Sweet Dreams – Product Focus: Mattresses

Sweet Dreams - Mattresses

January, 2017—

The mattress industry is taking sleep seriously, are you?

The world of mattress manufacturing is now a world of science, technology and innovation. The mattress you buy today may still be a rectangle, but otherwise this is not your parents’ mattress. In 2015, the most recent year available, the mattress industry continued to grow and posted increases in both unit shipments and wholesale dollar value. The industry shipped nearly 39 million units, an increase of 4.5 percent over the previous year, and posting a 6.8 percent increase in dollar value, the sixth consecutive yearly increase. In all, that adds up to about $8 billon in domestic business annually. For manufacturers hoping to tap into the Millennial market that means telling (and selling) a better story, and it all starts with educating the consumer.

Good mattress = healthy life

“There’s still some confusion with the consumer out there,” explains Kevin Toman, president and CEO of Englander. “People are starting to realize their mattress creates a good, healthy environment for them to get a good night’s sleep.” As a result, he sees consumers starting to purchase better quality mattresses made from better quality materials. “The industry is providing better raw materials that coincide with health issues—gel for cooling, mattresses with ventilation and foam that has air flow, mattresses with copper—these are some of the trends within the industry in terms of raw materials.” Toman feels the next evolution will be a smart bed.

A big part of how today’s mattresses can provide a better night’s sleep is by controlling temperature. Laurie Tokarz, president of Restonic, describes temperature as one of the key elements Restonic is focusing on. “With the explosion of memory foam over the past 10 years, now consumers are getting into repeat purchases and hearing that memory foam just sleeps warmer than other foams, so they’re looking for different vehicles that will help make a cooler sleep environment.”

As a result, Tokarz says Restonic has looked into ways to keep body temperature constant during sleep via the use of certain fabrics and foams.

“A key element we have focused on is breathability,” she says, particularly the use of a mesh fabric on the side of the bed to let heat escape and keep the bed’s micro-climate more constant. Another benefit of the mesh is that it allows better airflow, which means more humidity escapes and, as a result, the mattress’s foam doesn’t break down as quickly. “It extends the performance life of the bed,” Tokarz says.

The idea of maintaining a constant sleep temperature is important for consumers when it comes to ensuring a deep and restorative night’s sleep, but it can be challenging, especially when there are two sleep partners. Tokarz explains that if one person sleeps warmer than the other, sleep is being disrupted. “When you pull the covers up at night, it traps heat,” she says. “Think about how you flip a pillow to make it cooler, or stick your leg out at night—every time you do that it disrupts the REM level you are in and you have to start over. If we can work to minimize that, people will get longer stretches of restorative sleep.” Ideally, she says, the more a constant temperature can be maintained, the deeper sleep someone can achieve and maintain.

Educating the consumer

The standard advice is consumers should change their mattresses every eight to 10 years, but the bigger issue is, do they understand why? It’s essential to educate shoppers on the idea that as their body changes their need for different types of support changes as well. It’s not necessarily that the mattress is “worn out,” but rather that weight gains or losses, as well as injuries, impact what consumer’s need in a mattress. As more studies reveal the extent to which sleep influences overall health—not to mention the development of new and better technology—your store’s mattress business has the potential to grow. More consumers are recognizing the importance of sleep to their overall health and well being, but how can retailers capitalize on that awareness?

HFA member Chris Sanders, owner and president of Therapedic Mattress Idaho, suggests dialing into selling the value of comfort and health instead of emphasizing price. “If I ran a sleep shop, I’d have a process by which I make sure to diagnosis and prescribe the right bed for their needs,” he says. “Stores need to have different tools to make sure consumers get the right product for them. New technology is out there, and I think we’re going to see even more out there. If people use it, they will be successful.”

Tokarz seconds the idea that incorporating more technology into the buying process, whether in a stand-alone sleep store or a furniture retailer with a mattress shop, can serve as an enticement to consumers. “I see retailers focusing on this, and more stores now have a bedding specialist,” she says.

When stores incorporate specialists with more training, in addition to adding diagnostic machines, Tokarz believes it can be a boon for sales. “Consumers put more faith in a machine than they do a salesperson,” Tokarz says. She feels diagnostic machines give consumers more confidence in their purchase decision. Overall, she stresses focusing on making the shopping experience more enticing and enjoyable for consumers. “Right now, I don’t know that it’s seen as a pleasurable experience. Most people don’t look forward to shopping for a new mattress.”

Shifting shopping options

As with everything else in our world, the internet has been a major disrupter in the world of mattress buying. The internet has not only enabled consumers to be better informed than ever about what to look for in a quality mattress, but also it’s opened a third avenue for consumers to make a purchase.

“We should be talking about internet sales, it’s been a phenomenon,” says Toman, adding, “I never liked going to the store, and now I buy online all the time, and I’m in the baby boom generation! Buying online is the biggest trend in the last four years.” Sanders agrees, saying, “Bed in the box is not new technology, but it’s an easy way for Millennials to buy a mattress. They don’t want to go to the mattress store; they see reviews online and the mattress ships to their door.” Sanders anticipates online mattress shopping to continue to be a part of the buying landscape, as it makes it easier to buy mattresses with a zero-risk purchase policy.

But the internet isn’t the only disrupter in today’s retail mattress world—consolidation is another big trend for retailers that could have some serious long-term side effects. Mattress Firm’s acquisition of Sleepy’s makes it the largest mattress retailer, with what seems like a store on every corner. As the bigger stores get bigger, it’s easy to imagine the smaller, independent retail shops declining.

Sanders expressed some concerns about the consolidation happening with stand-alone mattress stores. “I don’t think consolidation benefits anybody,” he says. “At the end of the day, it will chew up some people and not give the consumer a complete choice.”

Toman finds there has always been consolidation, in retailers and in manufacturing, but one trend he sees emerging is the development of more niche sleep shops, operating 10 to 12 stores. “It’s starting to come about to take advantage of these giants,” he feels. “The smaller niche stores can react a lot quicker and implement things faster. It’s the same with manufacturers.”

Tokarz feels that too often traditional furniture retail stores get lost in the shuffle with both the mom-and-pop and big-box mattress stores. “Consumers sometimes will go to a stand-alone mattress store because they think they’re going to be able to get a larger selection of specialty beds, or the sales people may be better trained, but we have close relationships with major furniture stores and their sales people are just as well trained.” She adds that by and large she finds the furniture stores have just as broad of an assortment, too. “I like to envision in the future that if furniture stores spend the money to entice consumers into their store to buy furniture that the consumer will stay/return for any mattress needs,” she says. “The element we have to work on is for consumers to consider furniture stores for their sleep needs, as well as sleep shops, because they’re being well served in both environments.”

“If I ran a sleep shop, I’d have a process in which I make sure to diagnosis and prescribe the right bed for their needs. Stores need different tools to make sure consumers get the product that’s right for them.”

—HFA member Chris Sanders,
Therapedic Mattress Idaho


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About the Author

Ginny Gaylor
Ginny Gaylor is an award-winning writer and editor based in Greensboro, N.C. She has more than 15 years of experience writing about the home furnishings industry. She can be reached at ginnygaylor@gmail.com.