A Delorean pulls up on a Dublin street, young people start hip hop dancing and a middle aged man starts rapping about mattresses. Theres also a puppet of a monkey, but well get to that later.
Hello. Michael is my real name. It came deadpan, with the acceptance of a man who has become synonymous with a character. Michael Flynn cant get a haircut anymore. He is more than a salesman now. Hes a man who has received shout-outs from Stephen Fry and other celebrities while being embraced by the Irish public through his extensive social media presence. He has become, to the world, Mattress Mick.
One day I hope to meet Mattress Mick. I think we’ll have lots to discuss. Mattresses for example. And prices. pic.twitter.com/1aKChzZXWq
Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) February 12, 2015
The magic happens at the back of his store on Dublins Pearse Street, where Paul Kelly, who manages social media for Flynn, runs his Shoot Audition studio. A green screen set-up became the starting point for his road to stardom and unexpected business growth. Flynn and Kelly are starting a YouTube chat show in which the mattress mogul will talk to mattress makers about mattresses. Theres even a movie being made. For two years, a film crew has been following Flynn and Kelly to make a documentary about the rise of Mattress Mick.
The road to becoming an icon of mattresses began with a conventional business that needed a boost. The Pearse Street location has been in Flynns family since 1922, beginning life as a drapery store specialising in fishermens outfitting run by his grandparents. Flynn, whose first career was in merchant banking, joined the family business in his early 20s. I always wanted to go into business for myself,” he says. “It was in my blood. I saw a lad getting off outside the bus here with a bedside locker and I thought why did he have to go into town to get that? so I introduced furniture into the store.
From there the business expanded into delivering bottled gas. As competition from larger stores such as Dunnes and Penneys grew, Flynns drapery business faded and the furniture side of the business grew. Like many small businesspeople, he took chances with shops in locations around Dublin on Prussia Street and Donaghmede, while also branching out into the grocery business with a Mace in Ringsend. These stores had their ups and downs, but it wasnt until he focused on what would become his mattress superstores in Coolock and Pearse Street that he found a way to use technology to truly reach a broad audience.
Things took a turn, for everybody, during the recession. When I took on the premises in Coolock, it was originally meant to be a warehouse to serve my shops. I hadnt even considered it as a retail space, but I turned one of the floors into a shop and it began to take off, said Flynn. From there Flynn was able to take on the property beside his Coolock premises to expand into a larger store. Around 2007, he increased his focus on beds before committing fully to that side of the business in 2011.
This is where Kelly entered Flynns life and a character that would change both mens lives was conceived. I was in the pub having a pint and Paul said hello to me. He said he used to go by my shop on Pearse Street and we started chatting. He was involved in all kinds of fields to do with entertainment. We had a chat, I told him my position, and how I always had an interest in mattresses and beds, said Flynn. Looking at my figures, I always sold more beds than anything else and it cost less to put them on the floor. I said to Paul there was a market there for them. The biggest part of our sales were the mattresses alone, he said.
Between them they agreed that they needed a unique hook that would allow Flynns business to stand out from competitors with bigger marketing budgets. When I met Mick years ago, there was an aura about him. As a kid I thought that was the businessman I wanted to be, successful and happy, said Kelly. I said we should do something wacky. I knew what people would go for online, but we needed a name. Flynn spent three hours writing down variations of his name and mattresses before calling Kelly to say he would go by Mattress Mick. I have a different kind of look about me, I know I have, but I live it. We felt we could use me.
Initially the character was focused heavily around offline advertising, with creative placements of banners and ads with Flynns trademark pose with his right arm out. That image, now recognisable across the city, was taken by accident. A friend of Flynns was in the Coolock store trying out a new camera, but the brain trust behind the SME realised it was perfect for the look, and it stuck. From there, Kelly sought to use social media to build the brands identity. Weve had many mistakes along the way with social media because I was learning about it as we went. We eventually built mattressmick.ie. We needed to build up a community on Facebook. Whenever we added someone we would put a card on their page with a thank you from Mick. Whenever its their birthday, they get a happy birthday card from Mattress Mick on their page, said Kelly.
I added Mattress Mick on Facebook. He posted this on my timeline. What a day. pic.twitter.com/G1KCcv66A9
Eamo (@EamoV1) July 10, 2015
The duo realised they needed to stand out in part because of how little the average consumer thinks about mattresses. By and large, the only time most people bring them up is when something goes wrong. Flynn and Kelly had a plan. YouTube to me was alien. We did our first video in Coolock. We didnt rehearse it, and it was totally ad-lib. It took off and people started looking at it. We kept doing them and kept getting better, said Flynn. We want to create a unique brand.
As with any partnership, Flynn and Kelly have their creative differences, but both recognise the value of the others input. We have rows, lots of rows, we have arguments, but those debates are important, said Flynn. With the upcoming chat show, Flynn and Kelly plan on selling advertising space. In addition, Kelly is developing a partially animated show for Flynn called Mattress Micks bedtime stories. Its easy to laugh at the concepts, but Flynn and Kelly can point to the scoreboard whenever they are doubted. Both stores have seen sales grow substantially, with Flynn receiving orders from across Leinster, when once he had been focused on local trade.
Its important for anybody in business to follow their instincts, to follow their dream. You have to use your failures as an education to move on. I go around my competitors shops to get ideas and I adapt them to work in my style. You have to go through the rough times for something good to evolve.”
What makes the idea successful is how both men understand the character. For Flynn, Mattress Mick is essentially an extension of his real life persona with an added dash of comedy. Thats how “Back with a Bang”, the rap video he and Kelly put together, ended up becoming a hit on YouTube when it was released late last year. We decided to do something really quirky so we decided to do a rap song about mattresses. I dont think it had been done before. Anthony Walker, a Michael Jackson impersonator, wrote the song. I cant sing, I havent a note in my head, but the way they put it together made it sound like I was rapping properly, said Flynn.
Despite its light-hearted approach, Flynn and Kelly had to put a great deal of effort into getting the right look. Kelly combined with artist Eoin Ward to put together the storyboard. In the video Flynn wears an assortment of costumes, mattresses dance and the monkey puppet reminds people that the fun dont stop at the mattress shop throughout. Kerry-Lee Dermott, who took part in the Voice of Ireland, provided the lead vocals in what was a bizarre, cheesy and perfectly on-brand video. Even while making something deliberately aimed at generating a laugh, Kelly and Flynn had to stay focused on how they attracted customers to their business.
We had a few rows about it. We used the Pearse Street store, the Wright Venue and Windmill Lane. The original look was a little too sleazy, so we cut back because a lot of kids watch my videos and want to come into my store. We wanted something that appealed to everybody, said Flynn.
When we started this whole idea, we were in a recession. I had two assets, my premises and the knowledge of my industry. From there we had the idea of doing something different. We fought back. We did guerrilla advertising. We put up a sign by the Five Lamps without permission. We couldnt find the owner of the site, but once we put it up he found me and were great friends now. That site has been mentioned by Roddy Doyle in his latest book, he said. These were the types of things we did. We were trying to succeed without a big budget. We are delivering to places like Wexford as a result of this marketing.
Its small moments in the spotlight like that which Flynn has been able to turn into big time opportunities. A brief appearance in an ad for Meteor along with a slot on Kathleen Lynchs Wagons Den brought him to the attention of thousands. Flynn now drives a car covered in Mattress Mick livery. He goes out of his way to park it in multiple locations so people think there are several Mattress Mick cars across the city, when in fact, its just him going about his business.
For Bloomsday he was at Pearse Station for a promotion in conjunction with Irish Rail. There was Flynn, in character, lying on one of his mattresses for all the commuters to see while the bed scene from Ulyssess was read. These are the type of things that I love doing that make it worthwhile. When business people come up to me and compliment me on our marketing, to get that respect, its something we couldnt buy, said Flynn.
Flynns road to success is one so many small Irish businesses can relate to. This was a man with little to no understanding of IT who was determined to make his business grow. Chance brought him and Kelly together, but it was their combined drive that has turned the character into Dublins mattress monarch. Flynns been through the rough times, he has seen businesses fail, but for him its that resolve to come back stronger that led him to the top. Its important for anybody in business to follow their instincts, to follow their dream. You have to use your failures as an education to move on. I go around my competitors shops to get ideas and I adapt them to work in my style. You have to go through the rough times for something good to evolve.”
“Im a fighter, Ive always been a fighter, he said. We use whatever resources we have and thats what you do. You have to have the guts to put yourself out there and do something a little bit different to be able to compete against the big guys.”
For SMEs looking to get smart online, maybe its time to look at the way things work in Mattress Land.
Originally published in The Sunday Business Post.