Jan Ryde – One Man’s Dream of a Better World

 

 

Jan Ryde runs the Hästens family business. The Swedish company manufactures handmade beds that are considered far and wide to be the best in the world. His mission: To improve people’s lives by helping them achieve a sound slumber. At the same time, Jan Ryde has led Sweden’s oldest mattress manufactory to the top – all because of love.

Jan Ryde, a tall, friendly man with a passing resemblance to Boris Johnson, emanates an infectious sense of relaxation. His soft, clear voice expels the loudness and business around him and, straightaway, an inner sense of calm and well-being takes root. Yet there’s a lot of laughter, too, because Ryde seems to laugh all the time. It doesn’t require a far stretch of the imagination to believe this man is a good sleeper. Nor that he takes his mission very seriously. “I want to improve the world and people’s lives by helping them sleep better.”

As Executive Chairman of the Board, Ryde manages the Swedish family company Hästens in the fifth generation. Founded in 1852, as a saddlery in Köping, by his great-great-grandfather, Hästens now employs 80 people to make premium beds – currently 16,000 units a year – using traditional craftsmanship and only the best natural resources. Hästens beds are considered the best in the world, and the company name in Sweden achieves a recognition value of over 80 %. Overall, more Swedes associate blue-and-white-checked bed covers with Hästens than link Sweden’s national colors yellow and blue with their country.

The most beautiful girl I had ever seen.

Initially, Jan Ryde wasn’t too sure about joining the family business. “Sitting at the kitchen table as a child, I overheard many worried conversations between my parents. Times were hard; we never went on vacation except to the furniture fair in Milan.” After finishing his studies, he started to work as a science and technology lecturer, and now says, “I loved being a teacher.” But destiny had other plans in store for him: At the age of 25, during a visit to the factory, he caught sight of “the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I didn’t know that such wonderful beings existed.” Determined to win Anne-Lie’s heart, he moved back to Köping. It took nine months – including trips to the gym and dancing lessons – before he succeeded. The eldest of their four sons now works, in the sixth generation, in the marketing department at Hästens. Although the couple divorced after 16 years of marriage, in 2004, Ryde still speaks of Anne-Lie as the love of his life.

If a product is really good, it automatically sells itself to the customer.

Part of Ryde’s conquest strategy included professional success and a secure future, which is why he took the family heritage in hand. “Everybody told me our beds were unsellable – that they were simply too expensive. But I knew we had the best product on the market. I was absolutely certain: If a product is really good, you don’t have to sell it to a customer. It will sell itself.” To persuade the sales people, he got them to test-sleep on the beds because “anyone who has ever slept in a Hästens bed says: ‘I have to have one.’” After two years, Hästens was selling five times as many beds as the competition. To date, the turnover has increased 4,000 % – and continues to be on the rise.

The clear and bright factory hall in Köping, where Jan first caught a glimpse of Anne-Lie, is noticeably calm, despite the bustle. The premises are imbued with a catching, laid-back familiar ambient, and employees are greeted by name and with a firm handshake. The beds are entirely crafted by hand. Layer after layer of horsehair is spread out carefully on woolen mats and deftly woven in; then mattresses are filled, pocket springs joined, and fabrics sewn together with meticulous attention to detail. “Of course we could instruct our employees to work faster and produce more. But we don’t want to. We prefer them to take their time, give their best, and deliver the bestpossible product.”

People who sleep well live up to 20 years longer.

The secret of the beds lies in their complex construction. Not merely a slatted frame with a mattress on top, the Hästens bed is a so-called box spring bed. That is: An overall construction consisting of a pinewood box frame containing a handsewn mattress made with layers of horsehair, canvas, wool and cotton, and a sophisticated pocket-springcore construction. This provides optimal support for the body and ideal sleeping conditions: The horsehair, which feels like ultrafine wire, allows heat to circulate and humidity to evaporate immediately. “Standard mattresses made of latex and rubber heat the body so the metabolism can’t shut down. That is what causes people to toss and turn at night and what prevents them from relaxing and resting,” Ryde explains.

Among the fans of Hästens beds are the Swedish royal family, top athletes, politicians, actors, and other globetrotters. “They all know how conducive a restoring night’s rest is to good performance,” Ryde tells us. He is fully aware that the price tag on their beds spells a significant investment for normal wage earners. The basic version at the bottom of the range is priced at approximately 10 000 euros; at the other end, their premium model Vividus goes for roughly 120 000 euros. Nevertheless, Ryde is firmly convinced that the beds are a worthwhile investment: “It’s been scientifically proven that people who sleep well live up to 20 years longer, are more relaxed, look better, and age more slowly. How can people spend a lot of money on cars without a moment’s thought, but consider investing in something as essential as their sleep to be excessive?”

Thanks a lot for ruining my life.

Despite making the best beds in the world, Jan Ryde is nowhere near satisfied. He and his team are constantly experimenting on new developments to create a yet more perfect bed. “This is a typical Swedish trait. We can never stop trying to improve things.” Has nobody ever lodged a complaint during all these years? Yes, he smiles mischievously. He recalls one customer saying to him: “Thanks a lot for ruining my life, Mr. Ryde. I’ll never be able to sleep in another bed again.”

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