BY GERRY MORRIS
While the mattress business has transformed itself, over the past two decades, the need for retail sales associate training is more important than ever
Each time the deadline approaches to submit my column for Sleep Savvy, I get a friendly reminder from Editor in Chief Mary Best. I’m sure she pads the time she allows me, knowing I’m not one to get it there early. (Understatement!) She also tells me what the cover story will be to see if I’d like to write something complementary.
When I saw that Julie A. Palm was writing a cover story for this issue headlined “Spring Training,” it got my attention. Many of you may know that my first book also was titled “Spring Training.” I started thinking about how quickly time has passed and how much has changed in the 16 years since the book was published.
I’ve often said the mattress industry is confined by strict parameters—two pieces (mattress and foundation), four main sizes and a few basic materials (wood, steel, fabric, etc.). Not much room for differentiation. Oh, how things have changed. It shows how creativity and the market forces of supply and demand can cause dramatic change in an industry.
I accept change and don’t go around giving my opinion on every new bedding product, trend and innovation, but there are some changes during the past 16 years that certainly got my attention. I’ve grouped them here based on my level of reaction and given you my honest opinions.
The end of real box springs: Not only did real box springs disappear, the universal foundation took their place—a huge improvement for production and inventory. Zero-deflection foundations just happened to work well with the creation of no-flip mattresses, too.
From springs to foam to both—and more: Innersprings still rule the U.S. marketplace, but the growth of noninnerspring mattresses is impressive. Memory foam, gel, latex and combinations of the three, along with traditional polyurethane mattresses, are on most every sales floor. In recent years, a new category has emerged—hybrids. And let’s not forget air. Bottom line: There are lots of great choices for consumers.
From neutral to bold: Years ago, I often wrote and talked about why most mattress fabrics were neutral in color: They were safe. Today’s manufacturers are bolder, using awesome fabrics and top-of-bed products to differentiate their products and create a strong visual identity. I love it.
Taking a stand: Furniture and department stores have watched sleep shops, big boxes, discounters and online sellers erode their market share, but now many are fighting back, with some seeing mattress sales accounting for 20% to 25% of overall sales.
Sensors, sleep, sheep’s wool and some more: Advances in technology helped create sensors that measure everything from sleep duration to snoring, research into the effects of scent led to their incorporation into various products, and leaps in science show the benefits and vital importance of sleep. At the same time, there has been a return to and substantial growth in the use of natural and organic materials like cotton, latex, hemp, horsehair and sheep’s wool.
Wow! (In ways good and bad)
No-flip mattresses: With most companies having switched to no-flip mattresses years ago, this isn’t much of an issue anymore. But I was a rep for Serta when the change-over began, and I salivated over the huge increase in market share I was certain we’d get by not jumping on the bandwagon. Instead, we jumped on along with everyone else.
Boxed beds: No comment.
Adjustable bases take off: Once associated with hip surgery, adjustable bases now are just hip! Some retailers are showing them under the majority of their floor models and getting attachment rates as high as 75%. Talk about increasing average ticket prices.
Pigs are flying
Tempur-Pedic buys Sealy? No way! When Tempur-Pedic first emerged, former Serta Vice President Jeff Van Tuyle and I went by a Brookstone store to see what all the buzz was about. We shrugged our shoulders. Little did we know.
Serta and Simmons under one umbrella? No way! As a Serta rep for many years, I had to fight against the pocketed coil story of Simmons. It kept me up at night. Who would have thought these competitors would end up under the same ownership? (Another who-would-have-thunk-it: Lots of companies, including Serta, offer encased coil systems now.)
Dazed and confused
As hard as it may be for those of us in the industry to process all these changes, it’s even more confusing for consumers. I don’t mean to imply that the changes are bad. Indeed, I believe today’s consumers are the beneficiaries of many wonderful innovations and improvements. But imagine having not shopped for a mattress in 10 or 15 years: What a shock to the system it would be. And this leads to what I believe is the most important change in the mattress business since my book “Spring Training” was published: The empowered shopper (one having power) has been superseded by the emboldened shopper (one who wields the power). Armed with the tools of social media and shopping-advice websites, today’s shoppers are dangerous—to poorly trained and poorly educated retail sales associates.
Effective, ongoing training is not an option; it is a requirement. Retailers with underequipped associates will be called out and culled by emboldened consumers who choose to buy elsewhere and tell their social media peers where and where not to shop.
A great place to start? Read and reread Palm’s cover story. And, oh yeah, I know a few books and an online training course that will help, too.
Gerry Morris is an author, consultant and training coach with more than 20 years of experience in the mattress industry. His latest book, “Mattress Matters,” is available at SellMoreBeds.com. As a special introductory offer exclusively for Sleep Savvy readers, you can purchase a copy for only $12.95 (regularly $19.95). Use coupon code: f3c4jq. Morris’ Inner Spring training company has a strategic partnership with The Furniture Training Co. to offer a premium online training course, “Sell More Mattresses with Gerry Morris.” To view the course, visit www.furnituretrainingcompany.com.