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  • An inventor’s secret: ‘Sit down and drum through ideas’

    You know that fleeting idea for an invention that you’ve had but never acted on? The Youngbloods are the people to call.

    A walk through the warehouse in the back of their 21,000-square-foot facility in Mooresville feels like a visit to the set of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters.

    In what Tara calls their “project-of-the-moment space,” an assortment of barbeque grills, golf clubs and pool noodles are arrayed in what can only be described as an inventor’s souffle.

    “We just have a fixer mentality,” Tara said.

    The team also does their homework. To design their Chili Coconut pillow, a memory foam pillow made with traces of coconut oil, the duo bought, ripped apart and investigated every pillow manufactured by competitors.

    Tara says she’ll walk through Target, see a plastic container for leftover food, for example, and wonder, “What else could I do with that material?”

    As far as other inventions, the two have designed silicon bakeware, moonbounces and a line of pool noodles for adults that sells at Wal-Mart.

    How do they come up with their ideas?

    “Literally, we just sit down and drum through ideas on a whiteboard,” Tara said. “The best part of the job is solving problems.”

    Dan Burley



Todd Youngblood sleeps hot. At 6’3, 245 pounds, the king-sized Youngblood can sweat through the sheets, drenching the pillow and his wife, Tara, who used to construct a “wall of pillows” around his body to insulate him from her.

Even when the Mooresville couple cranked the air conditioning, Todd still woke up in a sweat.

“You can change everything about your mattress,” Todd says. “The material, the firmness, its posture. But you can’t change the temperature.”

Having already patented an inflatable air mattress called the EZ Bed, the Youngbloods went to work in 2007 on a top-of-the-bed product that would allow the sleeper to control the temperature of his or her mattress.

The result: the ChiliPad. Sewn into the surface of the mattress or placed on top like a mattress pad, the ChiliPad regulates the temperature of the mattress -- between 46 and 118 degrees -- to the sleeper’s selection. The bed is heated or cooled by water pumped through five, quarter-inch silicon tubes that branch out from a control unit plugged into the wall. With the click of a remote control, the sleeper can adjust the temperature of the mattress.

In a society that treasures a good night’s sleep, the ChiliPad has captured national attention. In recent months, it’s been recommended by Dr. Oz, laid on by the Today Show’s Kathy Gifford and featured in a Wall Street Journal article as a solution for couples who disagree over sleep temperature.

Industry experts say that as the first mattress with user-controlled temperature settings, the ChiliPad falls in line with two decades of high-tech innovations in the mattress industry. First came the plush feeling of memory foam. Then the air bed, where the sleeper selects the firmness of the mattress. Now, the industry is shifting its focus toward temperature.

“Temperature is the theme right now,” said Dale Read, president of the Speciality Sleep Association, a trade group. “You’ve got all of the biggest brands spending millions of dollars in research for cooling technology.”

With 50,000-60,000 ChiliPad units sold at places such as Brookstone, according to the Youngbloods, they are now scouting for a big mattress firm to purchase their Chili-products and sell them to consumers.

Dare to dream

When it comes to entrepreneurs in the mattress industry, Todd Youngblood couldn’t have a better mentor.

He says he’s the nephew of Charles Hall, who is credited with inventing the modern waterbed while living on a houseboat as a graduate student in San Francisco in the late 1960s.

After Todd and Tara graduated from Principia College near St. Louis, Todd went to work for his uncle in California. Hall, who had sold the rights to the waterbed, was selling inflatable kayaks he designed using the same vinyl materials as the waterbed. Todd eventually moved on to American Recreation Products in St. Louis, where he sold life jackets.

A Taiwanese firm that manufactured the foam in Todd’s company’s life jackets wanted to produce the jackets themselves.

Todd and Tara decided to help them. They exited the corporate world and became consultants in product development. Their company, T2 Technology, helps smaller companies with novel ideas bring new products to market.

After helping the Taiwanese firm, the Youngbloods took on more customers in Asia. One client was a firm that manufactured air beds inflated by a pump. The Youngbloods loved the idea, but thought the less-than-pleasing look of the beds would attract only campers looking for an extra outdoor mattress.

Tara, whose background is in engineering, retooled the design, and the Youngbloods marketed the new bed, the EZ Bed, as a high-end indoor guest bed that inflated in 3 minutes. The EZ Bed has sold 200,000 units to date, the Youngbloods said.

Todd and Tara then went to work on the ChiliPad, which they patented in 2012.

Catching more ZZZZs

Potential buyers were initially skeptical that the temperature-controlled innovation would sell.

“There was nothing on the market to compare it to,” Todd said. “But I told them, ‘20 years ago, no one had heard of memory foam.’”

Plus, customers always crave a good night’s sleep. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control study found that a third of working Americans, about 40 million people, don’t sleep the recommended 7-9 hours per night. The CDC declared insufficient sleep an “epidemic” in another report, and equated getting enough sleep with diet and exercise as essential components to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Struggling sleepers might find a remedy in the ChiliPad. A March survey published in Furniture Today, a trade publication, declared the temperature of the room the number one obstacle consumers face in achieving a good night’s sleep.

And the ChiliPad could be emerging at the right time in a tech-friendly sleep industry. Sleepers are increasingly choosing “non-innerspring” or speciality mattresses -- such as memory foam and air beds -- for more comfort, according to the International Sleep Products Association.

Since 2005, non-innerspring wholesales have increased by more than 75 percent, according to the association. In 2012, the non-innerspring market topped $1.7 billion and grew by 17.5 percent.

Although innerspring mattresses raked in $3.7 billion in 2012 sales, its growth in the industry only totaled 7 percent.

Speciality mattresses, however, can be tough on a consumer’s wallet. The average non-innerspring mattress cost double that of a traditional innerspring. The ChiliBed, a mattress with the pad sewn in, starts at nearly $2,200 for a twin.

But industry analyst Hayden Shipp, from the market research group IBISWorld, says that as the economy recovers and people continue to focus on health trends, the speciality sleep industry will continue to grow.

That’s good news for the Youngbloods, who wouldn’t say which firms were targeting their product, but did say there are three big sleep manufacturers: Serta, Simmons and Temper-Sealy.

“Developing a product is like raising a child,” said Tara, who has four boys with Todd. “The ChiliPad is in its teenage years. We’re going to have to let it leave home.”

Burley: 704-358-5085 Twitter: @dburleyreports
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