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Selling Better Bedding & Mattresses Series - Power Bases

Furniture World Magazine



This installment in Furniture World Magazine’s “Selling Better Bedding” series will focus on one of the fastest growing and most profitable bedding sector items, variously referred to as the power base, adjustable base, power foundation or lifestyle base.
Five industry experts were interviewed to give Furniture World’s readers insight into how to best promote, display, present, and manage the category.

The Adjustable Bedding Mechanism's Past

“Until recently a lot of people didn't know what an adjustable was,” Ben Groce, CFO of Flex-A-Bed, a manufacturer of beds and mattresses tells Furniture World. “It was a product that retailers stuck in the corners of their showrooms for use by old people with back problems. Now that the industry is marketing the product to such a wide group of people, it has opened up the customer base, and created new awareness.”

Jay Thompson, President of Leggett and Platt’s adjustable bed group, the largest supplier of adjustable bases, also recalls that the “previous view of the category as something that your kids buy for you when you are one step away from the nursing home. I'm a part of the generation,” he says, “that remembers commercials targeted to an older customer. The reason for this change are that an effort has been made to re-market the category. The product itself has been improved to include more style components, making it, in some ways, like a piece of furniture. The functionality is more advanced as well, with creature comforts that help improve overall well-being.”

Industry veteran Niles Cornelius, General Manager, Hickory Springs Retail Products Division that markets the iCare line of adjustable bases, agrees. He remembers when, “Retailers used to put adjustable bases in the back of the store, a twin-long sold as electric bed, that was made for grandma to transition before she went into a nursing home. I know that sounds terrible, but I think that's what we were stuck with. And back then a number of people in our industry advised retailers to do a better job of selling adjustable bases. A few people like myself were passionate from the beginning, but we were swimming upstream. Retailers would tell me, ‘We don't get very many calls for electric beds.’”

Recent Changes In The Home Furnishings Market

Martin Rawls-Meehan, Managing Member at Reverie, a leading manufacturer of Mattresses, Adjustable Beds and Pillows, provides perspective on the recent growth of the category.   “We started selling in the US market in 2004,” he says, “and at that time a lot of retailers were afraid to sell power bases. There were a limited number of suppliers, and it was difficult to get retailers to carry the product with more than one or two floor models.

“We've seen a big change over the last few years, and part of that is due to the emergence of specialty bedding. The industry has seen an explosion in the amount of advertising and the volume that's being done. Retailers are looking at consumer response, and are reacting.”

Johnny Griggs, President of Domestic Sales at Ergomotion, a major OEM suppler of lifestyle foundations, agrees that the rise in the popularity of the specialty-bedding category created the right conditions for this transition.  “The mattress industry used to enhance sleep products,” he observes, “by adding coils and additional layers of foam. But the focus of the past five years has been on specialty sleep, which has seen significant growth. The industry made a lot of recent progress in producing mattresses that provide the proper support and comfort by adding new and innovative materials, but then asked, ‘What else can we do?’ So, now there is a focus on lifestyle foundations that allow consumers to more comfortably sit in bed and watch television, work on a laptop, read, or just sit up and have a conversation. The concept has been gaining ground for several years, but over the past year and a half, especially since there has been more brand advertising by Serta and Tempur-Pedic with motion being integrated into the message, we are seeing a huge transition. Consumers are starting to ask for it now.”

Retail Growth Trends In Power Bases

Furniture World asked our experts what they think is driving this trend  and, the answer we were told, is profit. Power bases provide a huge benefit for retailers because they don’t take up any additional floor space. 

Reverie’s Martin Rawls-Meehan observed that the economics of the past few years has caused retailers to look for ways to increase revenue.  “In the recent down-economy,” he says, “retailers looked for ways to maximize the dollar value of every sale.”

Johnny Griggs from Ergomotion elaborates, noting that, “Retailers have an finite number of square feet dedicated to their bedding department. So if a retailer has 50 SKUs on the floor, how great is it that all they have to do is put a lifestyle foundation under each mattress. It's a very easy process.”

Hickory Springs’ Niles Cornelius, told Furniture World that he “reminds retailers that they have a finite amount of retail space. “A 60-inch wide by 80-inch queen power base with a mattress on top,” he points out, “has the ability to turn six to 12 times per year. So I ask them, if they would rather turn a mattress set that has a $300-$400 foundation made out of cardboard and wood, or turn a $2,000 base underneath that space. Even if they only turn the mattress 6 to 12 times per year, and the power base turns three times per year, that represents a big improvement in sales dollars.”

Cornelius believes that although the sales volume in power bases is currently a small percentage of total bedding sales, the conditions are right for a huge increase in volume.  He also believes that the industry only has a window of 18 months to two years to make this happen.

Martin Rawls-Meehan at Reverie is also optimistic. “Obviously,” he says, “adjustable bases are still a very small percentage of the whole foundation market, however, when you look at some of the retailers and some of the brands that have really committed to the category, the attachment rates are extraordinary. There's no reason to think that the market share for the category as a whole couldn't substantially increase from where it is today if that wave of confidence continues. So, as we see more brands and retailers feel confident in the product’s potential, and go from showing a couple of floor models to putting them under all the mattresses on their floors, we are going to see adjustable bases get to double digit market share overall. How much farther than that it gets, depends on us as manufacturers and innovators. It depends on what we are able to bring to the marketplace in terms of new functionality, price points etc.”

Best Practices For Advertising Power Foundations

When asked about what kinds of advertising support Furniture World’s retail readers should provide to the category, Leggett & Platt’s Jay Thompson explains, “It helps to condition the consumer with advertising that shows an image of a mattress with an adjustable base in television commercials, newspaper flyers and on websites. It’s also a good idea to show the product articulated, with images of people from multiple age categories, not just the elderly". These are practices that help retailers promote the category and target their advertising towards people who are the best candidates to buy this product and might not know about it yet. This is what most good retailers are already doing today in order to condition their customers to say when they walk in the store, ‘you know what? I saw that thing in the paper.’

“Some retailers that dedicate an entire flyer in the Sunday paper to adjustable bases, may not be the ones who are really knocking the cover off the ball. The ones who are, really know what to do with the consumer when they walk in the door.”

More on what retailers are doing to increase consumer interest comes from Reverie’s Martin Rawls-Meehan. “If you look at what's happening today,” he says, “obviously you see some national advertising campaigns including some of the great things that Tempur-Pedic has done for the category. That's important. Retailers are also running ads featuring reasonable price points that include an adjustable base with a nice mattress -- and that drives consumers into stores.  Slumberland has done a really good job of driving in business with ads that feature power bases in their general sale advertising.

“A lot of retailers are using promotional price point mattresses on promotional price point adjustable beds to bring in business. I've seen sets promoted at $999  or lower for an entry-level queen with an adjustable base. Retailers are trying to hit the sweet spot for price points and drive traffic into stores. And many lower price point mattresses these days are compatible with adjustable foundations. This brings customers into stores who, in many cases, will purchase a product at a higher price point than is shown in the advertisement.

“With that said, however, advertising alone is not going to do it. My sense is that particularly today, the biggest challenge that retailers have in selling adjustable bases is getting retail sales associates to show them every time, or even better, start the sale on an adjustable base every time.

Display Techniques for Adjustable Beds

In researching this article, Furniture World was told repeatedly that retailers who do a great job of selling power bases have sales associates that do an exemplary job of presenting them at every opportunity.

“We think that one of the first keys to doing this,” comments Leggett & Platt’s Jay Thompson, “is to have a number of adjustable bases on the sales floor, commit to the category, and place them in prominent places throughout the showroom. I was in a sleep shop last week and they were all buried in the back. None were articulated, they were displayed flat with no way for customers to tell that the foundations were capable of movement. A selling associate told me, ‘Well, you know, I kind of bring adjustable bases up late and if someone mentions that they might have pain or something, I show it to them.’ Retailers who are getting better results are placing these bases in prominent places in the showroom, under good selling mattresses that are adjustable-friendly. It also helps to display at least a few of them in an articulated position to attract the attention of customers.

“Another best practice is to not only have a number of bases  on the floor, but also arrange them in a good, better, best lineup. A retailer that shows three  bases on the floor, maybe one or two models of each, spread throughout the showroom and displayed nicely with some of them articulated will have an easier time of working them into a selling sequence.

“The question of how to display power bases is a good one,” Hickory Springs’ Niles Cornelius adds, “frankly, retailers are all over the place on this issue. When consumers walk into the store they may not even know what a power base is, so one of the most successful ways to introduce them, is to have as many bases on the floor as possible, mated together   with adjustable-friendly mattresses. Consumers will see people raising them up and down. There is  immediate identification, and some will ask, ‘what is that?’ It's a talking point. And that gives salespeople an opportunity to start a conversation. When retailers display some of the beds half raised up, that's a talking point as well. Consumers will ask, ‘So, these beds go up and down?’ Then you're right into your presentation. But there is another view, that it is best to display all the beds flat and price tag them showing the mattress and foundation set price, and then underneath, include the words ‘with power base’. So, perhaps it says, $3,000 for a mattress and a foundation, or $4,500 with a mattress and a power base. Even without sales assistance, customers will get the idea and think to themselves, ‘Oh, I saw that ad on TV. That must be the power thing.’ So they're already pre-selling themselves on the idea, and also getting used to a $4,500 price. There are a lot of stores doing it this way. Sometimes out of necessity, because salespeople may be waiting on multiple customers, it’s a good idea to have this kind of display and good signage, so by the time the customer is engaged by an associate, they've got some pricing in their mind.”

Ergomotion’s Johnny Griggs suggests that retailers use the flat bed display approach, and that mattresses be paired with an appropriate base.  “We always recommend that the retailer just put their lifestyle bases in the flat position because 99 per  cent of customers that come in a store are looking for a mattress only. Adjustable bases are still thought of as a health/ older person’s product. And, even though this perception is changing, when a retailer displays a mattress in an articulated or upright position, what happens a lot of the times is that younger couples, vibrant couples and people who don’t have a health need, won't even look at that mattress. It can send a subconscious message that this is more of a health issue product than an actual lifestyle bed. So, in today's market, it is always better to just lay it flat and then you have the element of surprise once the customer has chosen a mattress. Then you can say, ‘let me show you how you can enhance your new mattress choice,’ and start the demonstration putting customers in positions that fit their lifestyles.

“Here is what we recommend regarding display. If a mattress is adjustable friendly, retailers should put a coordinating lifestyle base under it. That’s because when a customer lays down on a mattress they love, you certainly don't want to ask them to walk across the room to a mattress that they didn't like, to show them the lifestyle base.”

“With respect to display,” adds  Reverie’s Martin Rawls-Meehan, who also suggests flooring as many adjustable bases as there are adjustable-friendly mattresses displayed, “retailers that embrace this practice have seen an  amazing correlation between increasing the number of floor models and per floor model sales. Art Van has embraced this idea, and is seeing extraordinary success. 

“It makes the sales process a whole lot easier if a retailer has an adjustable base under every mattress that's compatible, and has lined up the good, better, best mattresses with good, better, best adjustable foundations. So, whatever mattress a customer chooses, the sales associate can present the base  right then and there. Not every retailer wants to set up their store like that, so the challenge then becomes how to figure out how to pair up the mattresses and foundations in such a way that the sale can happen as naturally and smoothly as possible.”

The final word on display comes from Ben Groce of Flex-A-Bed. He suggests that retailers who don’t show a large number of adjustable bases on the floor, leave their beds in a flexed position so that when customers walk by, it distinguishes them from all the other dozens of flat beds on the floor. “So, the customer will say, ‘Hey this one moves, let's try it out.’ We always recommend displaying two twins side-by-side,” he suggests, “a dual king. That way customers can select different mattresses, even mix an innerspring on one side and latex or memory foam on the other.”

Presentation Timing In Furniture & Bedding Departments

There was some disagreement among our experts as to whether it is best for sales associates to introduce the subject of a power base early in their presentations.
Jay Thompson at Leggett & Platt observes that,  “Introducing the product earlier, is one of the things that some of the bedding brands that have a lot of success suggest.

They show their products as part of a system, working them into their selling sequence, and letting consumers experience them sooner, rather than later. Bringing it up early helps customers start to think, ‘Maybe this is something I would like to consider,’ or if they're not interested, they can shut it down. Bringing it up later in the process as an accessory -- well let's face it -- a power base is a very expensive add-on. Our recommendation is for sales associates to use the presentation style they are comfortable with to sell mattresses, but to be creative and work the adjustable base into the process sooner rather than later.

“By the time consumers have decided that they're going to buy a mattress; it feels to them like the sales associate is trying to add something on to the sale. And that's really what they are trying to do when they say, ‘Now that you've chosen this adjustable-friendly mattress, could I interest you in this thing?’ We've learned that attachment rates are reduced the later adjustable bases are brought up in the process. When it becomes a more integrated part of the experience of buying a new mattress, the likelihood of success is higher.

Hickory Springs’ Niles Cornelius tells Furniture World that there is a way to “bring it up at the beginning. With this scenario, the sales associate can go through his or her usual welcoming ritual, and then say, ‘By the way, have you seen the advertisement for the advanced Ergo power base that goes up and down?’ And, if they reply, ‘Yeah, I saw that on TV.’  The salesperson can respond by saying, ‘We just got a new base on our floor that I would like to show you. Do you have a second?’ That’s a merchandise greeting used to introduce the power base product early in the sales process. But unless the customer gives buying signals, it isn’t a good idea to dwell on the power base. Instead get them focused on the more immediate goal of choosing a mattress.

“My observation with retail sales associates is that if a product, option or accessory isn't brought up early in the sale, they are dead. That’s because as the sales process advances, customers are considering the price of the mattress, figuring out how they are going to pay for it, and maybe if they will be able to pay off their credit card balance at the end of the month. And as products are added, the total rises. So, if the customer has been closed on a $3,000 mattress, and then the subject of the foundation is brought up at the end by saying, ‘By the way, this bed will bend,’ and the sales associate starts to present a $1,500 power foundation, there is a higher likelihood of running into resistance. That’s because she’s already anticipated the total price she will be paying. Instead, sometime earlier in the presentation, it is useful to look her in the eye and say, ‘You know, I just want to remind you that when you buy a new mattress it's not all you need for a good night’s sleep.’  At that point the mattress pad, pillow and the base can be brought up, so some or all of those items can be added into her internal calculations.’

Ergomotion’s Johnny Griggs has a very different view. “My personal feeling,” he says, “is that it is best to find the right mattress for the customer first, only introducing the base after the customer says, ‘This is the right mattress. It supports me, comforts me and I would like to have it delivered on Wednesday.’

“99.9 per cent of customers who walk into a bedding department say, ‘I'm looking for new mattress,’ not, ‘I want one of those mattresses that move.’ Once they find the right mattress, it’s time for sales associates to use those great questions they asked previously to help them introduce the lifestyle base to enhance the choice that they've already made.

“Even though I advocate presenting the lifestyle base later, as I do training across the United States I do see that some really good sales Associates will tell customers earlier in the sales process, ‘We’re here to find the exact right mattress for you, and we are going to make sure that the support and comfort is there.’ They might also bring up pillows and mattress protectors at the beginning. And then they'll add, ‘We’re going to talk about the foundation choice as well because we do have a couple of options, so let's get started by finding the right feel and comfort for you.’”

Hickory Springs’ Niles Cornelius adds, that aside from a possible brief mention at the beginning, it can be dangerous to introduce or demo an adjustable base too early in the presentation. That’s because, “you don't know what kind of a mattress the customer is going to choose yet, so if you start at the beginning by saying, ‘By the way, we have lifestyle bases that you are going to absolutely love,’ and the customer chooses a mattress that is not adjustable-friendly, now all of a sudden you've backed yourself into a corner. You need to tell them that they can’t have an adjustable base with the mattress they’ve chosen.”

Presenting Adjustable Beds

We’ve established that in order to effectively sell power bases you need to show them in a substantial way, and focus customers’ attention on the category. The next step is giving a formal presentation. First and foremost, customers must be encouraged to lie down on the mattress and made to feel comfortable. A number of techniques for doing this were presented in “Dreaming of Better Bedding Sales – Part Three”, posted to the article archive on the furninfo.com website.

“When a presentation that's ideal for an adjustable bed is given,” Reverie’s Martin Rawls-Meehan explains, “we see attach rates in many cases that are 50 per cent or higher. But when it's not shown, obviously, people can’t buy it, or if it's not shown right, or not shown with confidence, it's not going to sell.

“People have different perspectives, but in our opinion you really want to get customers to feel the benefits adjustable bases provide during the presentation. An extraordinarily powerful technique is to get the customer into the zero gravity position by elevating the head a little, then elevate the feet slightly above heart level. This takes pressure off of the lower lumbar curve, distributing it throughout the body, and giving the customer a sense of weightlessness. It’s a position that relieves the pressure and tenseness generated by the central nervous system typical of lying in a flat-back position on many mattresses. We find that when customers are moved from the flat position to zero gravity, experience our massage system and are told about the system’s features and benefits -- when they are lowered back to a flat position with the massage turned off, they sense immediately that going flat is no longer as comfortable as they initially thought.

“They may also sense the difference with the massage motor on versus off, realizing that a pain in their neck is gone or that there has been a positive improvement in circulation. That is something you can't replicate with just the pitch by itself.  When they return to the flat position, customers realize that they do not want to lie flat anymore. As soon as that happens, the sale is pretty much made.”

Leggett & Platt’s Jay Thompson couldn’t agree more. He says that, “Showing them how much more their mattress can be than just a flat surface, is key to closing the sale. Getting them on the bed and getting them to experience the range of positions, is absolutely essential to closing. Research suggests that the in-store presentation sequence is a key driver to closing the sale. Most people don't want to buy these things unless they've experienced them. If they see it in a magazine or a newspaper, they may say, ‘That's interesting.’ But if you don't get them to lie down and have an experience, they are much less likely to buy.

Thompson warns salespeople that, “Most consumers don't want to be overwhelmed by technical details. They care about buying a safe, high-quality product that does what it is supposed to do, lasts a long time, and is backed by a reputable company.”

With regard to technical specifications, Hickory Springs’ Niles Cornelius, believes that it is important that salespeople understand some aspects of construction so they can make general benefit statements to customers. “For example,” he says, “they can say, the steel chassis that's under this unit is the strongest in the industry and what that means to you is if you have two people on your bed, along with a heavy mattress, having that strong steel chassis will ensure you that your foundation will have a long life because the weight will be distributed evenly.’ When they know the features and benefits of a unit, it can’t help but improve their retail presentations.”

Ergomotion’s Johnny Griggs provides additional suggestions on how to perform an expert presentation. “I always raise the lower body slightly before I do anything,” he explains. “It's a feeling that everybody can recognize because when you raise the lower body first, it relieves stress off of the lower back. Then once the customer says, ‘That's high enough, that feels really good,’ I move the upper body into whatever position is appropriate for their lifestyle. If I found out earlier that they have a TV in their bedroom, and the customer told me that they wake up early in the morning and watch the news, then I might ask them, ‘By the way, how do you watch TV? You usually stack the pillows, right?’ And, if they reply, ‘yeah.’ Then I say, ‘Let me ask you how would this be?’ And then I raise the upper body. It is always a good idea to start with a lower body massage feature first as well.  Then introduce the upper body massage.

“That’s how I do it, but a lot of sales associates are successful with putting customers immediately into the zero gravity position that 99 per cent of customers love. Then they look at them and say, ‘Do me a favor, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, don't move.’ And then they press the flat button and don't say a word. They let it go flat, look at them, notice them wiggling, and say, ‘How does that feel compared to the other position you were just in?’ And they will say, ‘Oh, please put me back in that zero gravity position.’  At that point they've already sold themselves. They are thinking, ‘I don't want to be put back in the flat position.’”

Flex-A-Bed’s Ben Groce gives us an alternative way to language going from upright or zero gravity to the flat position. “As you are lowering them down,” he advises, “say, ‘Okay, I want you to tell me when it gets uncomfortable,’ then lower the bed back down toward a flat position. As the bed lowers, every time they will say, ‘It's beginning to get uncomfortable.’ And then, when the customer gets back to a flat position, he or she will tell you, ‘This is the most uncomfortable position.’ And then you say, ‘That's how you are sleeping right now.’ That's the way we close sales here at our factory showroom and it works nine out of every 10 times

Closing The Sale

Our retail experts all agree that the most important contributing element to a successful close is a proper beginning. When retail conditions include great display, a willing customer, and a knowledgeable, motivated sales associate; closing can just happen naturally. Often times, however, customers can have objections and price concerns that can benefit from an additional sales technique.

“Either the selling process starts with signage, or with the beds displayed in different positions, showing that they are resting on power bases,” continues Hickory Spring’s Cornelius. “And one of the most successful retailers I've seen, after going through the process of mattress selection, closes by saying, ‘Now, let's talk about the foundation.’ And in most cases, the consumer looks at them quizzically and replies, ‘What do you mean, the foundation doesn't come with it?’ And the salesperson says, ‘Of course it comes with it. But you have options. I'd like you to lie down here, and I'm going to show you my recommendation.’ At this point the salesperson demonstrates the power base.

“But let's say that following the demonstration the customer says, ‘So this adjustable foundation changes the price?’ The salesperson replies, ‘The foundation that comes with this bed has a certain amount of cost to it. But if you upgrade to a power base, I can give you credit for the flat foundation that comes with it, and you will only pay the difference.’ At this point, the worst thing that will happen is that the customer will buy the mattress they selected along with the flat foundation.

“Another variation on this close that I happen to like better goes this way. The salesperson says, ‘Let's talk about base options,’ followed by the same reply, ‘I thought that comes with it.’ The salesperson then says, ‘Yes it does, but let me tell you what your options are.’ The salesperson then demonstrates the power foundation and quickly tells them, ‘You can get this mattress with a standard height nine inch foundation simply made out of wood and cardboard. It has one job, that is to hold a mattress up to height so you can make your bed. Or you can get a low profile if you need your bedspread to touch the ground.’ Consumers notice that the power foundation is the first option presented, and that flat foundations have the seemingly unimportant purpose of just holding the mattress up. This makes the adjustable base option seem much more attractive.”

Echoing Cornelius’ observation, Johnny Griggs at Ergomotion mentions that the close often begins with customers asking the price. His personal preference is not to give out pricing during the demonstration. If the customer asks for pricing, he also prefers to offer a credit for the cost of the flat base. “This really resonates with customers,” he says, “When you tell them, ‘Oh, and by the way, we're going to give you a $300 credit on the flat base.’ It’s a better closing technique than saying, ‘Let me tell you how much more this lifestyle base costs.’”

Blunders, Objections, Unfortunate Sales Mistakes

Commenting on common errors, our panel of experts gave the following advice:
Selling features without benefits: “A major error sales associates make is selling a feature without the benefit that is matched up to the customer’s need.” -Jay Thompson, Leggett & Platt.

Making assumptions about your customer: “Another mistake is assuming that your customer cannot afford an adjustable base, or for some other reason is not a candidate. That’s too bad, because there are a lot of opportunities to get surprised when retailers actually take the time to put customers through the selling sequence and try to understand what their needs are. If you show them how the product can improve their lifestyle and their comfort level, a lot of people say, ‘You know what, I want to invest in this, I'm investing in my comfort and well-being.’ Judging them early definitely decreases the attachment rate. There are probably going to be low conversion rates in some parts of the market. But there is a much broader market for adjustable bases than the 45 or 50 year old man or woman who has a nice watch and is looking at Visco foam mattresses. There's a much broader audience that can afford it and is willing to pay.  Jay Thompson, Leggett & Platt.

It won’t fit with my frame: “Many problems arise because sales associates are not sufficiently prepared to professionally present power bases. So, for example, a customer might say, ‘My grandmother passed down a headboard that was hand carved in 1812. Will this work with it?’ And if the sales associate isn't properly educated, they might not know that any situation can be accommodated during delivery. So even though this is a question, not an objection, if the customer doesn't feel that he or she received a knowledgeable response, they will probably say, ‘You know, I'm just going to go with the wood foundation. I know that will work.’”  -Niles Cornelius, Hickory Springs.

Neglecting customers’ health concerns: Most of this article has stressed the new found attractiveness of power bases as a lifestyle choice. Your customers’ car seats recline, tilt and heat up for a bit of added comfort. Likewise, new iterations of power bases allow for more comfortable positions for sleeping, reading, interacting with family, television watching and massage -- all in a fashion forward, technically attractive package. The more traditional market for adjustable bases is still present and growing.

“A huge percentage of our population are baby boomers who are starting to enter in to that age group where some of them need a little more than just a regular bed,” instructs Flex-A-Bed’s Ben Groce. “They are buying for health concerns. There’s a huge customer base. It’s a shame that so much of the marketing now is exclusively aimed at younger customers, because there is a big market among baby boomers and their parents. For people of all ages who have acid reflux, hiatal hernias, bad backs, poor leg circulation, restless leg syndrome and other chronic conditions, there are health benefits adjustable beds provide.

“Furniture retailers are losing business to home health care stores and Internet specialists. I wouldn’t suggest that most furniture stores feature photos of older, disabled people in their regular advertising, but for most furniture and bedding retailers, it’s not best to ignore the health benefits either.

“Of course, it’s important to be careful about the message given in advertising and sales presentations.

“Sales associates shouldn’t say that if a customer buys an adjustable bed, it’s going to cure all of his or her problems. What we always tell them is that the product will help to alleviate some of the symptoms.

“An adjustable bed can be a transitional product for some customers, Groce continues. “A flat bed is not quite good enough for them or their parents, but they are not to the point yet where they need a hospital bed.  That’s why a lot of our retail dealers display a hi-low that looks similar to the other adjustable beds on their floors.  It has the massage, raises the head and foot, but for people that have a need, showing the bed in motion helps them to understand the benefits. It may be that most customers won’t have any interest, but for those that do, there’s a lot of margin to be had.

“Furniture retailers who make a commitment to this segment of the market have had success networking in their communities to get referrals from local physicians, social workers, chiropractors and other health professionals. The first thing though is to educate salespeople to be able to intelligently assist customers who have health concerns.”-Ben Groce, Flex-A- Bed.

Weight and delivery objections: “There are sometimes objections about weight. Customers may say, ‘I bet that thing is heavy. I'm on the third floor, and my house was built in 1610,’ or ‘I live on the fourth floor of a row house in Philadelphia and I don’t think that you can get this up there.’ If the retail sales associate isn't that savvy, and doesn’t realized that there are queen split power bases, and that the mattress is bendable, many sales associates will find it easier to just let the sale convert to a regular foundation and lose an opportunity to improve the customer’s life.”    -Niles Cornelius, Hickory Springs.

Making assumptions about the  features customers will like: “It is a big mistake to assume that customers are going to like every feature of a base. For example, a lot of times the sales associate will turn on the massage motor and the customer will say, ‘Wow, I don't know whether I like that.’ And instead of saying, ‘Oh, let's turn it off now, but maybe you might like it for those really stressful days,’ Some sales people will respond, ‘you'll love it after you lay there for a while.’ But that's just sales 101; the importance of listening to your customers.” -Johnny Griggs, Ergomotion.

Fear of adding to the sale: “Many salespeople, after they sell a mattress, are afraid of trying to boost the sale another couple of grand. That’s one of the biggest mistakes of all.”  -Niles Cornelius, Hickory Springs.

Retail Sales Management & Sales Education

There was also consensus among our experts that management oversight, proper reporting and continuous sales education can overcome low attachment rates.

Flex-A-Bed’s Ben Groce, says that, “The main thing is that store management has to make a commitment. If you want to sell adjustables, you must learn a lot about them. The best dealers are the ones whose salespeople are the most knowledgeable about the product. But there are still times when I am in retail stores and see customers asking questions that salespeople just can't answer. They don’t know the specific features or benefits, and that creates doubt in customers’ minds about the product. I can just see customers thinking, ‘If the salesperson doesn’t know enough about this product to sell it, it must not be worth buying.’ People can tell when salespeople are genuine and excited about a product.

“When a customer lies down on a mattress, they may have simple questions about the kind of foam used and warranty questions, but with an adjustable bed, sales associates really need to know what it is that they're selling. There's a lot that goes into an adjustable bed. You not only have the mattress, but there are motors, electronics, moving parts and hand controls. Most customers at the point of sale just want their sleep system to feel and look good, but others will be concerned about warranty and service, so salespeople also need to know about service policies and manufacturers’ warranties so they can take some of the worry out of customers’ minds.”

Hickory Springs’ Niles Cornelius elaborates, by observing that, “Salespeople have to make customers believe that their lives are going to improve if they buy a base. The key to making this happen is good sales training.”

Cornelius explains that when he gives presentations to groups of salespeople, he removes the mattress, turns the base upside down to show quality construction and ease of maintenance. He then speaks about service and what customers should be instructed to do if they have any difficulties. “Sometimes,” he says, “I see some of them dozing, and usually it's the top salesperson. But if there are a dozen people attending the session, there will be one or more that will immediately become passionate about my product. When that happens, it's like osmosis, and the passion will eventually transfer to everybody. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. So I quickly figure who is going to be the passionate player, then I'll focus on that person to help train the rest of the retail sales force.

“We see good results from stores that do consistent training and have monthly evaluations based on attachments. Those retailers that hold salespeople accountable for bringing up attachment rates, and help them to go from, for example, a minimum of 10 per cent, pushing them toward 20  or 30 per cent, do best.  Emphasizing this over a period of time, salespeople start remembering to offer power bases to every customer, every time.”

Leggett & Platt’s Jay Thompson agrees that management involvement is key.  “Ensuring that sales Associates do a good job is more than putting a picture in the newspaper, posting images to a website, and flooring a few different models,” he tells us. “The retailers who do really well are the ones that incentivize their people to sell the products. They allow their vendors to come in and train their retail sales associates, and they focus on the category in their sales meetings in a focused way, not as an amorphous bedding category. They watch attachment rates, see who the star performers are, and they allow those people to be spotlighted. There are certain salespeople who can achieve 30 or 40 per cent attachments, while another salesperson at the exact same store may only get 10 per cent. The people who get really good at it do so because management drives them to be good at it. They encourage salespeople with the best attachment rates to share their best practices and approaches.”

Martin Rawls-Meehan  at Reverie feels that reports are essential. “Reports are important,” he says, “because in any retail organization there are a variety of different performance levels with respect to attach rates for adjustable beds. Some stores can be at 50 per cent while others will be at single digits. What good reporting does is provide detail on what practices are working to produce good results. They give managers a reason to go out and talk to those people who are doing things well, and those who are having trouble, to figure out how to resolve performance issues to bring everybody up to those high numbers.

“We've seen varying results from the use of incentives. And I think that part of the reason we are seeing this is that one of the biggest issues in our industry is still training. It's no secret that teaching people to present our products properly and to do it every time, is really the biggest challenge. That’s the low hanging fruit in the industry today. I think that as training gets better and as confidence builds, incentives will begin to play a bigger role.”

Still on the topic of education, Johnny Griggs at Ergomotion says that it is important to remind sales associates that presenting a lifestyle base isn’t a lot of extra work. “Retail sales associates who work on commission,” he explains, “all know that they only have so many ups in a day and need to maximize each one of those ups.  So, management should continue to stress to their sales teams that they're not really doing anything more. If they are already talking to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, then all they need to do is show them one more thing that they can own to enhance their sleep system. If they are already showing pillows and making sure to tell them that a mattress protector is a must, then the lifestyle base is just something else that should also be introduced.”

Delivery & Service For Adjustable Mechanisms

There’s one last aspect of training that retailers neglect at their peril, Hickory Springs’ Niles Cornelius tells Furniture World. It’s making sure that delivery people know how to deliver and set up adjustable bases properly, plus answer customer questions about how to operate them.

Reverie’s Martin Rawls-Meehan agrees. “Make sure that your warehouse and delivery guys are very well trained on how to install product,” he advises retailers. “The lion’s share of calls we get to our call-center are from consumers who haven't had their bed set up properly. And one way to lose a customer is when a beautiful, expensive, sleep system, complete with an adjustable foundation and mattress isn’t installed properly and it doesn't work right, or they're just not happy with the installation crew. You don't want to work really hard in the store, only to have the delivery, which should be the easiest and most routine part of the entire process, ruin the sale for you. Adjustables are heavy and have working parts so you need to make sure that your people know how to handle them, set them up properly and make sure that customers are happy and everything is working before they leave.”

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.

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