The Amherst News - 2020-03-25


A heady idea



AMHERST, N.S. – Nearly 20 years ago Bridget Michels developed a sore shoulder after a couple of years as a hotel singer in Grand Cayman. Little did she know it would be the impetus to create her own business down the road. “I sang, accompanying myself on guitar, five hours a night, six nights a week and my shoulder began to hurt terribly,” Michels said. “When I moved back to Canada my shoulder used to wake me up every night at 2 or 3 in the morning with shooting pain down my arm.” She tried going to different doctors in Ottawa, where she lived at the time. She wanted to avoid painkillers and the risks that come with them. Eventually Michels was referred to a Chinese chiropractor, who told her to get a buckwheat pillow. “My first reaction was ‘no, it’s in my arm and shoulder, not my head,’” Michels said. “She told me the pain was originating from my neck so I decided to try this pillow. The first night I was on it I didn’t wake up in pain. It’s sort of ironic when you think about it. What I thought was this chiropractor telling me to sleep on what I imagined to be a bag of Corn Flakes has turned into a very successful business for me.” When she moved home to Nova Scotia about 15 years ago and settled in Joggins she noticed there weren’t many options to buy quality buckwheat hull pillows. After doing some market research, the Cumberland Perfect Sleep Company was born. From humble beginnings as a home-based business, and many trips to craft shows around the Maritimes, the business recently expanded its manufacturing operation into the former Sportscage facility on the second floor of Dayle’s Grand Market in Amherst. It now ships more than 5,000 pillows worldwide annually, including to regular retail customers across Canada, and Grand Cayman in the Caribbean. While there were a few growing pains, she researched buckwheat hulls and with a lot of trial and error, she got it right. “I got on Kijiji, bought a $50 sewing machine, which I still have, and started making pillows,” Michels said. “We were pretty small at first. At the time, there wasn’t anyone in Nova Scotia making them, to best of my knowledge. There was one person outside Fredericton making them and there were very few buckwheat pillow manufacturers across Canada. Sourcing the buckwheat was a huge challenge. She needed to find enough buckwheat in bulk and of a certain quality. She located a source in New Brunswick and began production. “The first few years we made them out of the house; during busy times even my young daughter pitched in. We had a Bristol board template, which she slapped on the cloth, cut out, and pinned, while I sewed, filled the casings with buckwheat, packaged, and shipped,” she said. “Then, when I went out of the country for a few years to perform, I found ... people were really looking for my pillows. I quickly found a job, but the pillow business blew up so fast that I quit my job and started focusing full time on the pillows.” Through Facebook and social media she developed a following that includes close to 7,000 people. She contacted retailers across the country and found them receptive to the pillows. Her product came in all shapes and sizes and included smaller travel pillows. Each week she would make enough pillows to take to trade, craft and home shows such as ones in the Annapolis Valley, Halifax and Moncton. She would often find herself running out of pillows by Saturday afternoon. She would run back to Joggins, call friends and family to pitch in, and begin making more pillows for the final day of the show. From doing a maximum of 40 or more shows a year when she started out, Michels now focuses on six to eight shows. She sells most of her product through retailers, word of mouth, and her Cumberland Perfect Sleep Company’s Facebook page, which also includes testimonials from happy customers. She eventually hopes to establish a home shopping website. “We do custom orders of queen and king pillows and can generally turn them around in 24 hours, but our biggest sellers are the standard-size pillow,” she said. “We do a bamboo-covered pillow that’s very malleable around the neck and we also have the 100 per cent certified-organic cotton sateen which is even cooler.” The end result is a pillow that provides correct support, aligning the neck with the spine, to prevent the pinching of nerves, and pulling of muscles, and to open the airways, for a much better sleep. “Why do we use buckwheat? Because aside from being hollow and therefore cooler, it stays where you put it ... it doesn’t matter if you sleep on your side, back, or belly – one size fits all,” she said. Michels said the business has continued to grow, and she will soon further expand her retail sales to stores into the rest of Canada, the U.S., and beyond. It also shows what can be done by small businesses like hers in small communities across Nova Scotia. “It’s a unique product and it’s made in a small place,” she said. “A big point of pride for me is that our product, made in Cumberland County, is going all around the world.”


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