March 27, 2011

The Bottom Line: Duck, duck, goose
They're down with that

Cuddledown takes flight by focusing on the high end of bedding.

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Bobby Hipsher fills a colored baffled comforter with down at the Cuddledown factory in Portland.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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This machine from Denmark fluffs and mixes down and fine feathers, making it easier to fill the pillows.

Additional Photos Below

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CUDDLEDOWN

HEADQUARTERS: Portland

HISTORY: Cuddledown was founded in 1973 by Ellen Manson and purchased by Gerry Parker in the mid-1980s. Chris Bradley bought the company in 1988, paying less than Parker's purchase price a few years earlier.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: Roughly 100.

EXECUTIVES: Cuddledown's president and CEO is Chris Bradley of North Yarmouth. Production is managed by Scott Braman, who lives on Peaks Island and bikes daily from the ferry to Cuddledown's Canco Road headquarters.

WORTH NOTING: Most of Cuddledown's down comes from large, mature geese raised for food in countries like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, where geese are popular holiday fare.

FINANCIALS: Bradley declined to discuss revenue or profits but said sales have increased 30 times over since he bought the company. Cuddledown makes roughly 16,000 comforters and 65,000 pillows a year, said Braman.

Bradley said revenue increased 11 percent in 2010 after a 5 percent drop during 2009, when the company felt the impact of the recession. Bradley said so far in 2011, business is up 28 percent.

He added that sales have grown 30 times since he bought the company.

Bradley said most sales are made direct to consumers through Cuddledown's website and catalogs, which are printed by Lisbon's Dingley Press on paper made by Verso Paper Corp. in Maine.

Every year, Cuddledown mails 15 million catalogs and processes some 100,000 orders, Bradley said. Eleven percent of the company's sales are to customers in California, a large state that Bradley said has many high-income residents.

Cuddledown owns one retail store, which is located in Freeport.

Customers can also buy Cuddledown products at a handful of retailers across the country, including The Linen Kist at Vail/Beaver Creek in Colorado.

Linen Kist owner Nancy Rehder said Cuddledown is one of a handful of companies that make high-end down comforters. Others include Scandia Down, Pacific Coast Feather Company, Cloud Nine Comforts and DownTown Company.

Because Rehder has limited retail space, every few years she sits down and studies each company's products. She looks at price, quality and weight, searching for the best product at the best price.

Rehder said Cuddledown is among the best. She likes the ultra-soft down and the high thread count in the shell.

She said there's a big difference between premium down comforters, like those made by Cuddledown, and comforters sold at big-box retailers.

For starters, she said, low-end comforters are often stuffed with feathers, not down, or even shredded plastic. (Cuddledown sells some less expensive comforters made with feather-down mixtures, and some with synthetic down.)

Also, she said, lower-cost products tend to be heavier and bulkier.

"The lighter and the fuller, the better. If it's heavy and fat, it's crummy down," Rehder said.

She has only one complaint: Cuddledown sells its products direct to consumers at prices her retail store can't match.

"I pay staff and rent and shipping, and I stock (the products)," she said. "When Cuddledown sells it in a catalog or online for less than I can sell it for ... I can look like a fool."

But Rehder said the products still sell well at her store, which caters largely to high-income visitors to Vail, in the heart of Colorado's ski country.

Bradley said he competes with retail stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Pottery Barn and Macy's, as well as catalog companies like The Company Store and Restoration Hardware.

Cuddledown products can be found in the rooms of a number of smaller, upscale inns and hotels across the country. Bradley said one goal this year is to expand hotel sales by producing products that might appeal to larger hotel chains.

"Hotels don't want to buy 100 percent cotton sheets," he said. "They want cotton-polyester."

One hotel that already stocks Cuddledown pillows and comforters is the 18-cottage Winvian Inn in Morris, Conn.

Heather Smith-Winkelmann, the inn's managing director, said her staff tested samples from a number of companies back in 2006 and ended up going with Cuddledown.

"(The decision) was based on quality. And we had to have something that was durable," she said, adding that the products have "held up beautifully."

Although Cuddledown's products are pricier than other brands, Smith-Winkelmann said the products fit the inn's high-end image.

"In order to charge top dollar, we have to provide the amenities. Cuddledown happens to be expensive, but it has been worth it," she said.

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or: jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com

 

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Additional Photos

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Patrick lambo fills a contour pillow with a down and feather blend from the mixing silo, giving a firmer feel during use, at the Cuddledown factory in Portland.

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Nicholas Richard slides under a comforter quilting machine and uses a batonlike device to make sure the down is distributed evenly before the fine stitching is completed.

 


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