Building a Bridge to a Better Life

Beds for Backs

If we were to breakdown our lives into segments of time spent doing specific things and being specific places – driving to work, watching TV on the couch, sleeping in bed – and then break down the associated cost of each of the elements against these activities, something sticks out as glaringly obvious… we do not comparatively spend a lot of money, or thought for that matter, on sleep.

We spend roughly one third of our lives sleeping. This is not a small wedge of the pie. Sleep has been scientifically proven to be integral to good physical health, restoration of ailments and injury and mental health. Illnesses that directly impact people’s ability to sleep, such as insomnia, or are detrimental to it are amongst the most debilitating that a human can experience; the absence of sleep brings into sharp relief its deep importance within the human condition.

Several years ago, former civil engineer and Managing Director of Beds for Backs, Mario Piraino, embarked on a quest to build humanity a bridge to a better life by designing and constructing a range of beds that did justice to the physical realities and importance of sleep. I went to visit him at one of his showrooms in Melbourne to get to know the man and mind behind a revolutionary new product that looks set to bring realignment to what is currently a fairly crooked industry.

“I was a civil engineer that went into retail as a sea change. I went into furniture and I sold mattresses like everybody else; whatever was on special that week or month, I sold it. About ten or fifteen years down the track I thought, ‘There is more to bedding than just selling what is on special. What is it I should be looking at, what are the differences to help people get the right mattress?’ So I put my head into it as an engineer and focused on how I would design a mattress to do what a mattress should do from an engineering standpoint. What weight is it going to bear? What is the span? Curved bridge? Straight bridge? When you consider a mattress as a support structure for the human body, you start by saying that you need to support all the curves and deviations such as the hips, bottom and shoulders, without misaligning the body.”

It was abundantly clear to me at this point of the interview that, although Mario long ago moved on from his days as a builder of buildings, bridges and highways, he is still an engineer to his core.

“The first major hurdle of determining how to best support the body is determining where the weight is distributed along the body. One thing that I found out was on average the weight around the mid-section or tummy section was roughly double the weight of the shoulder section. The shoulder section contains the lungs, which are hollow and full of air more often than not, and obviously lighter than the stomach section which is choc-a-block full of organs, so when you are lying horizontal you are going to have a big dip around the waist. So this section would logically require additional support. This scenario leads to the logical conclusion that a mattress cannot be uniform from top to bottom. Specific areas of the mattress must be created for the different areas of the body.”

There were great volumes of clear and concise documentation and visual representations of the science that lays beneath Mario’s end game permutations available at the showroom and it does not take an advanced science degree to comprehend their potential validity.

“A contoured shoulder region is needed and also a lumbar support region that needs to be very strong and supportive, but also very specifically placed because the lumbar region is actually quite short. The placement of the “zones” is obviously different from person to person so the support zones must be adjustable. So I came up with a mattress that is adjustable. This is the difference between our mattresses and those sold in other shops. Other manufacturers want to make a mattress and sell it to the mass market and they make these… very comfortable cushions.”

Mario can say this straight faced and with due care and conviction because of his long experience in the industry and technical understanding of the products. This is not a one eyed game of “my product is better than your product” for Mario. He is driven by the firsthand results of his labours which is evident in the feedback of his clients.

“Our mattresses are a success from the point of view of effectiveness, so the people who do not have pre-existing medical conditions wake up in the morning feeling great and bouncy and well rested; people who have severe problems have woken up in the mornings with a lot less problems and become more mobile, effectively changing their lives. If you don’t have a good night’s sleep the body will collapse. The body needs to rest an hour for every two that it’s awake. To rest properly you need to keep blood flow to a maximum to allow stresses to flow out of the body. If you sleep on a mattress that flattens your body out without regard for the contours, it actually induces stresses into the body. Our bodies are able to take so much stress without complaining that we get away with it.”

Now, I am not a curvaceous lump of a lad by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I possess a gargantuan booty, but I know full well the rigours of sleeping on ill-conceived bedding, the worst example being the wooden box with a sheet draped over it that I slept on for six months whilst working in a car factory in Japan, which brought new meaning to the term “Hard Arse.” Mario helped shed some light on some of the factors that contribute to discomfort and poor health as a result of inappropriate bedding.

“We have young ladies come in here with widish shoulders, but very small waists and when they lay on their side their spine is bending and they develop back problems. If you see anyone walking down the street and notice they have wider shoulders than their waist, or a wide waist compared to the shoulders, you can say fairly confidently that they probably have back problems as a result of sleeping on a conventional mattress. People put up with this without knowing that their bed is actually contributing to this condition.”

I can attest to this proportional paradigm being a cause of greater problems as I am quite broad across the shoulder in comparison to my waist and as a result a comfortable and restorative sleep is something that has eluded me most of my adult life. So when I had the privilege of testing out one of Mario’s machinations for myself, and found instantaneous sweet relief for my tormented shoulders and twisted lower spine, I felt like saying aloud to Mario, “Where have you been all my life?”

Once Mario had made the appropriate adjustments to the apparatus within the bed base to accommodate my dimensions (which Mario measured himself) the normal level of bodily tension I associate with bed time was alleviated. My standard procedure of twisting my shoulder (and in turn twisting my spine) out of the way to level out my body was no longer necessary as my shoulder simply sunk into the mattress to a pre-calculated depth.

My nightly routine is one performed by many others who also sleep on conventional mattresses, so this is not an uncommon phenomenon, but I can attest to the fact it is not conducive to restful sleep. I had simply accepted this as normal and resigned myself to a life of waking up most days feeling like I had been Greco Roman wrestling with a freight train in my sleep.

It is very rare to ever gain an unbiased endorsement of your product in today’s commercial market that won’t be scrutinise and inherently distrusted to the point that the original sentiment is rendered moot. Yet Beds for Backs “health beds” have received exactly this kind of unquestionable endorsement from the most unlikely source of praise: the Australian Taxation Office.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) deemed the Beds for Backs products to have fulfilled the stringent criteria required to be classified as an “essential medical aid” which, under the GST Act, grants Beds for Backs products exemption from GST charges. This, according to Mario, was a rigorous process that required a lot of patience and more than one attempt to achieve the classification.

“When the sales tax act was made, the government was for essential items that people needed on a daily basis that are truly important to provide financial help or incentives to. We are talking about things like food – in our case, a bed that contains features that provided genuine health benefits.”

What more of an endorsement can you ask for than convincing the tax man to forgo a large sum of money every year in revenue?

“The ATO stands to forgo around $500,000 in tax revenue each year, which we can give back to our customers. They certainly didn’t want to just give it like that and they resisted it, but the beds are so effective that they can’t say no.”

It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic and it is heartening to know that legislation intended to improve the standard of life for all Australian residents is actually translating into real results for real people. As for me, I will undoubtedly be coming back to the Beds for Backs showroom for my next bed. Until then… I will endure.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

June 19, 2018, 8:01 PM AEST