A Detroit startup with big dreams saw sales of its breathable crib mattresses take off in 2015 after posting its own infomercial online. The Secure Beginnings video was crafted out of an audition tape done for ABC's "Shark Tank."
The SafeSleep by Secure Beginnings crib mattress didn't end up qualifying for "Shark Tank." Yet the online video still did the trick and drove up orders to around 800 a month, according to the founder.
Just two years later, the crib mattress company looks anything but secure.
New moms fearful of sudden infant death syndrome flocked to the unique design of the mattress as a way to calm their nerves. But many who ordered in recent months never received delivery after spending about $400 — roughly four times the price of a typical crib mattress — on the SafeSleep product.
The problem? The company is tangled up in a strange battle with a business associate who reportedly started living in the company's riverfront facility where the mattress is made, according to Julie Andreae, the founder of Secure Beginnings.
He won't let anyone inside, she said.
The building is in an old warehouse district of Detroit that has loft-like living space on the top floors.
Andreae told me in a phone interview Monday that the dispute has left her locked out and the company unable to ship any mattresses. The company is working with attorneys, its landlord and others to work out its problems.
Efforts to reach others once involved with the company were not successful.
The Better Business Bureau has issued an alert online noting that Secure Beginnings has ceased operations without customer notice and claims to have "no means of issuing refunds to customers who have not received purchased items." The Secure Beginnings web site is down and listed as "Under Construction!"
For consumers, it's one of those sad reminders of how quickly an idea that looks savvy can unravel quickly.
And as holiday shoppers go online in droves on Cyber Monday, the story also illustrates why it's wise to take a little extra time to research a product before clicking and charging it to your credit card. Complaints can start to bubble up early online.
Consumers should note what they ordered and take time to track deliveries in order to spot any snafus. And then take action early, if there are problems.
"Most shoppers online are usually doing something spur of the moment," said Melanie Duquesnel, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
Rushing through an order doesn't help when you need to get your money back.
Secure Beginnings, which began in 2010, had some issues when orders heated up in 2015. For a while, it seemed to be able to resolve those earlier consumer complaints and overcome delivery delays.
Since mid-September this year, though, the Better Business Bureau had received more than 20 complaints about Secure Beginnings involving online sales. Upset customers live in more than 20 states, including Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
If someone still hasn't received the product, they should try to get their money back.
Consumers can dispute the charges with their credit card issuer. Contact information for the issuer is generally found on the back of the card. Most issuers also provide an online means for filing a dispute, the BBB said.
Consumers who bought the mattresses by debit card need to contact their bank to find out about the dispute process. The BBB notes that consumers could have additional rights with a debit card if it is used "as a credit card" and without supplying a PIN number. But the process for filing a debit card dispute can vary.
PayPal has a resolution center where consumers can file a dispute and click the word "Escalate."
Duquesnel said she's concerned that some consumers might be able to order the product online now but will not receive the mattress.
The crib mattresses were carried by Walmart.com, Overstock.com, Amazon and eBay.
By Nov. 21, though, it seemed like some online warnings existed. Walmart.com had an out-of-stock notice next to the Secure Beginnings SafeSleep Breathable Crib mattresses listed at $328.59. Overstock.com also had an "item is out of stock" listing next to an older model with a fancier base, priced at $589.99 with free shipping.
The Secure Beginnings pitch was a "revolutionary breathable crib mattress" that would allow a baby that is lying face down to breathe normally through the mattress should they roll over. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep on their backs to prevent accidental deaths.
Like many new companies, Secure Beginnings marketed its product online via Facebook, Twitter and posts from baby bloggers.
In late September, Secure Beginnings turned to its Twitter account to promote free shipping and deals.
"Every baby deserves a SafeSleep even if they end up on their tummy!" according to one of the Secure Beginnings tweets.
Kendra Jacobs, 39, said she discovered Secure Beginnings online in the summer when she was searching for a solution one night after her infant son had trouble sleeping.
"I was going crazy worrying about SIDs," said Jacobs, whose son is now six months old. She also has a 13-year-old daughter.
"He liked to sleep on his stomach and that freaked me out," she said. "I was up all night staring at him to see if he was still breathing."
She liked the idea of a breathable mattress where she wouldn't have to fret.
"I felt like if he was in that bed at least I could let myself sleep," said Jacobs, who works as a program analyst and lives in Keller, Texas.
She ordered the Secure Beginning mattress via the company's website on July 16 and received it four days later. She paid $299 for the mattress with a discount, plus $31.67 for shipping for a total of $330.67 charged to her credit card.
Her son wouldn't sleep on the new contraption, which is marketed to feel more like a taut trampoline than a typical mattress. She returned it via FedEx on July 24.
The web site promoted no-risk refunds, she said. But when she tried to get her money back, she had to keep calling. She sent emails. Her husband sent emails, too. At some points, she couldn't get hold of anyone.
"I kept bugging them about the refund," Jacobs said.
She contacted her credit card company, as well as the Better Business Bureau.
She wanted her $330 back because as a family with young children they needed that money. She received a refund in late August.
Jacobs said she feels bad that the company has run into trouble because the idea was great. And she wouldn't have minded the price —- if her son would have slept on the mattress.
Company founder Andreae said she is doing what she can to provide refunds. Consumers can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or consumers can go through a dispute process with their card issuer.
Andreae, who lives in Grosse Pointe Park, said she had a passion to start the company after she lost a four-month-old niece to sudden infant death syndrome.
She said she sacrificed her savings, including giving up a home in Grosse Pointe Woods and selling personal belongings, to bring the product to market.
The goal now is to be able to outsource production from Detroit to Olivet, outside of Lansing, she said. Andreae also wants to bring down the price to around $300 instead of $400 and speed up deliveries.
She said the most pressing concern is to complete about 50 to 60 remaining open orders by getting access to the inventory and sending it to a firm that will handle the assembly and shipping.
"Next, we will then sell off all the assets to pay any suppliers that are owed," she wrote in an email Wednesday. "Secure Beginnings will then be officially closed down."
Andreae hopes to re-start the company, perhaps with a Kickstarter campaign, in early 2018.
"I am heart broken," Andreae wrote me in an email. "And trying to pick up the pieces."
Contact Susan Tompor: email@example.com or 313-222-8876. Follow Susan on Twitter @Tompor.
Article URL: http://www.freep.com/story/money/personal-finance/susan-tompor/2017/11/22/detroit-start-up-failing-deliver-breathable-crib-mattresses/875216001/