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Poltergeists and the Unlucky 13th Floor at Las Vegas Mattress Market

Looking at my Uber driver’s profile, I thought, “Surely not.” 

I stepped out of my front door and a full-on slapstick routine unfolded. 

The day before, I had returned from Nashville after attending Nationwide Marketing Group’s Primetime event. On the day of my return home, I walked through the front door, dropped my suitcase, and my wife said, “You smell like a smokestack.” 

I hadn’t been smoking. The Uber driver’s car smelled like a chimney and I had basked in the aroma of stale cigarettes as he shuttled me home. That’s how I ended my Nashville sojourn, which also included both of my flights getting canceled and a missed connection. 

It made for a very long, short trip. 

A load of laundry later, I was packed and ready to head to Las Vegas Market where we were launching 14 new models for Englander. 

As I prepared for my next trip, I decided to schedule an Uber so I wouldn’t have to worry about my ride to the airport. A notification popped up on my phone. My driver was on the way. “Surely not,” I said in my head, glancing at my driver’s profile. 

The car pulled up and sure enough, it was Tony the chimney—the same guy who’d dropped me off two days before smelling like Marlboro reds. Oh well, I thought, everyone will be wearing masks in Vegas and all the casinos smell like smoke anyway. 

I grabbed my suitcase by its last remaining handle—it’s experienced some tough trips—and walked toward the rear of Tony’s smokemobile. 

I didn’t make it. 

Semi-hidden in my driveway is an AT&T box with a green top. Lugging my suitcase across the rocks, I stepped on top of the plastic lid which wasn’t secure and the Earth sucked me in. 

As my foot found the bottom of the hole and my knee bashed into the rocks, I also managed to rip off the last remaining handle on my suitcase. 

Tony saw the whole thing happen. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I thought you got pulled under by a poltergeist!” 

Pulled under by a poltergeist…I couldn’t help but laugh. 

I went inside, cleaned the mud off my jeans, washed my hands, and headed for Vegas smelling like a Lucky Strike in a West Virginia pool hall. 

And that encounter with a ghost in my driveway wasn’t the only supernatural experience of my trip. Once I arrived in Vegas and the show got underway, I was told about a disappearance that had happened right underneath my feet on the 13th floor. 

Mattress Markets After a Night in Vegas

Long nights in Vegas often create hazy mornings and that’s the backdrop for a story my mattress industry friend told me about his second day at summer market. 

After a boozy night on The Strip, he woke up bright and early and went to the International Market Center for the show that was taking place August 22-26, 2021. As part of his normal routine, he made his way to the thirteenth floor of the C-building. 

It was a ghost town. 

Not a single business occupied any of the spaces. So, he moved on. 

Escalating to the 15th floor, he visited a few customers and chatted in the hallways. 

Then a thought occurred to him: was that last shot of tequila playing tricks with his head? He descended two floors back down to check it out.

It wasn’t the trailing effects of too many cocktails. All the spaces on the 13th floor were vacant and the hallways were empty. “I had to go back downstairs because I wasn’t 100% sure I’d seen what I’d seen,” he said. 

We both laughed at his story, but behind those chuckles was the realization that everything had changed. 

It’s widely known that in 2020 Serta Simmons Bedding held a virtual market and did not attend Las Vegas Market. The company eventually let its lease expire. During this summer 2021 show, Ashley, Spring Air, King Koil, and others did not open their showrooms. 

Meanwhile, digital disruptors like Purple and Nectar flung their doors open and welcomed new dealers as these brands continued their march into brick-and-mortar retail. 

In the Englander space, someone was tugging at my sleeve for two solid days. The 14 additions to our national mattress program attracted attention and we signed a significant number of deals. It seemed like every time I turned around I saw one of our salespeople with an iPhone giving a Facetime tour to customers who decided to stay home but wanted to see Englander’s new line. 

Yes, everything has changed and companies are questioning whether it’s worth it to maintain an expensive market space. Serta Simmons Bedding (SSB) let its lease expire and gave up tens of thousands of square feet of show space at Las Vegas Market. Other groups are now asking questions like, “Should we show up? Is this an opportunity to shed unnecessary travel, get rid of expensive leases, and surgically introduce our products to customers?” 

As an industry, we want to know if what has happened on the 13th floor is a trend or a trough? 

Will the Las Vegas desert soon be deserted? 

Truth be told, I don’t think it’s a simple one-size-fits-all and if you listen to the industry there’s a chorus of voices who think there will be a return to the new market normalcy in 2022. 

What does normal look like? Go ahead and take a guess—and prepare to be wrong. After all, who would have thought a pandemic would spur mattress sales? 

I think bedding merchandisers are similar to those consumers who want to try a mattress before buying. Granted, our new 2021 mattress research shows that during their next purchase 64% of recent buyers are not likely to try a mattress before purchasing. That data is a gut punch for some, but there will likely always be shoppers who want to touch and feel. And it’s hard to imagine a world without retailers who want to touch and feel before they spend big bucks and make major line changes. 

If I were placing any bets on Vegas market, I’d wager we’re headed for a hybrid model that involves crossover between physical and digital space, similar to what’s happening in the consumer world where brands are available online or in stores. IMC is pushing its Juniper Commerce wholesale marketplace as a B2B buying solution. The winter market continues to be the big event for mattress introductions. Big brands like SSB have exited expensive leases but have continued showing products at buying group shows. Consolidation and verticalization are the order of the day. Private equity isn’t going anywhere and cost pressures will continue driving efficiencies in every aspect of the business. 

As an industry, some people feel like they walked out the front door and fell into a hole, sucked into the Earth by a poltergeist. Others feel like they took the escalator to the 13th floor and they’re looking around scratching their heads, confused about where the industry they know and love went. Then there’s another group that sees the challenges and says, “Good. This is an opportunity for us to grow and make something amazing happen.” 

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