One Company Helps the Homeless: One Mattress at a Time
When my partner and I founded our new direct-to-consumer mattress company a couple of years ago, we were determined to measure success not just by revenue and profit, but by our impact on the world. We wanted to show that you can build a business from scratch, have a social impact plan in place, and still be very successful.
From the start, we incorporated a three-pronged social impact approach— donating mattresses, planting trees and supporting local communities – into Leesa’s business model. And as a newly-designated B Corp, I’m confident that we’re on the right path.
But the biggest surprise we’ve had along the way is just how critical our products are in addressing one of this country’s most pressing problems: homelessness.
A better place to sleep on the pathway to a better life
On a given night, more than half a million people in the U.S. are living on the streets, in cars, in homeless shelters or in subsidized transitional housing. Of that population, 15 percent are considered “chronically homeless.” Organizations that support this underserved community face a growing need and shrinking public funding.
According to James Winans, Chief Development Officer of New York’s Bowery Mission, “Sleeping on the streets means being never being able to close your eyes and say ‘I’m safe’ or ‘I’m going to be here for a full night’s sleep’. You always have one eye open to make sure your things aren’t stolen or that somebody doesn’t approach you that intends harm, or you get used to being moved around by the police or by the weather. So that sleep experience is interrupted over and over and over again. To be able to say this is your bed for the night, you’re in a safe environment, you’re on a comfortable mattress, it speaks so much love and dignity.”
At Leesa, we know that mattresses are our most valuable currency, because they contribute to better health and well-being for all of our customers. But mattresses can also restore dignity and help people transition to a better life. This allows our Social Impact program to blend seamlessly into the core of our mission as a company: to provide a better place to sleep.
By partnering with organizations like The Bowery Mission, which has served New York’s homeless, hungry and poor since 1879, we’re able to use that currency to make a real difference.
An authentic connection
Connecting with The Bowery Mission was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, when an overheard conversation about a new wing they were building – and the need for mattresses to fill it — brought us together. We visited them in New York to get a better understanding of their needs, and at that moment I realized that we do have a purpose beyond just selling mattresses. When I saw the reaction of my employees, it was life-changing.
For organizations like the The Bowery Mission, the comfortable mattresses Leesa donates represent more than just a needed budget offset – they help change lives. The Mission’s unique 21-Day Shelter Program invites guests to sleep on a real bed on a donated luxury mattress, with sleepwear and a hot shower. Guests also have access to pastoral care and a social worker, all with a goal of helping people get off the streets for good.
For program participants, the impact was immediate. “Guests who last night were sleeping on the sidewalks of New York, rooftops, stairwells and doorways were invited to spend 21 days with us to sleep in a recently renovated dorm with clean sheets and clothes and a safe place to secure their belongings,” Winans notes.
That shelter program has provided 500 homeless men a true alternative to the streets. It’s a compassionate intervention from the vicious cycle of homelessness, and I’m very proud that we’ve contributed to the program’s success.
Measuring authentic social impact
People spend a third of their lives in sleep, but there are too many people in our country who can’t sleep at night because they don’t have a place to rest. So what’s the real impact of authentic relationships like the one between the Bowery Mission and Leesa?
Our mattress program donates one specially-designed mattress for every 10 mattresses we sell (as well as returned mattresses) to emergency shelters, transitional housing, addiction recovery programs, programs for victims of domestic violence and more. In all, we have donated 8,000 mattresses in just under two years since we started Leesa.
To really understand the impact a good night’s sleep has on individual lives, we plan to conduct follow-up surveys and assessments to track the impact of mattress donations, including both qualitative and quantitative measurements. Our employees will also be conducting an “Impact Tour,” visiting donation centers like the Bowery Mission to strengthen long-term relationships with giving partners and to connect – in a very personal and authentic way – with Leesa’s mission.
We know that our future success depends on partnerships like the one we’ve forged with the Bowery Mission. We also believe that every business shares the great responsibility of tackling society’s most pressing problems. And when corporations begin to build social impact into their business model, they’ll not only achieve business success, they’ll make an authentic difference.
*This post originally appeared on Triple Pundit*