The following is adapted from Come Back to Bed. For more advice on navigating the future of the retail industry, you can find Come Back to Bed on Amazon.
Even before COVID-19, few industries had been more disrupted than the mattress business.
For decades, people shopping for a mattress visited a retail store. They’d test a few beds, pay for the mattress, strap that white rectangle to the top of their station wagon, and head home.
The business model for mattresses stayed constant because beds are bulky and hard to move. Manufacturers would ship products to a retailer’s warehouse, and retailers would sell to consumers, who hauled the mattress home or had it delivered. There weren’t many ways to skip a step.
But today, technology and the rise of ecommerce have changed the mattress industry for good. People no longer need to go to a physical store to purchase a mattress. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic further exacerbating these trends, we’re forced to wonder where the industry will go from here. How will traditional mattress retailers survive?
The key to a path forward is to adapt. But before we can navigate the future, we need to understand how we got to the present state of the mattress industry.
Tech Disrupts Mattress Industry
In terms of industries e-commerce has massively disrupted, books and beds are both near the top of the list.
Amazon began selling books online in 1995 and has since wiped out major brick-and-mortar retailers. Today, Amazon is the number one seller of books and roll-packed mattresses in the United States.
While working at Leggett & Platt, the world’s largest manufacturer of mattress innersprings and bedding components, we often pondered this question: What component technology would disrupt springs? Few people thought innovations in mattress compression, packaging, and shipping would forever alter the coastline of mattress country.
A company called BedInABox was an early pioneer in selling compressed mattresses online. Later, Tuft & Needle took the concept of shippable mattresses to a new level. Then came Casper, a money-raising, brand-building juggernaut that followed Tuft & Needle into the online mattress retail business. Casper raised millions of dollars from big-name investors like Leonardo DiCaprio, 50 Cent, and Ashton Kutcher. With all this attention, the brand generated $1.8 million in sales in its first two months.
Online upstarts understood the shift to a consumer-centric world. Their founders felt the pain customers experienced when shopping for a mattress. By limiting selection and creating a convenient way to shop, they drew adoring fans to mattress websites that promised better sleep at a better price, shipped to your door.
Soon after Tuft & Needle and Casper launched their perfect mattress business model, the floodgates for look-alikes and imitators burst. Brands like Nectar, Saatva, Leesa, and Purple entered the roll-pack mattress space. The list of newbies mushroomed from a dozen or so startups to more than 175 online brands in less than seven years. And all this awareness and advertising around mattresses came at the ideal time when people’s attitudes toward sleep were changing.
Data Propels Shifts Around Sleep
We all know that sleep is important for our health. But not until fairly recently could we evaluate the effects of sleep in real time.
At 2:39 a.m. on Thursday, January 4, 2018, an earthquake struck near the historic Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California. The 4.4 magnitude temblor shook the San Francisco Bay Area and jolted people awake.
Developers working at Fitbit received a flood of data from people wearing fitness-tracking devices. When the earthquake rumbled through Berkeley, the number of people awake jumped from 8 percent to 52 percent.
Farther from the epicenter of the quake, data showed more people stayed asleep.
Those following the sleep space saw something interesting unfold from this. For the first time ever, people had quantifiable data attached to sleep. That glimpse into the unknown may have sparked an interest in and desire for a better night’s rest.
Today, the attitude toward sleep continues to shift. The public is beginning to learn that their sleep needs are biological. Professional sports teams have hired sleep coaches, and athletes are celebrating the performance benefits of sleep. We’re also exposed to more data about our sleep through smartphones and fitness trackers.
The growing appreciation for sleep and the products that have an impact on it is good for the mattress industry—an amazing mattress that fits your body has incredible benefits. A more positive attitude, weight loss, better focus throughout the day, improved memory, better sex life, reduction in illness, and a more beautiful appearance are all by-products of a healthy sleep life. How many products in the world can deliver that same list of benefits?
Today’s Industry Leaders
The landscape for digital disruptors has changed. Tuft & Needle merged with the world’s largest bedding manufacturer, Serta Simmons Bedding (SSB). Casper filed for an IPO and took its company public. Purple went public and has experienced success thanks to its great marketing and sleep tech, while Nectar is aggressively expanding into brick and mortar.
The two brands that may be the best predictors of the future of the mattress industry are Sleep Number (formerly Select Comfort) and Tempur-Pedic. Sleep Number seems to have written a playbook for how direct-to-consumer brands may be built in the future. The adjustable air mattress company operates approximately six hundred stores and its annual sales surpass $1 billion. It also owns its manufacturing, distribution, and retail operation, and has led the way toward integrating biometric measurement technology into its products, a project we helped with in its early stages. This is a true D2C company that combines online and physical retail to create an end-to-end customer experience that outpaces the market.
As for Tempur-Pedic, like Sleep Number, Tempur-Pedic started out by telling its story using long-form infomercial advertising. Tempur-Pedic’s message was incredibly convincing, and its customer base was happy with the product. This led to Tempur-Pedic becoming the “most recommended brand” in the mattress industry.
Adapting for the Future
While direct-to-consumer brands disrupted the industry, my experience has shown me that the majority of people still want to try a mattress before buying. Today, several big brands continue to thrive, competition abounds, and a lack of credible review sites complicate the search process.
For brick-and-mortar retailers looking for ways to stand out and attract store traffic, these business conditions might seem impossible to navigate. However, where challenges exist there is also opportunity.
The key to surviving in the future is to adapt. We can’t remain nostalgic for how things used to be. Instead, it’s time to get creative and take action. Those who look at the current challenges as an opportunity will be the companies that come out on top as the future of the mattress industry continues to unfold.
For more advice on navigating the future of the retail industry, you can find Come Back to Bed on Amazon.
Mark Kinsley is President and CEO of Englander, a top-15 US mattress company founded in 1894. Furniture Today called him one of its “20 People to Watch,” and Home Furnishings Business recognized him as one of its “Forty Under 40.” Mark Quinn is the Co-Founder of Spink & Co, Farm-Grown Beds, and the VP of Key Accounts and Marketing for Sherwood Bedding. He’s a top industry blogger at Q’s Views and holds pioneering patents in biometric sleep-space technology. Together, they co-host Dos Marcos, The Galaxy’s Greatest Mattress Podcast (dosmarcos.co), with more than 185 episodes and hundreds of thousands of listens.
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