Olejo Turns a Dormroom Hustle into a Growing E-Commerce Business

From the time he started working as a bus boy in his family’s restaurants in upstate New York, Dan Dietz grew up thinking about business.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when, as a 20-year-old college student, he watched his friends moving off campus and thought, hey—there might be a way to make some extra cash here.

“I figured, well, I’ll just sell them the furniture instead of them going to Ikea or Wal-Mart or whatever. They know me, they’ll do business with me,” he says.

After securing a couple of contacts in the bedding-supply world, Dietz bought a URL and set up a simple website to hawk beds to college kids. Thus was born dormbeds.com.

And while Dietz apparently had the requisite hustle, his eye for a promising market was not quite honed yet.

“It was the absolute worst. Nobody wanted to buy the products,” he recalls with a smile. “They don’t want to spend a couple hundred bucks on furniture. They’re fine pulling a futon off the side of the road on moving day and just throwing a mattress on it.”

Dietz dove back into his studies and internships. But something about the e-commerce idea wouldn’t leave him alone. The following summer, with those connections in the mattress industry still burning a hole in his address book, Dietz set up a few items on eBay, “just to see what would happen.”

Maybe he’d make a few hundred bucks here or there, Dietz thought—if he was lucky, maybe even enough to avoid more 14-hour shifts stocking the bar at Fenway Park taverns on sweltering game days.

“And it took off, immediately. Within two months in the summer of 2008, I was on about $100,000 top-line run rate for the year,” Dietz recalls. “It was just incredible—just sitting in my apartment, selling three products over and over and over again.”

Dan Dietz

Today, that business has evolved into Olejo.com, a full-fledged standalone retail site that sells beds and related furniture to people all around the U.S. and Canada. Dietz is the CEO, leading a workforce of 18 people, most of whom work in the company’s small office in the Back Bay area of Boston.

The company hasn’t taken on outside investors, preferring so far to grow on its own cash flow. Dietz won’t reveal any detailed financial information for the startup, but says annual revenues are in the seven figures—making Olejo a pretty quiet success story as e-commerce continues to chip away at the generational and technological change shaking old-school retail to its core.

No matter where you live, you’ve seen the commercials for some regional bed-store chain—Sleepy’s in the Northeast, Sleep Country USA in the Northwest, countless other mom-and-pop operations all over the map. Those small, often family-owned retailers are a core part of the national system for selling mattresses and other beds.

It’s a system, Dietz says, defined by confusion for the buyer.

“Simmons, for example, will make a product. They’ll sell the product to Sleepy’s under one name, and Jordan’s Furniture under another name, and us under another name,” he says. “And it’s done so that customers have a hard time doing any sort of cross-shopping.”

That’s why browsing ads for a simple mattress, Dietz says, can seem a lot like shopping for a car, with … Next Page »

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