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The Impact of Quality Sleep on Safety in the Trucking Industry

Discussing the importance of a good bed for truck cabins and the impact it has on the drivers’ sleep and safety.

Episode 279: The link between sleep quality and trucking safety is more significant than you’d think. Listen to our conversation with Chris Bradley, Executive Vice President of Sleep Dog, about the role of sleep in the trucking industry. Learn about the serious effects of sleep deprivation on truckers’ well-being and the safety of everyone on the road.

Truck manufacturers often overlook sleeper cab mattress quality. Sleep Dog is addressing this gap in the industry. Chris discusses Sleep Dog’s efforts to offer top-tier sleep solutions for truckers, including advanced memory foam mattresses designed for various truck beds. They also have multiple options for mattress firmness to serve drivers’ preferences.

Hear about Donnie Polk from Temple, Texas, who benefited from Sleep Dog’s products, and how the company is also making a mark in the RV market. Don’t miss this episode highlighting the significance of proper sleep for truck drivers and its impact on safety and the economy.

Chris Bradley is the Executive Vice President of Sleep Dog (Bed in a Box). In this episode we discuss the importance of a good bed for truck cabins and the impact it has on the driver.

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Transcript of Episode

Jamie Irvine:

You are listening to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine, and this is the place where we have conversations that empower heavy-duty people.

I don’t know about you, but if you don’t get enough sleep, how do you feel the next day? For me, I’m a little bit grumpy. You can just ask my wife. Getting a good night’s sleep is absolutely essential, especially if you do an important job like drive a commercial vehicle on public roads.

In this week’s episode, we’re going to talk to somebody who is an expert in this particular subject. And I know myself as someone who sold parts, I never thought about the mattress in the cab of the truck. I never thought about that as a replacement part that I should be selling, but it’s something that’s important to drivers.

So let’s bring our guest on now. Our guest today is Chris Bradley. He’s the Executive Vice President of Sleep Dog. He’s an accomplished and very performance driven executive. He’s got a history of optimizing and making companies profitable, and I think this is a man who has a real passion for our industry. So I’m very glad to have Chris join us. Chris, welcome to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. So very glad to have you here.

Chris Bradley:

Great. Thanks for having me, Jamie. Appreciate the opportunity.

Jamie Irvine:

So let’s talk a little bit about the trends in sleep in drivers, what’s going on in the trucking industry right now in 2023. Just from your perspective, what are the shifts, what are the changes and how does that impact the drivers of commercial trucks and trailers?

Chris Bradley:

Yeah, if I may, it actually goes back probably this trend that we’re going to talk about probably goes back close to eight to 10 years when logs started to be enforced. So we moved from the paper on your honor type system to the digital logs and truckers, obviously, I don’t want to say were forced to get off the road more frequently, but we certainly, that became more of a necessity, if you will.

And with that, those truckers now were pulling off the road and sleeping more often than they did before instead of making the last delivery, getting there and then going home. So sleeping in the truck became more and more popular, if you will, around that time. What we heard over and over from those that were out in the field is that the mattresses that came with the truck, the tractor when they purchased it, were really not any good.

And the truck manufacturers didn’t really pay close attention to what went in the sleeper cab in terms of performance. It fit in there, it was there. The average human being can get back there and sleep and be okay. And that was really where the development or where the thought process on that mattress stopped.

So we’ve seen an increasing demand for good sleep. Along with the enforcement of the E-logs, tandem driving became a lot more popular. So one driver sleeps while the other driver drives. And again, that makes that sleep environment, that cabin back there, much more important to the team. And they want to make sure if they’re going to spend time back there that it’s good quality sleep.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, I can only imagine you’re driving all day, you’re in a chair all day, you get out of the truck, have some supper, you walk around a little bit and then it’s bedtime.

And for those that are listening, maybe you’re on the parts side or you’re in sales like I was, and you’ve never slept in one of those mattresses, but just I can only imagine driving my 1995 motorhome that I have and climbing up in that bed and that crappy mattress of that first night of sleep going, I’m buying a new mattress tomorrow, so I can only imagine. Right?

Chris Bradley:

Yeah. Perfect analogy. Perfect analogy. And some of the same people are building both vehicles or at least building parts for both vehicles. And again, shocking to me it was more of an afterthought. And as we talk further, we’ll talk about how once we started getting to the truck environment, the RV environment also became open to us as well.

But yeah, you’re right and worked a long hard day, especially in a situation like we’re in right now weather-wise, right? It’s hot as heck. You’re in the cab, you got your air conditioning, but you’re getting out to unload all that kind of stuff. And you want to be able to relax. You want to be able to enjoy your sleep and get restful sleep. And that’s a lot of people.

Just because your eyes are closed and you’re asleep doesn’t mean it’s restful sleep. And if you’re constantly turning over and having to change sides because uncomfortable, that disrupts your sleep and you’re not getting enough or getting enough good sleep. And at the end of the day that’s about safety.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re recording this just at the end of July, but one of the things that the month of June is about is men’s mental health. It’s an entire month dedicated to that. And I have a good friend of mine, Chris, he was a truck driver for many, many years, and he told me, he said on more than one occasion when he saw a fellow trucker who had basically had a mental break.

And he says, you see this guy up on top of his truck marching back and forth, and he snapped. I mean, this doesn’t happen very often, but that mental health, I mean sleep deprivation is used to try to break people.

So you can only imagine these truckers over years and years of work if they’re sleep deprived, if they’re not getting good night’s sleep, that’s a danger to themselves. It’s a danger to others on the road. That’s a situation that we want to fix as quickly as possible. I’m sure when you guys looked at this situation, those are some of the things you thought about.

Chris Bradley:

Hundred percent. We first started to be honest, because the phone kept ringing, right? Hey, I saw your product here. It looks great. You have one for a truck. But back to the mental health aspect, sleep is very impactful on mental health.

There’s no doubt about it. Insomnia or lack of sleep can really, really harm you. And there’s studies about truckers and insomnia and how it affects and how the accident rates go up as sleep rates go down. But again, on the mental health aspect side of it, we really saw a boom in interest during Covid.

The truckers kept North America going, let’s be honest, they were working as much as they could. So again, these guys and women, we were actually members of Women and Trucking Association, so men and women that were gone from home for months at a time just crisscrossing the country, making sure everybody got what they needed during the pandemic.

And so you combine those two things and really they started to look into how to improve their life on the road. And again, sleep was at the forefront. It’s also an economic situation. So if I have to sleep, I have to get off the road for X period of time and I can get back on the road at a certain time, I want to maximize that timeframe that I’m off the road in a restful situation.

So again, having a mattress that really wasn’t designed to ensure comfort, if you will, really came to the forefront. So yeah, great point about mental health. It absolutely they go hand in hand.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. Keep listening because I’m really looking forward to talking to Chris about the solutions that they have innovated to help truckers get a restful night’s sleep. We’ll be right back.

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We’re back from our break and before the break, Chris, you did such a good job of talking about some of the big macro issues related to our truck drivers. These are hometown heroes. These are the backbone of society and they do such an important job. And really when it comes to sleep, it’s about safety for them, the driver, but also for those that are sharing the public roads with them, it’s about also making sure that they’re comfortable and able to do their jobs.

So Chris, your company Sleep Dog, first of all, tell us just a little bit more about the company, the origin of it, where it came from, and then we’ll get into some specific products.

Chris Bradley:

So as I mentioned in the previous segment, how we started to get calls, well, we were getting calls because we started a company called Bed in the box.com back in ’05 & ’06, we started making mattresses, putting ’em in boxes and shipping ’em. Long before there was Casper or some of the others that are more widely known in the marketplace.

So we were making those for the residential marketplace, if you will, getting really good results, really good reviews. And the phone kept ringing and asking for, do you have truck mattresses? And I’m like, go, yeah, sure you can put it in the truck. And they’re like, well, no, hold on. And we learned about the sizes and everything that goes on. You

Jamie Irvine:

Can’t put a king size mattress in the top of a truck?

Chris Bradley:

Squeeze it in, it’s made out of foam, it’ll squeeze in there!

So we started doing some research and it’s extremely expensive, obviously, to make one-offs, right? So we did a couple just to see how they would work out, and we took the same exact designs on obviously a little bit smaller scale, same exact designs that were very successful on the residential side and then brought ’em over to the truck side. Basically the key is our memory foam that we make.

Most people know the history of memory foam through Tempur-Pedic with the hand on the mattress and all that, but it’s got proven pressure relieving properties to it. And then we added some materials to help give it some cooling properties. And we’re like, yeah, you’re inside a truck.

Yeah, they’re idling there, they’ve got some AC going, but we want to help them with temperature. So we took those two key ideas or key performance benefits of pressure relief and cooling, and then we just put ’em into the size that we needed for the trucks and we brought the thickness down a little bit.

Obviously there’s also an issue there. So we started with our Sleep Dog, which is our bread and butter model, if you will. And some people said, well, we want something a tiny bit more luxurious. And so we came in and we introduced the Big Dog and same basic construction, but now we’ve added additional memory foam into the cover, and it’s a quilted cover.

So you get essentially two layers of cooling and pressure relief. And we started off, I think we started off with two sizes and currently, currently we have six altogether and we try to keep on top of new models coming out.

Did they change the size of the sleeper cabin, whose tractors are more popular than others? What’s dominating the road? And we’ve adjusted from there. And most recently we’ve added a bunk size, what we call a bunk size. So now again, with the tandem now we’re seeing two sleeping spaces in some of these tractors.

So we’ve just continued to listen to our customers, what do you need? What’s bad about your current bed? What don’t you like? And really size was a big thing. There were some other replacement models out there and they had more of the squeeze it in type approach. And we came with, Hey, these are our sizes, A, B, C, D, and E. And you can go on the website and you can cross reference those to various tractors of which one’s right for you.

But what differentiates us from just about every other, I’ll call it e-commerce mattress company, we actually make the foam ourselves. We assemble the beds ourselves, we cover the beds ourselves, and we distribute mail and distribute the beds ourselves.

So we have a very tight control on quality, and the foam is up until about two months ago, I’ll get to that, we introduced a hybrid. The foam is what makes the bed either comfortable or not. And so we have complete control of that manufacturing process. So 10 years later we’re going strong.

Jamie Irvine:

Let me ask you a couple of questions. First of all, when it comes to memory foam, I always think of how soft it is. What if someone needs a firmer mattress or they want a softer mattress? Is there a way to dial that in on need or how does that work?

Chris Bradley:

So as a manufacturer, you sort of have to decide on ratios on your construction. Sleep is very, very subjective. We’ll come out with a new model in our residential line and we’ll lay it out and we’ll have it tested and people will come in. Some will say it’s too soft, some will say it’s too firm, and some will say it’s just right, the exact same mattress.

So in terms of memory foam, if you just throw a big chunk of memory foam on top of a mattress, yeah, it’s going to be soft, it’s you’re going to sink into it. Some people may like that, but most people won’t. So back to my point about us manufacturing the foam, the foam that goes underneath the memory foam is almost as important as the memory foam itself. That’s how we can dial in the comfort level. So how far down into the memory foam do you get?

So if we have a firmer second layer, that’s going to keep you more on top of the memory foam. If you have a softer second layer that’s going to let you come down and get into the memory foam a little bit more. In our case, really, it’s the Big Dog versus the Sleep Dog.

The Sleep Dog tends to be a little bit firmer and the Big Dog is going to tend to be a little bit more plush. We tend to try to stay away from the word soft. We try to use the word plush. But that’s a fantastic, fantastic question. And again, it’s all about the construction.

Jamie Irvine:

So I got another good question for you. So right now it’s July and it’s hot, but especially us that live up in the north and all my Canadian brothers and sisters, we know that just because it’s July, the cold weather might only be two months away. So you mentioned the cooling properties. What about the flip side? What if you’re in a colder environment? How does the technology help someone get a comfortable seat and stay warm in the winter?

Chris Bradley:

Another great question. So the cooling aspect is achieved from taking heat away from the body to a certain extent. So in the winter, you’re coming to bed a little less warm than you do in the summer. So that’s one thing. But the most important in the technology, the chemistry of memory foam, you want to make sure that it performs like it’s designed regardless of the temperature. Now, there are certain limits. The Canadian market, you’re right, overall, there’s a lot less demand for cooling products in the bedding industry period, whether it’s in house or in there.

So that’s a great point. But the best way to achieve comfort is to make really good memory foam. Memory foam tends to get rock hard when it gets super cold and get very soupy when it gets super hot. So through years of chemistry, we’ve been able to widen that range. So 15 years ago, you might’ve had a 10 degree range where the memory foam would perform as you wanted to.

Now we’re able to extend that to a 20, 25, almost 30 degree range where the foam performs you wanted. That’s really the key to that. And we take pride in that. Our return rate is extremely low, below 2%, that leads the industry. So that tells me from a quality standpoint, we must be doing must be doing the right thing.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, exactly. Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about your ideal customer. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say maybe owner operators that are doing a lot of long haul would be a perfect customer for you. Do you have any other groups of customers that you’re really focused on?

Chris Bradley:

Yeah, a guy with a five to 10 truck fleet, small fleet. And we had this happen over and over again. He buys one for himself and now driver retention is very important, right? You guys, I’m sure you’ve talked about that before.

Jamie Irvine:

Oh, once or twice. Yeah.

Chris Bradley:

So these guys are the smaller, independent guys with a handful of trucks tend to be more in tune with their drivers. There’s more of a close contact. They’re talking probably more frequently. They’re not just a number in a multi-thousand truck fleet.

So yeah, so owner operator doing long haul and then that same type of service, but a guy that owns, or a woman that owns 5, 10, 12 trucks. Repeatedly, we had someone buy one and then they come back and they order 10 or 12. We immediately call like, Hey, tell us about this. Right? It’s inevitably, it’s like, I loved it.

I wanted all my guys, all my girls to have the same thing and be comfortable in their standpoint. Back to the safety. At the end of the day, safety is also a financial equation to safety. He wants his drivers to be as safe as possible for his business, and getting a good night’s sleep really adds to their ability to stay safe, to be alert when they’re we’re on the road.

So yeah, that’s a great question that really those two segments really identify our best customer, I guess I should say. We’ve done a little bit with some of the repair centers and some of the truck stops, if you will, sort of an impulse buy while they’re in there getting their truck repaired or they’re in their stock and getting a snack, getting some fuel when it’s right there. That’s worked okay.

That prevents us from telling our story like we can on the web when they go to our website and you hear who we are, how long we’ve been in business, we’re made in the USA or for this conversation, made in North America, actually, our covers are made in Canada. We make our foam, we have our covers made in Canada, and we do everything here in the states and distribute from here.

Jamie Irvine:

And just like the population, about 90% of our listeners are in the states, about 10% are in Canada. So you’re talking to the right audience. I just wanted to talk quickly about economic impact here a little bit. So you talked about safety. The way I look at it is that if you can maximize any of your employee’s performance, I mean, that is just good business.

And one of the things I want to encourage is I want to encourage the salespeople that sell parts, the parts people on the counter, talk to your customers, have business development conversations, talk to them about every aspect of their business. After you’ve listened to this episode, you’ll be able to refer them to their website because this is all part of giving, we talk about value all the time.

We want to bring value to our customers. Well, this is one way that we can do it, especially if we’re in the distribution side of the business and we’re talking to owner operators and small fleets day in and day out. Chris, I’m sure that you’ve got hundreds if not thousands of success stories, but could you tell us one success story just to kind of illustrate everything we’ve been talking about so far today?

Chris Bradley:

Yeah, so we had a customer down in Texas. He bought his first bed probably a little over a year ago and put it in his own truck, and he has a small fleet down in Temple, Texas and put it in his own rig. Started using it, absolutely loved it. Talked to the rest of his team and got feedback, Hey, what’s your mattress inside your sleeper?

And all of ’em were like, well, it could be better. We’d like something new. And he said, well, let’s try this. So round one or round two, if you will, ordered another 12 mattresses for his team that went extremely successful in about last May, ordered another 10, and he’s got a total of 26 altogether in beds in his fleet. He’s a true believer.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s fantastic. So what’s his name?

Chris Bradley:

His name is Donnie Polk.

Jamie Irvine:

Donnie Polk. Well, Donnie, I’m very happy that you’ve found this product and that it made such a big difference for you and your team. That’s a fantastic story, Chris. Thanks so much for sharing that.

Chris Bradley:

Absolutely.

Jamie Irvine:

Let me ask you one last quick question. Just, you mentioned the RV market. That’s the experience I have. I needed new mattresses for my rv. So just a lot of our listeners, whether they’re on the part side, sales technicians that are fixing equipment or drivers, we all have RVs. So what’s available for the RV market from your company?

Chris Bradley:

So several models, either the Sleep Dog website or the Bed in the Box. So the Bed in the Box is the parent company we call Sleep Dog, a bed in the box company. So basically, as you know, the RV is closer to a residential mattress. So there’s really four sizes that come into play. It’s a standard queen. Some just take a standard queen, what we call a short queen or an RV queen, a standard king or a narrow king.

So we have all of those and almost all of our standard constructions on our residential side are available in an RV size as well. Again, we took the same in an RV, you have a little bit more room, but it’s the same customer complaint. What came with it, we don’t like, we spent six figures on this really nice rig and we can’t get a good night’s sleep.

So yeah, again, the same technology we took over on that side. Again, it’s almost identical to what we have have on the residential side. So yeah, so both on sleepdogmattress, and as well as bedinthebox.com. We’ve got RV sizes readily available and ready to ship.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking with Chris Bradley, the Executive Vice President of Sleep Dog. To learn more about Sleep Dog visit, sleepdogmattress.com. Links are in the show notes. Chris, thank you so much for being on The Heavy Duty Parts Report. It was a pleasure talking to you today, sir.

Chris Bradley:

Yeah, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

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