In a world that already has high-tech spoons, bluetooth-enabled hairbrushes and internet-connected toasters, perhaps it's not surprising that, one day, someone would've dreamed up a "smart" pillow.
But as Porkchop Enterprises LLC CEO Kimberly Haney recounts, her company's marquee product — My Butterfly Pillow — wasn't exactly planned to be a technological device from the outset.
In fact, her entire business was spawned simply by her husband's inability to find a decent sleeping aide.
"It was a lesson in frustration," the 58-year-old Cartersville resident recalled. "We probably had 30 different types of pillows, ranging from $25 to the most expensive one was $300. And he just couldn't find anything comfortable for him as a side sleeper."
That led to product inventor James Haney taking a pillow, some foam and an electric carving knife and creating what his spouse refers to as the "Frankenpillow." While the original My Butterfly Pillow prototype didn't have an embedded speaker function, he was later inspired to add the upgrade due to his wife's hearing impairment — since she has internal hearing devices, she can't use earbuds.
"Having the removable ear pillow insert to make the pillow comfortable on your ear, he was able to embed a space down there," she recounted. "First he put a set of headphones underneath there and I could plug them into my phone."
They also tried installing a set of bluetooth speakers in the product, but that made the pillow too hot. As often the case in entrepreneurialism, the Haneys stumbled upon a solution by mere happenstance.
"I found by accident one of these little bluetooth receivers and we tested it out," she said. "And we haven't found anything bluetooth [connectable] that it will not connect to — it just turned the device into a smart device."
By Oct. 2016, the Haneys had tested the product out on friends and family across the country. "We found out that 63 percent of the population sleeps on its side," she said. "That's a big market, so we looked at that and said 'You know, we think we can mass produce this pillow.'"
The My Butterfly Pillow — patent pending, Kimberly Haney noted — makes use of three major design features. There's the aforementioned "night owl speakers" and the accompanying Bluetooth receiver; built-in soft foam ear pillows, which are cut into cubes and move independently when a sleeper applies pressure to it with his or her ear; and an adjustable, custom-blended foam "riser" that keeps a sleeper's head and neck aligned — but still leaves enough room so that one's arms won't lose circulation due to pressure from the pillow itself.
"An ordinary pillow for side sleepers, what happens is your head compresses the pillow one and a half to two inches — anywhere in that range. We took the idea that your head needs to be in line with your neck to get comfortable. People who sleep on their side either wad or stack pillows together, and what they're trying to do is get their head and neck in a straight line," she said. "What this pillow does with the removable riser underneath is it keeps your head and neck in complete alignment for a comfortable night's sleep. The other therapeutic property is the ability to listen to the background noise if you suffer from tinnitus … you can do that easily through this pillow, and your sleeping partner cannot hear."
The Haneys started off assembling the pillows out of their own home, but there just wasn't enough space to meet production needs. So they relocated the business to a roughly 1,100-square foot space in Euharlee — which they worked out of until relocating to their new facility along Nelson Street in Cartersville last month.
"We use a high-quality, furniture-grade polyurethane foam, our risers are built out of a standard chair cushion foam, we source those locally in Atlanta. We use Velcro-branded, high-quality adhesive, so there are no chemicals that are used in the process of assembling the pillow," she said. "The pillow cover that comes with it is 100 percent cotton and it is a stretch-jersey knit. We really put a lot of effort in making this a comfortable sleep experience."
Along the way, the Haneys landed a distribution partnership with Westone Laboratories, a Colorado-based company that specializes in hearing health care products.
"On the advice of my audiologist, Johnson Audiology here in town, they recommended that we get a booth space at the American Academy of Audiology [conference] in April of this year," she said. "Here we are at this medical trade show with our home show booth space in Nashville, and our booth was next to [Westone.] When we exhibited this pillow at the Audiology Academy event, people were going crazy. We had so much attention because there really isn't another comfortable pillow out there that allows for sound to come out of the pillow."
Impressed by the traffic their booth generated, representatives of Westone asked if they could try out a few samples of the Haneys' product. "They tested it out with their own people and tested it out with their [Veterans Affairs Department] audiologist and immediately came back to us and said 'We want to partner with you,'" she recollected.
Porkchop Enterprises — for those curious, the company namesake is a nod to Peter Brady's famed catchphrase on "The Brady Bunch" — currently has three employees. While Kimberly Haney said the company isn't mulling a retail strategy at the moment, they are retooling their approach to online sales.
"We're strictly e-commerce, Amazon through Westone, but we actually had a meeting with a local, metro-area chiropractor who wants to private-label the product and sell it through the chiropractic national network — that's just in the beginning phases," she said.
Without getting too deep into the fiscal specifics, she said she was very happy with My Butterfly Pillow sales over 2018.
"We are actually in the black, so we did pretty well," she said. "We doubled our numbers from 2017, and for 2019, we're hoping to increase that even larger. We did just recently send samples at Hammacher Schlemmer's request, so that would definitely boost our sales."
Heading into 2019 and beyond, Kimberly Haney said she certainly has high hopes for the My Butterfly Pillow brand.
"I see us in a much bigger space and working through some of the bigger network providers — the QVCs, having a bigger Amazon store," she said. "Our goal is to take the My Pillow guy out — come on, he's a marketing genius, I'm just going to say that — but this is not only a sleep pillow, it's also a technology device, and that sets us apart."
And over the next few years, she said she's optimistic the company will be able to add to its product line.
"We're actually working on a child's pillow that can also double as a travel pillow," she said. "So we have sent one of the bases to our Atlanta foam manufacturer on the south side of town and they are in the process of cutting it up with a heat laser to shorten it and make it smaller. Once we have that set up, then we'll work on a dye and start mass producing those."
More information on the Haneys' business and products is online at www.mybutterflypillow.com.