Industry insiders talk commoditization, differentiation and other industry challenges

As we head into the latter half of 2023, the bedding industry is facing a number of challenges, from decreased foot traffic to untruthful marketing to online companies selling cheap mattresses. 

And although some of them are unique problems, many of them are connected. 

Steve Vaughn, president and CEO at Happy Zzz’s Sit ‘n Sleep in Kentucky, says one of the biggest challenges he sees in the industry is the commoditization of mattresses, which leads consumers to think there’s no difference between high-end and low-end mattresses.

He says this misinformation is rampant among consumers because of online reviews and general access to information about mattresses online, and that the industry needs to work together to push a message of better sleep and not just focus on pricing. 

“Sleep is so important to every single human being that I think it’s criminal to mislead people to think a $700 bed sold online is better than all the stuff sold at a retail store,” he says. “The rise of the internet and particularly mattress sales on the internet have made it an increasing challenge for guys like us to educate consumers. Sometimes they won’t even come into the store so that you can educate them.”

He says he’s reminded of when Tuft & Needle had an ad campaign out saying that mattress retailers are greedy, and says that it’s a war out there for the right information. 

“I don’t mind DTC brands being in the business, but what I don’t like is the false narrative that those brands are the best according to an ‘independent’ paid review site,” he says.” In that sense, they unintentionally commoditize the mattress business and confuse the consumer.

“If they come into our stores we have to overcome all of the misinformation that they caused. But at the same time, I’m very optimistic because people are researching health and wellness and they’re realizing how important sleep is. And they’re willing to spend the money if the sleep consultant can show them why it matters.”

Therapedic International CEO Gerry Borreggine seconds Vaughn, saying retailers and RSA have to be better at storytelling so they can

“That goes for product, value, and communication — all of these things differentiate successful retailers from unsuccessful ones,” he says.

Echoing Borreggine, Eugene Alletto, CEO of BedGear, says retailers need to show consumers what’s better about their product than what their competitor has next door. Differentiation is the name of the game. 

“Bedding stores are specialty stores and they need to act special,” he says. “That can eliminate the commodity mindset. As can adding special products to your store that consumers don’t see everywhere.”

He says if a consumer sees the same thing at every store, they’re not going to find it interesting enough to want to learn more about it. 

David Binke, CEO of King Koil, has an interesting perspective on commoditization, as his company — before he took the reigns — was essentially a commodity brand. 

Binke stepped in, dropped six of King Koil’s seven licensees and is continuing to turn the brand into a luxury brand that offers retailers a compelling product and story to tell.

Now, the company doesn’t have a single mattress below $999.

“People think lower prices mean more people, but that’s false,” he says. “Offering something like ultra-lux mattresses can help a retailer differentiate itself with premium offerings that give them better margins. The promotional mindset has to be eviscerated.”

While Brandon Brewer, owner at Mid Tenn Furniture in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, doesn’t think prices need to be driven to the point of cheapening the mattress, he says he feels mattress manufacturers could better aid retailers with things like increased communication, marketing and supportive pricing.

“Crown Mark is a great example of a company that does this, but not many mattress manufacturers offer supportive pricing,” he says. “We can give those savings back to the customers and it helps us increase traffic. It feels more like pre-Covid in terms of traffic, but people are watching the amount they spend. A way to build confidence back is for the consumers as a whole to see prices regain some normalcy.”

For that reason, he says collaboration and communication are two things mattress manufacturers have room to work on with retailers. 

Ultimately, there’s work to be done on both the retail and manufacturing side when it comes to the challenges the industry faces, but the first step is talking about them and thinking critically about how to overcome these challenges together.

Alex Milstein

Alex Milstein is the Editor in Chief of Casual News Now and Bedding News Now. He previously served as senior editor of both Casual Living and Designers Today, and covered technology for Furniture Today, with a focus on augmented reality, e-commerce, and 3D visualization.

View all posts by Alex Milstein →

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