Just Warming Up
After nearly forty years in business, Cuddledown continues to find new customers and make new products.
By Cindy Michaels
Americans responded to the energy crisis of 1973 by turning down their thermostats and searching for alternative ways to keep warm. Many Mainers reached for something new — a down comforter manufactured by a fledging company in Yarmouth with the cozy name of Cuddledown.
Of course, comforters were not really new. They had been used for more than two hundred years in Europe, where they are called duvets. But it didn’t take long for American households to embrace their beauty, warmth, and promise of a luxurious slumber. Within a few years, Cuddledown had expanded into catalog sales, and, now, nearly forty years later, it boasts one million customers worldwide.
Small feather components called “clusters” have played a big part in Cuddledown’s success, according to president and CEO Chris Bradley, whose family purchased the company from founder Ellen Manson in 1988. Down, the undercoating of geese and duck, is comprised of these clusters, airy milkweed seed-like tufts of silky filaments growing from a central quill point. Cuddledown’s comforters and pillows contain hundreds of thousands of them, which trap warm air and prevent heat loss.
What sets Cuddledown’s products apart, manufacturing manager Scott Braman explains, is their exceptionally high fill power. Fill power is a measure of a down product’s loft, specifically the number of cubic inches one ounce of down will fill. Large clusters add up to a higher fill power, and a lighter, fluffier comforter or pillow. Cuddledown’s bedding has fill powers between six hundred and one thousand. Cuddledown is the only company in the United States that manufactures one thousand fill power comforters, which fetch upwards of $2,400 apiece.
The company takes great pride in its products containing an even more prized fill, eiderdown, which is collected by hand from abandoned nests in Iceland and Scandinavia. This rare down (the average annual yield is just four tons), Braman says, is “super duper warm. It would even keep people in the Arctic satisfied. It’s like sleeping on a cloud.” The fabric shell for these high-end duvets is cotton batiste imported from Germany. “It’s a marriage of two things that makes this a unique product,” Braman says. Forty years ago it took workers fifteen minutes to hand-stuff each of the pockets on these baffled shells; today’s machines, called six-shooters, fill them is less than two minutes. The eiderdown comforters sell for between $2,399 and $13,559.
Bradley also credits Cuddledown’s success to its one hundred employees, some of whom have been with the company more than twenty-five years. Their dedication, he says, is evident in their craftsmanship. Each comforter and pillow is made by hand when a customer places an order. Often, the pieces are custom. Some couples, for example, have different warmth and weight preferences — she may like her comforter warm and heavy, while he likes it light and comparatively cool. The company will make a half-and-half comforter that pleases both.
“The starting point for creating a successful business is having a great product or service because that’s ultimately what your customer values above all,” Bradley says. To that end, Cuddledown offers a lifetime guarantee and will repair any damaged product.
Twenty-two thousand down comforters as well as 65,000 pillows are expected to fly out of the Yarmouth factory this year. As it does with the comforters, Cuddledown has a high standard for its pillows, which are filled with Hungarian goose feathers that spring back after a night of sleep. “It’s what keeps the pillow from falling flat,” Braman says.
Cuddledown purchases cleaned, sterilized, and hypoallergenic down and feathers that are byproducts of the meat industry, as well as synthetic fill. All of its bedding is certified by the Oeko-Tex Association, which tests products so they contain no harmful or toxic substances that might cause rashes or other reactions.
As Cuddledown expands its customer base in both the U.S and overseas, it has also grown with its product line to include sheets, sleepwear, slippers, and other items, which are sold wholesale to stores and hotels from Maine to California and to retail customers worldwide through its catalog and Web site and at its only retail store in Freeport.Cuddledown is working hard, so millions of its customers around the world sleep easy.
Visit the company at www.cuddledown.com
Cindy Michaels is a former reporter for Open for Business on Bangor station WVII-TV, channel 7.