno products at 54 different in-person events, transacting sales through Dream Payments, an easy to use, mobile point-of-sales platform.
“Whenever we’re at one of our markets, anytime someone wants to pay with something other than cash we’ll use Dream Payments,” says Alan. “I like the flexibility of the payment options and that a customer can pay with debit or credit. Customers like that the machine is more secure, even when they use their credit card with Chip and Pin or tap for convenience.”
These days, it is possible to do business without a brick and mortar store. The Poultons say that other entrepreneurs might want to consider taking this route too.
“Small businesses that are looking to figure out how to get started can look to in-person events,” says Alan. “I work a full-time Monday to Friday job and in our ‘factory’ in the evenings. We have transformed our living room into our factory, with two sewing machines, an ironing table and a cutting table. My wife works full time in the home making our products and making sure that we’re set up for the weekends. Then on the weekends we go to the various markets that we sell at, so for nine months of the year we’re going for seven days a week to keep the momentum going.”
Indeed, the Poultons credit their success with going out in person to as many different markets as they can and showing their pillow to as many people as they can. Other than that, says Alan, it’s people who are looking online.
“We use Facebook, Google Ads and we also get a large response from Google searches, from people looking for pillows and people looking specifically for buckwheat pillows.”