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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Up-Selling

Furniture World Magazine


How do you get your customers to spend more money than they intended on a mattress, and leave your store happy for spending it?

I recently visited a furniture store to observe and train its RSAs. The store recently adopted a “Mattress Rest Test” sales experiment and there was considerable excitement. One of the RSAs had just greeted a shopper looking for a couple of inexpensive twin sets for her guest room. After showing and selling the twin sets, the RSA thoughtfully asked her, “When was the last time you treated yourself to a new mattress for your master bedroom?” As often happens, the customer responded that it had been quite a while. The RSA guided the customer to the premium sets, all of which are displayed on adjustable bases in this particular store. In addition to the two twin sets, the customer bought a $6,500 adjustable bed king set. I would call that a pretty good “add-on” sale.

Now, it just so happens that this experiment is really just good sales practice, but very rarely do any stores strongly enforce it.

The rest test, as they define it, is simply this. Whatever the customer comes into the store to see or to buy, show it; but BEFORE the customer leaves, he or she is invited to try a “rest test” on a premium mattress — after qualifying, of course. The point is to maximize the potential of every precious “up” that comes in to the store. Will it work every time? Of course not, but the RSA should at least try it every time. As John F. Lawhon said, “What remains un-shown, will remain un-sold.” Showing the premium mattress will work a lot better when the RSA has earned the confidence of the customer and a trusting relationship (rapport) has developed between them.

The example above is one aspect of up-selling, or stepping up a customer. There’s more to come.

What, Exactly, is Up-Selling?

If you would like a short, honest answer, up-selling is persuading customers to spend more money than they originally intended to spend. A socially acceptable, euphemistically inclined definition of up-selling is to offer customers the educational information and the opportunity to acquire a superior product (and additional products) of better value than they had envisioned before entering your store.

The second definition is really the better one. The goal of every sales encounter should be to make sure that every customer leaves your store so satisfied that he or she...

  • Learned valuable information and found a solution to their home furnishings problem.

  • Left the store highly satisfied with the sales encounter.

  • Got optimum value, function and performance from the products they purchased.


To achieve this, it is frequently necessary for RSAs to up-sell customers so that they get optimum use and value from their purchase. Almost always, customers will spend more money than they intended; and leave the store happy for spending it.

There are at least three distinct facets to up-selling.

Up-selling should be viewed as guiding the customer to getting more value for her money, solving her home furnishings problems and helping to prevent the customer from making a buying mistake.

  1. The first is stepping the customer up from a cheaper model (the advertised special they inquired about) to a better model that offers superior value.

  2. Once a customer is satisfied (sold) with the solution to the problem he came in with, the RSA really goes for the gold by showing the spectacular value and performance (support and comfort) found in top of the line models.

  3. The third approach is sometimes called cross-selling. This involves generating add-on sales, by presenting sheets, pillows, mattress protectors, etc.


All of these up-selling strategies can be used within the same sales encounter.

Win-Win for Everybody

There is nothing ethically wrong with up-selling. In fact, up-selling is a good thing for everybody. Many customers enter your store with only a vague notion of what they are looking for, and many, if not most, are woefully ignorant about the comparable value of similar products, even with the occasionally helpful facts they've learned on the internet. Up-selling should be viewed as guiding the customer toward getting more value for her money, solving her home furnishings problems and helping to prevent her from making a buying mistake. Making a mistake is, by the way, one of the biggest worries a customer has when making a large purchase, such as a mattress set with an adjustable base.

One of the problems of up-selling, however, is the sour perception that can be created in the customer’s mind if the Retail Sales Associate (RSA) approaches up-selling in the wrong way, which often happens.

A Right Way & Wrong Ways

Before we get into our subject very deeply, let me remind the reader that up-selling is an advanced selling technique, meaning it is acquired by advanced training. The RSA must already be well -prepared to do their job. The execution of the Steps of the Sale (see five articles on the Steps of the Sale at www.furninfo.com/Authors/David_Benbow/37) must be carefully observed. RSAs must still greet, qualify, select and present before up-selling. The RSA who “starts at the top” with the customer who came in to look at the $199 queen closeout, might be accused of “bait and switch”. Now, I agree that every customer should be shown the top of the line product before leaving the store, but there is a time and place for that, and it is not, in my opinion, right at the beginning of the sale, before the customer has time to become familiar and comfortable with the RSA and the store.

Notice that in our example at the beginning of this article, the RSA had already shown and sold what the customer originally came in to see. From this we can see that up-selling is more than just presenting and selling a better product, it is also adding on products that the customer may not have considered buying, and may not even know you carry.

Build It, They Will Come

If you advertise $199 mattress sets, customers will come to see your $199 mattress sets. RSAs must be prepared to up-sell them to something better without looking like a bait and switch operation.

Customers usually don’t know value, especially when it comes to bedding. They see your ad that says, “GENTLE FIRM QUEEN SET, $199!!” They think, “Gentle Firm! That sounds exactly like what we want!” Your ad has already sold them on the idea of looking at it. They walk into your store with the ad and say, “Show us this one.” I suggest that if the customer asks to see a specific set, it is wise to take them directly to it. Don’t say “You don’t want that,” and then walk them directly to the $4,999 set. Direct them to the set they are asking about and ask them to try it out. When they see it, though, will they buy it? Do you really want to sell it?

Every customer should be shown the top of the line product before leaving the store, but there is a time and place for that, and it is not, in my opinion, right at the beginning of the sale.

Once they actually see and try the ADV set, you may get a variety of responses. They may love it since it might be way better than the 40-year-old hand-me-down that they got from great grandma eight years ago. More than likely, however, they will be disappointed. With either response, though, the RSA must be prepared to show them a better product. My first warning is this: Don’t knock your cheap products. Always remember: “It is a good value for the money.” But, as always, the RSA’s job is to show them “better values for the money.”

The RSA must now begin to explore these better values and explain them. The prepared RSA, once he knows the customer’s real situation, should be very well acquainted with the store’s inventory and quickly devise a strategy for showing these better values.

Be Prepared for Objections

The first customer objection to seeing the cheap product may be “Let’s look around some more.” The customer may be embarrassed that the advertisement fooled them, so the RSA must act fast to save any chance of a deal. People can leave the store mighty quickly after seeing and hating the advertised deal.

The customer may also object to the notion of being stepped up to something better. “We came in to buy this one, not something else. It’s not what we expected. It’s not gentle and it’s not firm. We’re going somewhere else.” The RSA better be ready to handle these objections.

The biggest source of objections for many customers is fear of making the big mistake: spending a bunch of money on a product that they will regret buying later. The RSA must always remember this.

For more information on objections and how to handle them, consult my articles in the online archives of Furniture World at www.furninfo.com/Authors/David_Benbow/37.

Customer’s Anxiety

First and foremost, the customer must feel comfortable with the RSA. Rapport must be established between both parties to the sale. Establishing rapport is always the RSA’s responsibility. You might say, “Yeah, I hear that rapport stuff all the time. But, what is rapport and how do I develop it?”

To establish a trusting relationship with customers, RSAs must patiently go through the steps of the sale, especially the qualifying step. (For more information on qualifying, visit www.furninfo.com/Authors/David_Benbow/37). Ask questions. Find out what really interests your customers. They are, first and foremost, interested only in themselves and what they want. Professional RSAs must always be acutely aware of this reality. Selling is literally all about customers and what they want. RSAs who seem genuinely interested in solving their customers' home furnishings problems will earn their attention, respect and rapport.

If you understand what customers want to achieve, it shouldn’t really be that hard for a prepared RSA to make smart suggestions that will result in smart solutions. This is the best way to earn the customer's respect and confidence.

Don’t Ruin Your Rapport

I have seen RSAs create nice rapport with a customer, only to blow it by trying to speed up the process by pushing for a quick decision. This is especially a problem if the RSA decides to push a certain bed (maybe one that carries an extra spiff). Nobody likes a pushy salesperson. Everybody likes an opportunity. If the RSA wants to pick up the pace of the sale, he must offer the customer an opportunity that is hard to pass up. The RSA who has a thorough knowledge of his inventory ought to be able to find an opportunity that the customer will find interesting. This opportunity should be a few steps in quality and value above what the customer originally came in to see.

A Little Extra Money

One scenario that often works well goes like this. Explain to your disappointed customer (who didn’t like the $199 advertised queen); “Folks, this is our least expensive mattress in the store. We do sell a lot of them for guest rooms. Let me say this about the process of mattress manufacturing. It takes a certain amount of money to build even the least expensive mattress, such as this one. It's sort of a fixed cost the manufacturers can’t get below. The good thing for the customer is, however, it doesn’t take a lot of extra money to really improve the quality. A little extra money buys a lot of extra value. I know you said you wanted to look around some more. You are already here, now. Let’s look around before you go somewhere else. We do guarantee the best price and we also have the largest selection in the city. I understand that our advertised special isn’t what you were looking for, but I think you’ll find the advertised special at the other stores is about the same as ours. You probably won’t like theirs, either. I’ve been selling bedding for many years. I am here to help you. Take advantage of my experience and we will find just the right bed for you, and we guarantee that you will never beat our prices at any other store, ever.”

This is just a general guideline. Use it or customize it the way you like, or re-invent it altogether. But, do something before the customer walks. He won’t be back.

Your Customer Can Afford It

Almost every customer can afford your most expensive mattress set. If you did a survey, you might find that the shopper looking for the $199 queen set probably owns a $1,000 smart phone and at least one expensive TV set. Their children are probably similarly equipped with social media devices and are walking around in $200 tennis shoes.

Another change that I have noticed since I started in this business in the early 1990s: because of the much higher prices on luxury bedding, a lot more mattress purchases are being financed than they used to be. Most people can handle $99 per month, even if they don’t have $4,000 available cash or that much room on their credit card. The availability of liberal financing options can really ease the pain of stepping up to a nicer mattress set for the customer.

Justify the Price

Part of selling is justifying the price of a product. Most people buy bedding based on how it feels to them, and this is probably the best way to make a decision about a “comfort” product. How does it feel?

Some customers, however, will admit that the $1,299 queen really does feel better than the $499 queen, but they just can’t or won’t pay that kind of money for something as simple as a mattress set.

Here are several justifications that RSAs can point out to reluctant customers who just don’t understand how important a quality sleep set is.

  1. Most people spend one third of their lives trying to sleep. At least two-thirds of the American people are clinically sleep-deprived. What monetary value can you place upon sleep, or worse, lost sleep?

  2. If they are given a comparison test, many people will realize that an eight year old premium set, purchase price $999, is more comfortable than a brand new promotional set, purchase price $399. So, the buyer of the $399 set, by not spending the extra $600, is cheating himself out of a restful night’s sleep to save 20 cents per day for eight years!

  3. How much money do people waste on other stuff? One coffee per day at a local “Famous Coffee House” usually runs at least $2.50. Over the eight year time frame we used in the last example, we find that 2,920 days at $2.50 per day is $7,300! What super-premium set could they have bought for $7K? Of course, those customers might need that coffee to help rouse them from the torpor of sleeping on a $399 mattress set.


There are many other examples you can use. I’m not suggesting that anyone deny themselves the small, daily comforts that can be bought for a few dollars per day. I am merely pointing out that a super premium mattress set can be bought for far less money, over time, than the cost of chewing gum, soda pop, coffee, a bagel or a dip of snuff.

The biggest fear and source of objections for many customers is making the big mistake; spending a bunch of money on a product that they will regret buying later.

I call these examples of "price versus cost." Price is one time; cost is long term. Life, we hope, is long term.


Up-selling or “stepping up” is a crucial skill that must be mastered if the RSA is to maximize his sales volume and earnings. It is easy to see how the skilled RSA can increase sales volume by 20 percent, or 30 percent or more with exactly the same number and quality of ups.

Can you avoid the problem of up-selling by starting at the top every time? I don’t know. Try it and see how it works.


About David Benbow: David Benbow, a veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company offering mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) He has many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas.

He is the author of  “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” that systematically presents a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It can be purchased at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
Questions an comments can be directed to him at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or 361-648-3775.

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