Qualified sleep practitioner and self-confessed ‘sleep geek’ James Wilson shares his story about running a retail business, and offers his view on fire safety in light of the experiences he faced.
James is a qualified sleep practitioner who works with individuals from cradle to grave with the aim of solving their sleep issues. He trained with The Children’s Sleep Charity and currently assists them in delivering their services across the UK; helping children and their families sleep better and training healthcare professionals in providing sleep support.
He is also the third generation of his family to be involved in the beds and mattress industry and has experience of developing products for the retail market and running a multi-channel retailer. He now helps companies develop products and services that solve real sleep issues.
In 2007 I started a business - We Love Sleep - in my parents’ garage. The mission of the business remains my mission today. It was to help consumers buy sleep products in a way that considered their individual needs, serviced by people who had an intimate knowledge of sleep.
The business started off online, and as it grew we moved into, in the first instance, a small unit where we worked on an appointment only basis and then, five years after I founded the company, we moved into our first store in the centre of Sheffield.
Like any bricks and mortar store it took a little time to get going, but six months in, in March 2013 we were starting to fly, with people coming from all over the country, and overseas, to take advantage of our expertise.
Then, unfortunately, on 3 March, I got a phone call (I was visiting a friend in Harrogate) telling me that there had been a fire and that the shop had suffered some quite serious damage. Ultimately, it led to the business going into liquidation.
There were other contributory factors: I made wrong decision in dealing with the aftermath; we had a web developer go bust; we suffered awful quality problems with one particular manufacturer, and so on - and without a bricks and mortar store, our suppliers started to withdraw support. But the fire was almost certainly the catalyst for We Love Sleep’s demise. Five people lost their livelihoods, and it was a very difficult year and a half.
Looking at the cause of the fire, it turned out there had been an electrical fault with one of the wall-mounted heaters, which had set a mattress alight. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but looking back, and knowing what I know now, due to the Cabinet Maker report into mattress fire safety, I must question whether the mattress which caught fire had met with the fire regulations.
The doubts I have are increased because there was, in fact, another mattress, which was made by the same manufacturer, about the same distance from the heater as the one that set alight. This one was only singed around the edges.
My story highlights the uncertainty retailers face with the mattresses they sell. The fire safety certificate manufacturers provide may not prove whether the exact mattress they have sold to a customer meets the fire regulations. This uncertainty is just not fair on retailers and it most definitely is not fair on their customers.
One of my big concerns is that it seems the only way you can know if an individual mattress meets the fire regulations is to set it on fire. That just seems ridiculous! The mattress industry prides itself on having some of the most stringent regulations in the world. The presumption is that because our regulations are the most stringent then we have some of the safest products.
The Cabinet Maker report shows this not to be true. If the industry cannot consistently meet the regulations, then the process of reviewing the fire regulations - which has been going on since 2013 - needs to come to a conclusion as quickly as possible. They need to protect consumers, not just from fire, but from over exposure to the chemicals that are supposed to help these products meet the regulations.
In addition to this, they need to give reassurance to retailers that the products they sell are safe, and that they are not going to suffer issues in the future.
The factor that seems to be causing the problem is the match test and my, admittedly under-informed, opinion is that if the rest of the world manages to get by without it then why does the industry seem so intent on keeping it?