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Mattress-7: The New Reality

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 143 NO.4 July/August


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“Give the Lady what she wants” –Marshall Field

Mattress Manufacturers and Retailers, Welcome to the 21st Century! While Bedding Sales have been one of the bright spots in our Furniture business, sales growth lags behind other consumables. This is because most consumers don’t cherish the idea of having to purchase a new mattress, nor are they proactive in taking steps to gain a restorative night’s sleep-despite the fact that many of them sleep in substandard beds and sleepwalk their way through their day.

Sure, our industry has tried to educate the buying public on the benefits of great sleep and how our products can help to relieve pain and increase one’s overall well-being. However noble our efforts have been; mattress shopping ranks low on consumer’s favorite products to shop for; certainly below automobiles, appliances, cookware, and cell phones. The last I heard, mattress shopping sits somewhere between pre-need funeral plans and root canals!
Manufacturers and retailers have made mattress shopping a chore. Our perception is that our competition is between the “S” and “T” Brands on the manufacturing side, and between the Mattress Specialty stores, Big Box and Wholesale Clubs, and traditional Furniture stores on the retail side. In fact, our true competitors are the brands and products that did not exist 20 years ago-outside of our business. They simply are more fun and much easier to shop for. While that new King-Size may never be as glamorous as the latest iPhone or Lexus Hybrid, we must change the way we do business in order to fit into her way of shopping.

If you want to improve your business, then think like a customer. In my retail life I judged policies and programs on this simple scale: Is it “Commission Friendly” or “Customer Friendly”? Commission Friendly policies are logical and create a false short term profit, but ultimately will destroy business as those policies do not encourage continual return business or personal recommendations.

Here are ways we need to change our business views. Some are quite radical, but all streamline the process or increase the value perception of our products.

1. The Name Game:

Shop for anything named Apple, Toyota, or Kindle. Whether you look online or in brick and mortar stores, the name is the same. Comparisons are easy and the consumer only has to decide where to invest their money. It seems that Bedding is one of the few products that have scores of names for similar products from the same manufacturer. Besides adding needlessly to the cost of the product, this “customer unfriendly” addition of frustration is #1 on your shoppers’ hit list of why they dislike mattress shopping. Retailers believe they have something “exclusive’, but if your competition is as savvy as you think they are, they are prepared to match up your “S” name to their “S” name. Manufacturers would like to reduce this non-value added cost, and retailers gain no advantage. Let’s end it today! You may have noticed that the fastest growing brands over the last 10 years use just ONE model name per model. (To my friends at the “S” Brands, I don’t mean to single you out. The name game applies to almost all brands A-Z).

2. Twenty-five Years to Life:

It sounds like a sentence for a crime, and when we stress outrageous warranties that don’t reflect the realistic lifespan of our product we are, in fact, sentencing our customers to years of poor sleep and wrong expectations. Warranty times topped out in the 1980’s to 30 years, then dropped to a more sensible 10, and have climbed back to 25 in the last 24 months. Prorated periods result in prorated sleep and mattress owners hanging on to beds far longer than the comfort life.

Long warranties are a half-truth that makes our product presentation non-believable and lowers our credibility. Last year I visited retail stores more than 200 times. I ask the RSAs if their shoppers would trade a 25 year warranty for a lower warranty along with a lower price. To a person, almost all RSAs say that shoppers want MONEY NOW over a promise tomorrow.

Retailers, you need to call on your suppliers to create sensible warranties that are believable. Along with that call, you need to support your suppliers through the change. Manufacturers, drop the warranty and drop your cost to your retailers. Give them a reason to believe.

3. I’ll Sleep Better If You Buy This Bed:

Think like a customer. The next time you need to replace your HVAC units, buy a suit, or book a hotel room, do you want the salesperson to sell you the item that is “right” for you, or the item that pays them the most money? Right at the top of “Commission Friendly” violations is Spiff or PM programs. They simply do not make the needle move, and are a high priced short-term lease on a RSA’s attention. Above all, spiffs are a major cause of customer returns. And if your store has a no-return policy, know this... neither your bed nor your customer will return.

Today’s shopper is smart. They know when they are being pushed towards a bed with Push Money attached to it. Drop the spiffs and show the right bed to right customer.

Your RSAs will tell you that they need spiffs to survive! However, in a large (200+ RSAs) sales organization I work with, annual spiff earnings averaged $30 a month over a 12 month fiscal year. Check your team’s earnings for 2013 and see how much of your money is being rebated to your sales team. Chances are it may not be a lot different!

4. It’s Not Ea]sy Being Green:

Today’s shopper wants to know how GREEN or environmentally conscience YOU are. OK, this may be the same shopper who throws away two plastic water bottles while she shops your store, but she still wants you to do no harm to Mother Earth. As an industry, we have moved a shade greener. We still need to deal with that 800 pound gorilla in the room, mattress recycling.

Love it or hate it, recycling used mattresses is going to become a reality. As an industry, retail and manufacturer, we need to get ahead of this now and take the lead. There are lots of usable parts in those old beds that don’t need to be clogging up the landfill. Find the innovative entrepreneurs in your organization that can make recycling pay for you. The companies that can create this, promote it, and sell it will see sales growth that will exceed what 100 year warranties and $100 spiffs can bring.

5. We’ll Never Win the Race to Zero:

On my many store visits I ask RSAs to pinpoint the price that their shoppers believe a good queen size mattress set should cost. The numbers seem to always range between $499 and $599. Yet today, the cost of a good bed starts in the low four-figure range. Why the disparity? Essentially the blame lies with US! As retailers beat each other’s brains out promoting $299-$399-$499 and manufacturers scramble to de-spec their products. The net result is NOBODY WINS. after covering true costs retailers and manufacturers lose money on every sale, and the shopper gets a bed that is neither comfortable, supportive, nor durable.

Some stores hide their promotional beds in the back corner of the store, others promote low price queen sets and display them as twin sets, both of which create an embarrassing test-rest (not Customer friendly). Other stores use ugly covers-provided by their suppliers, make delivery difficult, or move the shopper up through scare tactics.

I am all for promoting HOT prices, but don’t BEG people to shop and then DARE them to buy. When you promote, don’t downgrade the shopping experience. Further, if you want to do 60-75% of your business in upper end and premium bedding, why not invest 60-75% of your advertising space and message on the value of better bedding and the benefits those beds provide. For manufacturers, check out the net bottom line return on your low end bedding. You probably need to ship 15 of those to realize the same dollars as one medium or high end set. It’s a losing proposition, and you don’t need it to service your retailers. Cheap low end beds are a bad drug-Just Say No!

6. Let’s Talk About “It”!:

The “It” is the thing that few in our business want to talk about, S-E-X! Sex is used to sell everything including beer, weight loss schemes, cosmetics, and probably peanut butter. However, our product is where a lot of “It” happens, and we rarely bring up the subject. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, appearing at the top are our physiological needs including breathing, food, water, sleep and sex.

If sex sells and it happens on our product we need to promote this. Will we offend some people? Probably, but like my friend Retailer Carson Rohw told me, “If our store gives away free Ice Cream Sundaes, someone will show up who is lactose intolerant!”

The message has to be factual, believable, and FUN! Your Marketing Gurus can tell you if the subtle approach or overt trumpeting is the way to advertise this. Maybe both will work-and SHE, your shopper will be listening. If you don’t believe me, look at who is shopping in the family planning aisle at your local Wal-Mart, and what they can find there.

Retailers--let your suppliers know that they need to take the lead on this one-but YOU have to back them up locally when the backlash comes!

7. United You Stand:

You can change this business. Adopt a healthy dissatisfaction for the status quo and be ready to smash a few touchstones. Support, planning, and loyalty is essential between those on the wholesale side and those in retail. The transformation will get uncomfortable, but that just means we are too comfortable on using 20th Century standards to build our 21st Century business. In this century Mattress Shopping needs to be easy, fun, with a touch of spice!

Gordon Hecht is Senior Manager-In Store Concepts for Serta Simmons Bedding Company, introducing and expanding bedding business in conventional and non-traditional venues. He started his 30+ years experience in the Home Furnishings industry in Las Vegas, NV as a delivery helper and driver and later served in sales, retail management and consulting roles.
Read other articles by Gordon Hecht