Retailers Ready for Business

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The pandemic has changed everything from in-store procedures to delivery but mattress sellers say consumer interest in bedding is a hopeful sign

Mattress retailing looks quite a bit different than it did in the Before Times. Web traffic is way up, and store traffic is socially distanced. Personal protective equipment is now part of work attire. And then there’s the cleaning — so much cleaning. 

In mid- and late July, Sleep Savvy checked in with about a half-dozen mattress retailers — ranging from large bedding chains to single-location independents — to better understand how the retail landscape is being contoured by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It isn’t just state or local mandates driving retailers’ new operating procedures: It’s a desire to make customers feel safe as they shop for mattresses and sleep accessories — and to offer the products many consumers want now, which include mattress protectors and bed sets that offer the best value for the money.

“We as retailers have to meet the guests where they are,” says Alan Vonder Haar (better known as “Dr. V”), mattress specialist and director of strategic development and growth for Miskelly Furniture in Jackson, Mississippi. “Some of our guests are extremely concerned. Some of them are not concerned at all. … For those guests who are concerned, we need to go the extra mile in respecting distancing, using masks and sleep ‘napkins.’ For those guests who aren’t concerned, we will do what we need to do to keep ourselves as safe as possible.”

The good news, retailers say, is that business is bouncing back — and they’re eager for supply chains to rebound, too, so they can meet consumer demand. Read on for more of their insights. 

What the Consumer Wants Now

1. Have you seen changes in the types of mattresses and sleep accessories consumers want since the pandemic began?

“I think there is increased interest in sleep products, in general. There’s also a huge movement to support local businesses, both in-store and online. We have definitely seen an increase in our e-commerce business, so naturally boxed beds are getting attention.” 

— Elana Stone Anderson, vice president of marketing for BedMart, a multistore chain of sleep shops, outlets and  furniture stores based in Portland 

“Website traffic is up tremendously. We have seen more mattress protectors sold to the value customer than usual. It does seem as if the customer who usually wouldn’t spend the extra money for the mattress protector is actually spending more for the extra protection and peace of mind.” 

— Alan Vonder Haar (better known as “Dr. V”), mattress specialist and director of strategic development and growth for Miskelly Furniture, a Jackson, Mississippi-based furniture and mattress retailer with seven locations in the state 

“We have not seen any real difference in what people want to buy — same items, just more cautious in their interactions.” 

— Joe Nashif, president of US-Mattress.com, a pioneer of mattress e-commerce based in Brighton, Michigan, with several brick-and-mortar stores across the state

“Many more customers are comfortable buying over the phone or online.” 

— Vanessa Contreras, president of McRoskey Mattress Co., a  San Francisco-based mattress retailer

“Online traffic and sales have skyrocketed. With brick-and-mortar closed in most major metro areas — and consumer confidence in high-touch locations at an all-time low — touchless and showroomless shopping is up big time.” 

— Joe Alexander, chief executive officer and founder of Nest Bedding, which is based in Albany, California, with bedding showrooms in major cities across the country

“From March through the present, there’s been a reduced demand for luxury mattresses, especially products priced over $3,000. The demand for pillows and mattress protectors has remained in line with mattress purchases.” 

— Geoff Imhof, furniture and mattress buyer for Abt, a retailer of electronics, appliances, furniture, mattresses and more located in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, Illinois

“We cannot say that we have seen an increase in boxed bed sales; however, the interest in our website has grown tremendously, with more product and price inquiries. We have seen an increase in local sales through our website, as well.”

— Shawn Reimold with Ephrata, Pennsylvania-based Martin Furniture & Mattress, which has two furniture and four mattress stores. Reimold manages the store in New Providence, Pennsylvania. The company is part of the Martin Appliance and Martin Water Conditioning family of companies.

2. Have you seen changes in average tickets? Are consumers more interested in financing their purchases? 

“We had brought on the Beautyrest Black line just before COVID-19 began and actually did not receive our floor samples until we were a month or so into the pandemic. We have had a pleasant increase in our average ticket (from that). We are doing some financing; however, the majority of sales are cash.” 

— Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“Average tickets are somewhat down.” 

— Contreras, McRoskey Mattress

“Both (average tickets and financing rates) have remained about the same.” 

— Alexander, Nest Bedding

“In January and February, our average mattress ticket was $850. In March, it dropped to $500, and when we had web-only sales in April, it dropped to $400. In May and June, it went back up to around $700. The bargain customer is dominant right now, so it appears that the luxury customer is down, but that’s not really true. May was the single biggest mattress month in our 41-year history, even though we sold a lot of bargain mattresses.” 

— Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

“The average ticket has declined. Financing is neutral.” 

— Imhof, Abt

In-Store Safety is Paramount

3. How have your in-store operations changed?

“Once (our local) lockdown order was lifted, our showroom was open to guests by appointment only, and our showrooms were limited to half capacity. We are currently fully staffed with regular hours.” 

— Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

“We’ve done a number of things. First, we have plenty of signage to encourage social distancing and the wearing of masks. And we’ve set up supplies of disinfectants and masks for consumers when they enter the store. Lastly, our people wear masks, and we have disposable pillow and mattress covers for our bed tests.” 

— Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“We are careful to monitor state and local requirements, such as limited traffic per store square footage, staff wearing masks at all times, sanitizing the mattresses and bedding with UV light, hand sanitizer at the counter, and touchless checkout. We are open five days a week now, as opposed to seven as we were previously, and we staff the stores with only one staff member to avoid too much contact.” 

— Alexander, Nest Bedding

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been proactive in adjusting our operations to meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and state government mandates. We immediately put out a statement on our website and social media and created a COVID-19 update page to keep our customers informed of the changes in our business services. We increased our cleaning and sanitation efforts, reduced hours, limited store capacity, restricted business-related travel, and transitioned to video conferencing for meetings and sales training. While (temporarily) closed, we focused on our e-commerce business and have been helping customers via live chat, over the phone and by appointment. We initially reopened our stores with shortened hours and reduced staff but are now fully operational with social distancing and increased cleaning efforts.” 

— Stone Anderson, BedMart

“Initially, we were closed indefinitely. As our county moved to a ‘yellow’ phase, we began deliveries of products to customers who had purchased pre-COVID, and we did a few appointments. Hours were greatly reduced. However, our team was encouraged to stay up to date regarding product knowledge through at-home training videos from some of our vendors.”

— Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“Our business reduced the number of on-site sales staff, with no impact on the customer experience. We shortened the store’s hours of operation. We have increased the operational hours with increased customer traffic, but we’re still not back to our regular store hours.” 

— Imhof, Abt

“We started offering personal consultation appointments, implemented social distancing and shut down retail locations.”

— Contreras, McRoskey Mattress 

4. How have you incorporated new safety/cleaning procedures to protect employees and customers? 

“Our sales and delivery teams practice social distancing during in-store and in-home services. Routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and wearing of masks have been our daily practice.” 

— Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“The store has dedicated personnel responsible for deeper and consistent cleaning throughout the day. We’ve employed common-sense procedures, such as limiting the number of associates with access to specific point-of-sale systems. Lots of hand sanitizer, etc.” 

— Imhof, Abt

“We have started using four sheets of (disposable) pillow ‘napkins’ to lay on top of the mattresses when the guest is trying them out. This way, the guest’s whole body is protected from the bare surface of the mattress that other guests have laid on. It takes more time to lay them out on several different mattresses. However, we think this goes a long way in demonstrating to the guest that we care about their health.” 

— Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

“We have daily cleaning procedures, in addition to cleaning that is done when a customer leaves.” 

— Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“Deep disinfecting done twice a week, frequent disinfecting of high-touch areas, social distancing, pillow and bed covers, face masks, health assessments, and temperature checks.”  

— Contreras, McRoskey Mattress

“We have followed the CDC guidelines and have encouraged employees to limit close contact and maintain a 6-foot distance from customers and each other. We require employees and customers to wear face coverings. We’ve increased our daily cleaning efforts and disinfect high-touch surfaces after each customer. All of our stores have been supplied with hand sanitizer, and each customer is offered a disposable mattress and pillow shield to use while trying the product.” 

— Stone Anderson, BedMart 

New Delivery Dos and Don’ts

5. How have your mattress delivery procedures changed? 

“At first, we offered (threshold) drop-offs as an option for our customers. Some chose to wait until regulations were eased. Since our county went to a ‘green’ phase a few weeks ago, we have seen an uptick in consumer confidence (regarding deliveries). Our scheduler asks our customers if anyone in the home is or has been recently ill. If so, we kindly suggest rescheduling at a later date, following the CDC guidelines.” 

— Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“As before, about 90% of our deliveries are conducted by FedEx. On white-glove deliveries, we are either dropping at the street, door or hallway, or (for in-home delivery), we are making sure our staff are masked and social distancing.” 

— Alexander, Nest Bedding

“Originally, we were doing store-to-door delivery but only until about halfway through May. What we found was that those guests who bought more premium mattress sets would just wait until we began doing in-home setup again before they set their deliveries. Customers who bought value sets were much more willing to come to the store to pick up.” 

— Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

“Our delivery personnel have continued their normal delivery process, adjusting based on the wants and needs of each individual customer. Customer pickups, including curbside, have increased across all (pricing and product) categories.” 

— Imhof, Abt

“We’re now offering customers a choice between a contactless delivery option and in-home, white-glove delivery. We were unable to offer our in-home delivery and removal services while our stores were closed and relied on our contactless delivery service and customer pickups. We actually had plenty of customers who wanted to wait for mattress delivery until we could bring it in and set it up. Since resuming our delivery services, every customer’s comfort level has varied, but I’d say the overwhelming majority still want in-home delivery. Contactless deliveries are in demand, but we have not seen an unusual demand for customer pickups.” 

— Stone Anderson, BedMart 

“At this point, we have resumed in-home delivery and mattress removal. But we also offer the customer the option of contactless delivery to their door.” 

— Nashif, US-Mattress.com

6. What new safety/cleaning procedures have you put in place for your delivery teams?

“Our delivery teams are wearing masks in the home, cleaning surfaces that are touched and minimizing the time spent in the home.” 

— Reimold, Martin Furniture & Mattress

“We have rigorous cleaning done after each stop. We use hand sanitizer and disposable masks, gloves, and shoe covers.” 

— Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“All solid surfaces in the truck are disinfected at least twice a day. Our team wears face masks, gloves and disposable booties for every delivery. The gloves and booties are replaced after every use. After a delivery is completed, our team disinfects the surfaces they touched in the customer’s home.” 

— Stone Anderson, BedMart 

“All of our delivery teams are wearing masks and gloves on every delivery.” 

— Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

7. Have you made changes in how you handle comfort returns or exchanges?

“The biggest update we’ve made is internal. We are ‘quarantining’ any product picked up from a comfort exchange by keeping it sealed in plastic for two days before releasing it to our outlet.” 

— Stone Anderson, BedMart 

“We froze mattress exchanges in mid-April through June 1. Customers didn’t lose their full 90 days (for returns). (It was) only a temporary stoppage.” 

— Imhof, Abt

“We have resumed returns. We offer them for free. Some competitors charge, but we do not. The return process is the same for us as before.” 

—Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“(Our procedures) have stayed the same, but we have also seen a big drop in returns.”

— Alexander, Nest Bedding

“We haven’t changed anything yet, but we are considering charging more money and shortening the comfort exchange allowance period.” 

— Contreras, McRoskey Mattress 

Eager for Products

8. What could mattress and accessories vendors do to better support mattress retailers right now? 

“Catch up on the demand. Almost every vendor is backlogged and orders are not arriving until 2 to 3 weeks past usual.” 

— Vonder Haar, Miskelly Furniture

“Timely delivery of products ordered.” 

— Contreras, McRoskey Mattress

“We like the Tempur Sealy International Inc. signage they made available to communicate ‘safe shopping.’ Many vendors today are having production delays due to the shutdowns and startup.  It will help when that all gets back to normal.” 

— Nashif, US-Mattress.com

“I think suppliers are facing their own struggles, such as dealing with workers and COVID. I also think that understanding starts with customers (and goes) all the way up the supply chain of giving everyone some wiggle room on delivery times.” 

— Alexander, Nest Bedding


Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at japalm623@gmail.com.