Franco Dagelet, who founded Blanket Hugs with wife, Katrina, says that the pandemic is the perfect moment to start a creative business. The couple’s weighted blankets have been helping people get untroubled sleep in these difficult times.
Franco Dagelet likes to look at the glass half full – which was why when most entrepreneurs would be frightened to start anything at all amid a global health crisis, he and his wife, Katrina, forged ahead with their plans.
In February, as the pandemic unfolded, they got married. In March, they launched Blanket Hugs, their online shop centered on selling weighted blankets which have been proven to help one get a deep and restful sleep.
Almost a year into lockdowns and an upended world, the Dagelets’ Blanket Hugs is thriving.
Franco said some customers have told them how the weighted blankets have allowed them to rest well after a loved one passed away; some were parents who said the blankets have helped them and their children with autism get through the night; some said they bought blankets for their partners so that they could still feel close to each other. A good majority, Franco said, were “just regular people who need better sleep and they have been using a weighted blanket to help them sleep.”
The young newlyweds showed that starting a business – selling a new product at that – in the middle of a pandemic needed a lot of spunk as well as a clear understanding of their market. They also hunkered down to work and studied weighted blankets and the benefits they bring.
“In the fintech space, a lot of people can look at [today’s crisis] as a doom and doom situation. However, I like to see things in a glass half full kind of situation… Many people say it is a bad time to start a business. I would agree that it is a bad time to start a traditional business. But I believe it is the perfect time to start a creative business or a new business that hasn’t been done before,” Franco, 27, said.
Franco and Katrina were already set on selling weighted blankets even before the pandemic broke out.
They discovered weighted blankets as early as January 2019, when Franco was searching for what to give Katrina, then his fiancée, for her birthday in October. He stumbled on an online Canadian company that sold weighted blankets. Learning about the benefits of weighted blankets, Franco thought this would make a great gift for Katrina who had been having trouble sleeping. They both didn’t like the idea of her taking medication to make her fall asleep.
Franco ordered the weighted blanket online, waited five months for it to arrive in Manila, and had to pay an extra P10,000 on top of the product cost. But the long wait and the additional money he had to shell out were worth it.
With the weighted blanket, Katrina slept for 10 hours straight, even missing her alarm.
They abandoned their initial idea of selling gym equipment online and instead decided to go with weighted blankets, which were practically unknown in the country despite being a rising product item in the United States and Canada.
They had identified a market gap. “There wasn’t a company that sold weighted blankets in the Philippines,” said Franco, referring to the time they were conceptualizing Blanket Hugs.
Franco and Katrina sought the opinion of family and friends and immersed themselves in learning more about the product they already believe in and want to share with more people.
“We realized that we have to label ourselves as a category builder, not necessarily as a category leader. So, we are trying to build the weighted blanket culture in the Philippines,” he said.
Weighted blankets, Franco shared, were originally used as a therapeutic device for people with insomnia, anxiety, and depression, and even children in the autism spectrum. It was only around 2015 that it became “a mainstream sleep aid device for people to use,” Franco added.
It’s the pressure from the blanket’s weight that increases one’s serotonin and melatonin levels while decreasing cortisol, the hormone that is part of this complex system in our body called HPA axis. It’s the HPA axis that releases cortisol and regulates, among others, our sleep-wake cycles. Elevated cortisol levels can cause sleep disruptions.
The Blanket Hugs website articulates it in layman’s terms: “Blanket Hugs use the power of weight and deep pressure stimulation to relax your body.”
Blanket Hugs’ weighted blankets are designed to fit the Philippine’s hot and humid climate. Its duvet is 100 percent pure bamboo-cotton, cool, and hypoallergenic.
“Bamboo cotton is a very nice material to use because it is moisture weakening and also around 3 degrees cooler if you were to use a regular cotton cover,” Franco explained. This means one does not have to turn on the air conditioner to be able to use Blanket Hugs’ weighted blankets.
While bamboo cotton is more expensive than regular cotton, Franco and Katrina still opted to use the premium fabric. For the weight, Blanket Hugs also uses environment-friendly, high quality micro glass beads that distribute weight more evenly than plastic pellets.
“We wanted to make sure that when we launched the product, we had the user in mind. We are very happy that we launched a successful product that has been receiving good reviews,” Franco said. The importance of giving value to user experience was one of the things the couple had learned from watching ABC Network’s Shark Tank.
“It is always great to start direct to [your] consumer first and you know, with how things are going online, there’s a lot of growth and adoption for online businesses and the hardest part is to sell to your first few customers. We had a slow first week and then it picked up from there and started to grow. We are thankful to God for our business and sales” Franco said.
In April, Blanket Hugs launched their website via Shopify. As they received many orders, they also began to experience delays in payments withdrawals from their then-payments processors, affecting their cash cycle. Franco decided to sign up with PayMongo, which he had heard about from a friend.
“We are really blessed that PayMongo came in at the right time and kept our cash flow afloat,” he said. Blanket Hugs began accepting payments via PayMongo in May. Franco said their “business picked up”.
“We thought temporarily suspending our other payments processor would lead to our sales declining but we are really blessed that people were using PayMongo. We are really happy that when we asked our customers what the process was for using PayMongo, they said it was a very seamless process, especially that Paymongo added GCash as well,” Franco said.
Aside from weighted blankets, Blanket Hugs also offers weighted eye masks using minky fabric, the Slumber Pillow made of hyper-elastic polymer which can better help support your head and neck and be cool at the same time because it’s made with hyper elastic polymer, and micro plush minky duvet covers that keep the heat in whenever one wants to sleep warm.
What the world needs
Blanket Hugs has been featured in several online magazines such as Preview, Metro, Spot.ph, Mega, and Cosmo, and has developed quite a following among local celebrities. These celebrity endorsements include Jennylyn Mercado, Saab Magalona, and Bela Padilla. Aware that Blanket Hugs is quite expensive, Franco said he looks at weighted blankets as an investment for better sleep.
“We’d like it to be a good experience. Those 8 hours of great experience of sleeping is worth the added cost as compared to the other blankets. I mean, the blanket is a lifelong investment. It doesn’t wear out,” Franco said.
In fact, Franco shared, Blanket Hugs’ repeat customers bought weighted blankets not as a second blanket for themselves but as gifts to their loved ones. “Our customers have become our number one marketers because they are the ones telling their families and friends about their experiences,” he said.
A crisis presents opportunities. Franco noted that many of today’s successful companies were conceived during the 2009 recession, such as Uber, Instagram, WhatsApp, and AirBnB.
“These great companies were founded around 2009, 2010. They were game changing companies that grew into multibillion-dollar companies. I guess there is always an opportunity to recognize what the world needs, especially in these unforeseen times” Franco said.