MLILY gets comfy in Farragut

Wendy SmithFarragut, The Farragut Insider

MLILY, the mattress company with the funny name (pronounced em-lily), sells products in over 70 countries, but its Farragut showroom is the only company-owned retail location in the U.S. The site, next to The Fresh Market in Village Green Shopping Center, was chosen because of its upscale demographic, and the response from the community has been excellent, says MLILY President Stephen Chen.

The showroom is sort of a test kitchen for mattresses. It’s an opportunity for shoppers to try out the high-end beds, but it also gives the company insight into customer preferences. MLILY primarily sells through other distributors and retailers, so having direct contact with customers provides valuable information for product designers.

MLILY was established in China in 2008. Its founder, James Ni, produced foam for other manufacturers before deciding to start his own line of mattresses. The company’s emphasis on quality first has resulted in explosive worldwide growth. The six million square-feet factory in China employs 3,000.

“He’s a rock star there,” Chen says of Ni. “But he’s also the most humble guy you’ve ever met.”

The company’s newest factory in Winnsboro, South Carolina, opened this year. The factories make every item in the MLILY line, from adjustable frames to pillows, from scratch. The mattresses and pillows are constructed from materials that promote cooling and breathability.

The Farragut showroom is part of MLILY USA’s corporate headquarters, which relocated from Bearden in June. The staff of 15 handles order processing, marketing, product development and training. Chen joined MLILY after a long career in telecommunications. The best thing about the company, he says, is its emphasis on quality rather than having the lowest price.

It’s a different model from many new companies. The business is built on brick and mortar stores rather than the internet. There are 500 MLILY retailers across the country, but just one online outlet, and it advertises mattresses at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. It’s intended to drive customers back to the retailer, Chen says.

Another novel marketing tactic is the company’s partnership with Manchester United, one of the largest sports franchises in the world. The company uses the soccer team in advertising, but it also provides MLILY products for players to use at home and at their training complex. The feedback received from players and the team’s sports scientists is then used in product development. The partnership is popular with the team and its fans.

Chen has also found creative ways to introduce the brand locally. He worked with Shandy Dixon and Amy Boling of MamaJam Productions to provide an MLILY “Cool Spot Lounge” at this summer’s Lawn Chair Concert Series. Four contest winners enjoyed each show while reclining on a cooling MLILY mattress and partaking from coolers stocked with snacks. He also partnered with Shop Farragut on the Farragut Treasure Hunt and was a sponsor of Dog Daze III, and hopes to partner with Farragut schools in the future.

He’d also like to utilize the attractive plaza outside the showroom for community events. Check out the flowers and fountain on your way into the MLILY showroom, then make yourself comfortable. The staff wants to know what you think about their mattresses.

Wendy Smith coordinates marketing and public relations for the town of Farragut.

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