While recently doing research for a new Beducation video, I came across an older article written by one of the leaders of the mattress industry, Harry F. Reed. Harry was lamenting the state of how mattresses were manufactured and marketed. I found the article to be quite interesting, and in many respects, prophetic.
Dropping Truth Bombs
Early in his article, Reed stated,
“The quality of any good mattress is something that depends largely on the honor of the house that manufactures it. You realize that all the customer sees is the ticking and the finish.”
Yup, all customers can see is a sea of white rectangles when they enter a mattress showroom and all too often they’re left there to drift aimlessly.
Reed continued, “What is inside of that mattress depends upon what the mattress manufacturer wants to put inside.”
Exactly. Do manufacturers want to choose to produce durable products using high-quality materials, or instead focus on selling the “sizzle” (even though that steak has long been rancid)?
Price Check On Aisle Five
Our author’s next target was the pricing of mattresses. Or more specifically, the production of mattresses to meet a price, versus meeting a standard of quality.
He mentioned that in years past a $699.00 mattress was supposedly a higher quality item. Then suddenly, a competitor’s mattress would arrive on the scene for only $349.00, claiming to be a product of the same or better quality than the $699.00 mattress. (These prices and all others moving forward will be adjusted for inflation.)
Now, I’ll be the first to state that the price of a mattress and the quality of the componentry contained therein more often than not have very little to do with each another. But in the case being made by our author, pricing and quality were purported to be directly related.
Reed then brought up a good point, “Now, gentlemen, we know that [this $349.00] mattress was not as good as the one sold at a higher price, but did the woman who wanted to buy a mattress for her home realize this? What was the result of this price?”
Mr. Reed went on to recount how he was able to take apart this less expensive mattress and found that not only could he reproduce a similar mattress, he could even do this less expensive mattress one better by making something similar for even less money. He stated, “Then our minds were turned away from producing quality [emphasis added] and turned towards producing something at a price [emphasis added].
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
Promotional mattress advertising was Reed’s next target. “…The conditions today are more or less deplorable. …In Monday’s paper, I saw some advertisements on inner-spring mattresses. …Here is an advertisement on inner-spring mattress for $339. It says: EXTRAORDINARY-Another of our Famous Mattress Specials. Not an ordinary, cheaply constructed mattress made especially for sale purposes, but an actual $599.00 mattress. …It is such advertisements, going continually to the consumer, that make prospective purchasers feel they are being held up when they are asked to pay a fair price for a good mattress [emphasis added].”
We still see pricing like this in today’s marketplace, where the consumer is indoctrinated to shop via price point instead of quality of componentry. I think the advertising saying goes something like, “Price is only an issue in the absence of value.” Well in this case, there is no mention of quality of goods or value, so the consumer is left to only shop by price. The mattress has been turned into a necessary commodity.
Better Stay Healthy To Take Advantage Of That Lifetime Warranty
Reed next spoke of the folly of manufacturers claiming that their products were good for a lifetime, and aggrandizing them with prodigious superlatives. “…By next year, we may be discussing advertisements which tell of a ‘Superb, Superlative, Marvelous Inner-spring Mattress, Guaranteed to last your Lifetime and your Children’s Lifetime, for $89.00.’ ”
Sound familiar? Equating warranty length with mattress quality is still a common practice, with unreasonable expectations of durability being promoted for items using very low quality componentry.
It’s What’s Inside That Counts
In the end, the author implored mattress manufacturers to focus on quality instead of building to a price, noting that in the end it would benefit both the consumer and the industry as a whole. While some manufacturers have begun to shift their emphasis toward using higher quality componentry and are stressing the relationship between a good mattress, sleep, restoration, and health, it’s still just a trickle. But a few years ago it was only a drop here and there, so it’s a start.
Brother From Another Mother
So, you don’t know much about our author, Harry Reed? You can be forgiven, because you’re not a centenarian. You see, Harry F. Reed, was the President of the Better Bedding Alliance – the precursor of the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA). Harry wrote this article for the Better Bedding Alliance’s 16th Annual Bedding Convention. In 1931!
So, while I was extremely happy to come across this article and find someone so high up in our industry who had many of the same opinions about how mattresses could be better presented and represented to consumers, I was concurrently surprised and disappointed how there has been so little change since Reed wrote his article as to how mattresses are presented to the public.
Shall We Play A Game?
I thought I would check out the status of Harry Reed’s concerns about how mattresses are marketed toward the public and I would visit some of my local mattress stores and see if they are using the same price-centric tactics of which Reed warned. To make the endeavor a bit more fun, I decided to make a game out of it.
And as a nod to Dos Marcos, I made it a drinking game. But since I’m not much of a drinker, I decided to make it an ironic drinking game.
To play this game, I visited the mattress stores in my area and then decided I would take a drink if I found one that didn’t have a “50% Off” or “Mattress Sale” or other Huge Event sale sign in their window. I would do this for all the stores in my area.
Now, it may seem that I’m promoting drinking and driving. Far from it! I wouldn’t even need a designated driver, as I was never going to have to crack open that bottle of tequila. Because I wasn’t going to find any mattress stores without such sales event signs in their windows, confirming Harry Reed’s fears of the mattress industry marketing toward price instead of quality componentry and sleep. Go ahead and take a tour of the stores in your area to see if it’s true (but skip the tequila part).
I guess I could have reversed the requirements of the game to take a shot for every mattress store that actually had a “50% Off” or “Mattress Sale” sign in their window. Played that way, I’d need someone to drive me around in a party bus, because I’d quickly drink myself into a stupor. But if I designed the game in that manner, I’d be promoting both the status quo of how mattresses are sold, and alcohol intoxication. And just to be clear, I advocate neither.
So, I’ve definitely created the World’s Worst Drinking Game. But hey, it’s a game where no one actually drinks and no one gets hurt. With the exception, maybe, of the consumer.
As retailers, we can continue to fight the good fight with Harry Reed, pushing forward and promoting the primary contribution that an appropriate and quality mattress set can make in the provision of sleep, health and restoration.
Harry F. Reed’s article originally appeared in the March 1931 issue of the Bedding Manufacturer. My thanks to Mary Helen Rogers at ISPA for locating and providing me a copy of this article.