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Just sleep on it

By Todd Balazovic  (China Daily)

09:35, February 04, 2013

To Spencer Jan, a hard bed is an opportunity for dreams to come true. He founded SlumberMAAX, a Shanghai-based bedding provider and has spread the business to expat communities across China. (China Daily/Gao Erqiang)

Spurred on by a sleepless night and expat complaints about hard mattresses, Spencer Jan has forged a lucrative business in China.

Spencer Jan has no trouble getting to sleep at night - though it didn't always used to be that way.

In fact the founder of SlumberMAAX, a Shanghai-based bedding provider, had many restless nights when he first began working in China.

"The beds were hard," Jan says.

It's not just a result of penny-pinching landlords that has led to an abundance of rock-hard beds in China. Going back as far as AD 121, the kang, a hard clay bed with a built-in heating area beneath, was once at the center of the traditional Chinese household. They were often topped with pillows made of porcelain and jade.

In more modern times, the tenets of traditional Chinese medicine preach that having a harder bed provides various health benefits, particularly in helping with chronic back pain.

The result is that many beds found in China lean more toward tough than tender - much to the chagrin of expats who are used to softer sleeping conditions back home.

But while to many expats a hard bed is merely a reason to moan about the rigors of expat life, to Jan it was a dream come true.

Seeing the need to offer expats an alternative, Jan began selling memory foam mattresses, a dense polyurethane which reacts to body heat and molds to the sleeper's body. They are produced in China, but almost impossible to find in stores.

The American-born Chinese first started working in China in 2005.

Shortly after, however, he shifted gears and moved to a small US-based sourcing company targeting Western markets with Chinese made goods. It was during his time at this company that Jan first encountered a solution to China's tough beds.

"One of the many projects we took on was memory foam beds. I spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of this product and visited many factories, which helped me learn about the manufacturing process," he says.

"As we started to export these mattresses back to the US for our customer, I took the liberty of having a sample.

"Somehow, I think I got used to hard mattresses, but when I tried the memory foam mattress, it was amazing. I couldn't believe what I was missing."

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