This brief history of selling bedding—from quantity of coils to quality of sleep—shows how far we’ve come and where we should go from here
BY GERRY MORRIS
Over the years, our approach to mattress sales has evolved, with the focus on presentations progressing from coil counts and firmness to “selling sleep”—with countless iterations in between.
Let’s take a look at some of the changes we’ve gone through, the reasons for them and then what may be the next step to see how we can best accomplish our most important mission of helping improve as many people’s lives as possible.
One of the main reasons for the evolution of the selling process is trial and error. Retail sales associates are on the front line every day, and they continually find new and better ways to sell.
Here are some other factors:
- Product development. The improvements in quality, comfort, style and types of mattresses have manifested in what used to be considered unimaginable retail prices. Consequently, the job of selling mattresses has become more complex and challenging. RSAs have been forced to adapt or be left behind.
- More choices. There has been an explosive proliferation of brands, models, styles and types of mattresses as well. At one time, most stores featured a good-better-best program from one or two suppliers. Now, many retailers carry 30, 40, 50 or more models from multiple brands.
- Competition. For many years, most mattresses were sold by furniture and department stores. Today, the number and types of companies selling them have increased exponentially.
- Consumer empowerment. Because of increased choices, consumers have so many options that they have turned online to arm themselves with knowledge before shopping.
Reactive vs. proactive
Years ago, RSAs sold by trying to demonstrate value in a reactive manner to shoppers on a mission to find the best deal. Today, better prepared RSAs are taking a proactive approach to selling. Rather than making presentations, they’re establishing relationships with shoppers.
Here’s a look at some of the trends and key areas of emphasis used in mattress sales over the years, many of which remain in play:
- Price. While still high on the list, price was the key focus of attention for years.
- Firmness. For several decades, “firm is better” ruled the day. In fact, the No. 1 request from consumers was, “We’re looking for a good, firm mattress.” Manufacturers responded. The more expensive beds were the firmest.
- Coil count. The more-is-better concept rewarded companies with the highest coil count. It was such a simple way to demonstrate perceived value and quality. Consumers became conditioned to ask how many coils were in a mattress as one of their primary questions, not really understanding what difference it made.
- Features. In the reactive era of demonstrating value, there was a heavy emphasis on specifications. Prevalent on most sales floors were lots of product knowledge signage, mini-coil and foundation-demonstration units, and layer samples.
- Benefits. The next phase still emphasized demonstrating value, but the trend switched from explaining the features themselves to following up with an explanation of their benefits to sleep—a big step forward.
- Comfort. When firmer was considered better and firmer beds were higher priced, a new revolution was born—we discovered people wanted softer, more comfortable mattresses. The entire industry jumped on the bandwagon. RSAs got a new focus that came with a heavy downside: Hello, body impressions.
- Support. With the advent of thicker, softer products, RSAs had to educate shoppers on the difference between firmness and support. There was an entire generation that had to be re-educated to understand that comfortable mattresses could provide enough support. It was a challenging time.
- Problem solving. Because of improvements in product development, the sales focus shifted to the shopper in an effort to determine if there were issues that could be addressed by demonstrating specific features, such as sagging, edge breakdown, roll together, heat and personal issues like bad backs, pressure points, etc.
- Choice of comfort selling. With distinct choices, comfort selling became one of the most popular and effective methods of presenting products—a practice that is still alive and well today and has expanded into customized sleep with adjustable beds and individualized comfort choices.
- Warranty/comfort guarantees. Along with non-prorated warranties, comfort guarantees became the tool for dealing with competition and the growing problem of body impressions. What was considered to be a helpful tool soon became a crutch. Underprepared RSAs facing resistance cut the selling process short by offering skeptical shoppers the panacea of returning their mattress for almost any reason. Customers obliged.
- Health. As evidence accumulated about the importance of sleep to one’s health, the focus of our sales efforts finally shifted to what’s really important. But, just mentioning good health as a benefit wasn’t enough. It had no real impact—in the same manner that people understand that tires are good for safety.
- Sleep. The research keeps piling up about the amazing benefits of deep, restorative sleep for most every aspect of our lives, making it the most important element of mattresses that RSAs should focus on. We are learning to connect the dots between sleep and mattresses, and customers are responding.
Finally, we’ve arrived at what’s important about buying quality mattresses.
The next step?
You might think this may be the end of the line for the evolution of mattress sales. I say we are almost there—but not quite.
There is a logical conclusion to the sequence. The subconscious motive behind every decision we make is for a desired end state of being happy, feeling good and having a sense of peace and well-being. Deep, restorative sleep on a quality mattress enhances the ability to achieve that end state.
That means everyone wants what we are selling, but it’s up to us to tell them. That’s a long way from coil counts.
Gerry Morris is an author, consultant and training coach with more than 20 years of experience in the mattress industry. His Inner Spring training company recently formed a partnership with The Furniture Training Co. to offer a premium online training course, “Sell More Mattresses with Gerry Morris.” Visit www.furnituretrainingcompany.com.