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From Home Furnishing Business

Sleep Woes

A peaceful, inviting mattress department armed with well-trained associates can be a gold mine of sales for retailers willing to treat the category with all the respect its due

By Daniel Beaird

Mattress retailers are selling a good night’s sleep. But consumers typically buy a mattress because life happens, whether it is a marriage, divorce, birth, someone leaves for school or someone comes back home. Bedding is not a want, it is a need, and consumers do not replace their mattresses unless they have to.

But industry experts say bedding sales are the retailers to lose because consumers do not want to go from store to store looking for the best deal. They do not want to be confused by so many choices, but that’s what some face.

“The manufacturers have muddied the waters,” said Sherry Sheely, owner of Sheely’s Furniture & Appliance in North Lima, Ohio. “Consumers can’t cross shop.”

The mattress category remains a powerhouse for furniture retailers, and continues to log year-over-year increases.

Preliminary data for 2015 shows that during the second quarter, mattress sales climbed 6.5 percent to an estimated $3.33 billion when compared to second quarter of last year. Year-to-date sales grew 7.1 percent to $6.73 billion when compared to the first half of 2014.

While bedding tends to be a purchase consumers make out of need, there are some ins and outs that can create confusion.

Manufacturers want to be the only brand on a retailer’s floor. But carrying multiple manufacturers, as most retailers do, offers a better variety for consumers, increases competition between manufacturers and makes the store a diverse competitor in its marketplace.

So, consumers rely on service provided by retailers and they do not want to encounter sales associates incapable of providing good advice after looking at all the manufacturers on the floor.  

Selling Health

Whether consumers come into a store looking for an advertised special, a brand name or a specialty sleep product, they need help finding a mattress to provide them with the best quality sleep, according to a Mattress Matters study from the Sleep to Live Institute and Duke University.

The study took seven mattresses with different support characteristics and 128 healthy, pain-free adults in a 16,000-night sleep study, and asked them to choose, unaided, the one they thought would give them a good night’s sleep. It found that the choice of mattress did affect the quality of their sleep, and also that the subjects in the study did a very poor job of choosing the right mattress by themselves.

“The findings from the Mattress Matters study are remarkable,” said Dr. Andrew Krystal, director of the insomnia and sleep research program at Duke University’s School of Medicine. “After analyzing the subjects, we discovered that there is a statistically significant correlation between how mattress support affects sleep quality, pain and daytime function. We were also able to document that participants were generally unable to select the best mattress for their sleep needs.”

“For the first time we’re able to show the scientific link between mattress choice and a person’s health and well being,” added Robert Oexman, D.C., director of the Sleep to Live Institute. “Buying a mattress is a major purchase.”

Sleep to Live Institute scientists and engineers developed the bedMATCH system based on the Mattress Matters study. It is a diagnostic system using statistical measurements and calculations to help consumers pick the best mattress for them, regardless of brand or price point.

Consumers had trouble identifying the best bed for them with only seven models present in the study. Now imagine a showroom floor full of mattresses.

Consumers need help in choosing a mattress. Do retailers want to help consumers choose a mattress that gives them the best night’s sleep. or are retailers focused on closing the most sales at the highest margins? Retailers say it is usually not an issue because high-end products matched to consumers generally provide them with a better night’s sleep and higher profitability.

Sheely’s sales associates start by asking diagnostic questions in the quest to sell a good night’s sleep. They are there to educate consumers about how mattresses adjust to their bodies.

Qualification is necessary, and getting the answers to important questions to narrow the mattresses down before taking consumers to the first mattress. This avoids confusion later in the process by showing too many beds.

“Most consumers enter looking for the least expensive mattresses, but price point is secondary,” said Sheely. It is especially important to educate consumers who are buying a mattress for their child, whose body will change significantly in a short time period and who also needs much more sleep than their parents.

“The sales associate can find ways to help the customer prioritize the purchase,” said Sheely. “The consumer is then looking for something that is good for their health instead of a low price.”

According to Kevin Damewood, executive vice president of sales and marketing with Kingsdown, there are four types of mattress consumers: the loyalist, the transitional shopper, the problem solver and the commodity shopper.

The loyalist makes up about 15 percent of consumers and represents baby boomers who are loyal to high-end brands. The transitional shopper makes up about 20 percent of consumers and represents millennials who are outfitting their master bedrooms. The problem solver makes up about 25 percent of consumers and represents a combination of generations who are trying to solve aches and pains or a bad back. Finally, the commodity shopper makes up about 40 percent of consumers and is not as concerned about the health benefits of sleep, but more concerned about price.

E-commerce Strategy

Better-informed consumers are looking online to get information about natural products and health-oriented sleep. They may think natural latex is better than a synthetic blend, making it important for retailers to make sure their online presence provides information beyond a low price or just brand names.

Price is important in online sales but it is not the biggest factor in customer loyalty to certain retailers’ websites. Logistics is the most important factor. A product being delivered quickly, undamaged and when promised, gets more praise from consumers than a good price.

Millennials are very comfortable making purchases online and are just beginning their life stages that drive home-related purchases. The shopping behavior of that generation and those to follow will be a driver of online shopping.

Engaging consumers with online offers as well as information is a good way to capture names, addresses and emails of visitors to retailers’ websites. Retailers then, with contact information from online inquiries, can use direct mail to encourage high-end mattress sales.

“Get them to sign up to win a gift certificate to your store,” said Gerry Borreggine, president and CEO of Therapedic International. “Everyone who signs up should win.”

All of the innovations in specialty bedding, whether it is memory foam, latex, airbeds, gels or hybrids, keep retailers scrambling to stay up with the latest trends and not fall short in the face of competition. Before the surge in popularity of specialty bedding, it was believed a showroom needed a minimum of 36 or 37 models to cover the price and feel combinations. And as promotional mattress companies have gotten in on the specialty act, there seems to be no bottom for prices in the category.

But savvy, knowledgeable consumers know they are going to spend more to get quality. Consumers are more willing to walk into stores looking to spend $1,000 or more to buy a luxury product. You get what you pay for, as they say, and a direct-mail campaign can help retailers target these consumers.

“Direct mail is useful for shifting the emphasis away from low price,” said Borreggine. “It’s viewed as a private appeal to the consumer who comes in with it in hand.”

The call to action is the discount. Price is not limited to any specific price point with a percentage off offer. It can be used to purchase a low-cost mattress or a high-end set.

“They need a specific start and end date to appear valid and increase effectiveness,” said Borreggine. Retailers should make the offer non-transferable with no exceptions.   

It’s Showtime                                

Once consumers are in the store, space, or lack of it, is a big concern for retailers trying to make the sale. Presentation has taken on much more importance in big stores and mattress chains recently with the rise in popularity of specialty mattresses. This has increased the size in square footage of the upscale mattress gallery. Anything less than 3,000 square feet compromises a retailer’s merchandise selection. Some national chains are devoting 6,000 square feet or more.

Arranging the showroom floor varies from retailer to retailer depending on space available. Many retailers place the super-premium beds to the front near the entrance and the cheaper, promotional beds toward the back. Having premium beds on display as consumers walk through the door makes the showroom look better. However, if price tags are easily visible, consumers could see the high prices and turn away.

Consumers should be able to see every industry-standard size bed somewhere on a retailer’s floor, including twin, extra long twin, full, queen, king and California king. It is also advisable that every high-priced mattress be displayed with an adjustable base. Sales associates can then incorporate an adjustable bed presentation with these mattresses.

The number of manufacturers and adjustable base models gives retailers plenty of options on how to show their gallery floor to consumers. Their showroom is the most important part of their business.  

Sheely’s Furniture & Appliance features 3,100 square feet of space and more than 40 models to choose from, carrying innerspring, memory foam, gels and hybrids. It offers brand names such as Stearns & Foster, Posturepedic by Sealy, Optimum by Sealy, Sealy, Serta Directions, King Koil, Tempur-Pedic and Mattress 1st.

They suggest consumers take their time on each mattress and find their comfort level because consumers will spend one-third of their life on a mattress, and a mattress and boxspring are the only home furnishings purchase they will make that affects their health.  

“Make sure it’s the right one,” said Sheely.  


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