I was lying on an adjustable bed in “zero gravity” position—feet above my heart, apparently good for the lower lumbar—staring up at the scoreboard at Madison Square Garden. The bed’s continuous massage motor sent soothing vibrations through my legs and lower back. On the jumbo screen, impressively built men and women heaved 200-pound barbells over their heads. “Everyone needs a good night’s sleep,” says Martin Rawls-Meehan, chief executive officer of Reverie, the company that made the bed on which I rested. “Even ordinary Joes.”
Selling beds to guys like me had very little to do why Rawls-Meehan was there. In the past 10 years, Reverie’s built a business selling adjustable beds to consumers, hotels, and cruise ships. The company is increasingly hyping the health benefits of a good night’s sleep to market its high-end beds—a popular model goes for about $7,000—to competitive athletes.
Rawls-Meehan is an enthusiast of the CrossFit exercise discipline, an intense mix of weightlifting and aerobics. There are more than 10,000 CrossFit gyms worldwide (Rawls-Meehan and his wife are investors in a Chicago gym), with hundreds of thousands of practicing members. Better still, CrossFitters tend to be a self-optimizing bunch, creating a ripe market for companies that sell things to help them lift more and move faster. That includes sneakers, protein bars made from insects, and, yes, beds.
“Sleep is like anything else: If you want to do it well, you have to work at it,” says Rawls-Meehan. Selling adjustable beds is a $1.1 billion industry, according to research firm IBISWorld, and he’s betting that devotees of grueling workouts will welcome an upgrade from Ikea mattresses. “This is a community that spends a lot of money on equipment and organic food. When you start talking to them about sleeping well, they listen.”
Rawls-Meehan’s road to selling beds to high-performance athletes began in 2003, when he started Reverie with a childhood friend named Tony Chang. The company began selling adjustable frames made at Chinese factories. Today, Reverie employs about 100 workers between its Michigan headquarters and a 130,000 square-foot factory in Eden, N.Y. The company, Rawls-Meehan says, is on track for $100 million in sales this year.
He hopes the muscled men and women at Madison Square Garden will help him get there. Tuesday night marked the launch of something called the National Grid Pro League, which hosts competitions in CrossFit-style events. Two teams completed a series of relay races in which athletes jumped over boxes, climbed ropes, executed a kind of swinging pull-up in which the chest touches the bar, and hoisted heavy weights. It was sort of like a less sensational version of the World’s Strongest Man competition that used to air on ESPN, without the human giants lifting cars.
In the past, Reverie has had success advertising at the CrossFit Games, an annual competition that awards $275,000 to the top male and female contestants. With the new professional CrossFit league gearing up with teams in eight cities and a deal to televise events on NBC Sports, Rawls-Meehan decided to sponsor the New York team, called the Rhinos. That meant paying for some space on the arena floor and setting up some Reverie beds, and giving freebies to some of the competitors in hopes that they’ll evangelize for Reverie at their local “box,” as CrossFit gyms are called.
Not everyone can lift 200 pounds over his head, a point driven home as Rawls-Meehan and I watched a Rhino named Mat Fraser complete a set of exercises known as “thrusters” to win the night’s second relay race. But the sponsorship may help Reverie’s pitch for the benefits of improved sleep—which the company says can include relief for sore joints, mental sharpness, and better heart health. Even if you can’t lift like a CrossFit athlete, for $7,000 you can sleep like one.