By investing time and energy into merchandising and properly selling this critical part of a sleep products system, you can bolster your bottom line while winning consumer trust
As Sleep Savvy visits mattress stores, something is clear. At far too many, the pillow-selling strategies are falling flat.
No pillow fitting. No mention of the importance of the pillow to a good night’s sleep. No discussion of the pillow as part of a sleep ensemble. No pillow display. In some stores, mattress floor models with no pillows at all.
In the January issue of Sleep Savvy, a secret shopper who visited mattress retailers in the Southeast gave all three low scores for their abysmal pillow presentations. More recently, the magazine sent secret shoppers to retailers along the Gulf Coast and — spoiler alert — their experience was no better. At one store, a retail sales associate said — out loud! — “Yeah, these pillows are awful.” (You can read the full Undercover report on the Gulf Coast stores in the July/August issue of Sleep Savvy.)
By not offering and promoting an array of pillows in different constructions and profiles and in a range of price points, these retailers are failing consumers who will continue to search and search for the right pillow, unaided by their sleep products experts.
Even if you have a strong pillow program, you can improve it to better serve your customers.
“People are always looking for a new pillow because the perfect pillow feels so elusive and there are so many choices,” says Jonathan Weingarten, sales manager for private-label provider Danican, which has headquarters in Atascadero, California. “Even if they think the pillow they have is great, they wonder if there’s one that will help them sleep just a little bit better. It can be an easier add-on to a mattress sale than some other items.”
In fact, Protect-A-Bed has done research that shows how many pillows people are willing to try to find the right one. “We did a quick survey and found that the average home of four bedrooms has up to 50 pillows in that home — not decorative pillows, that’s 50 bed pillows. They are constantly buying pillows to find the right feel,” says John Rachid, who recently left his post as president of the sleep accessories maker, which is based in Wheeling, Illinois.
The perpetual search stems, in part, from people having strong pillow preferences, though not necessarily ones they can articulate. When it comes to the right pillow, they know it when they rest their head on it.
“A pillow is so personal. If you have the wrong pillow, it’s like having the wrong running shoe. You’re not going to be comfortable,” says Brent Pfister, vice president of marketing for the Tempur-Pedic brand, part of Tempur Sealy International Inc., which has headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky.
What we’re saying is that pillow shoppers need help — and mattress retailers should be the ones to provide it.
The good news is that adding a selection of pillows or improving your pillow presentation is both easy to do and a relatively inexpensive investment. Read on for sales strategies and merchandising tips that will plump up your pillow sales — and your bottom line.
Fit every shopper with a pillow
We repeat: Fit every shopper with a pillow. RSAs who sell the most pillows don’t wait until they are ringing up the mattress sale to mention pillows; they start the conversation early. Offering to fit every shopper with a pillow at the beginning of their visit is one of the most effective techniques for increasing sales, many manufacturers say.
“The associate has to make the pillow part of the conversation upfront. We sometimes see retailers who aren’t strong in pillows wait too long in the sales process and then the pillow becomes an afterthought or a gift with purchase. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation if you wait until the end to talk about pillows,” Pfister says. “It’s also a nice, low-pressure way to build rapport with the customer.”
To make a pillow fitting feel natural, create a pillow display near the store entrance or close to the mattresses where you start most rest-testing and explain to shoppers that before you show them any mattresses, you’ll help them select a pillow to carry with them as they shop.
Questions about customers’ current pillow type, favored sleep position and firmness preference can help RSAs select good options for shoppers to try, Pfister says.
“An RSA’s strategy is to help them identify what their needs are and what they like. They may be a side sleeper who likes memory foam,” says Elizabeth Dell’Accio, vice president of Blu Sleep, a sleep products manufacturer based in Pompano Beach, Florida. “With just a few questions, you’ll know which pillows to have them try.”
RSAs may worry that the process will take too much time, but a pillow fitting doesn’t have to be long and involved, says Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer for PureCare, a sleep accessories maker headquartered in Phoenix.
“We want a pillow test to be quick and efficient. You don’t have to spend a lot of time ‘interviewing” customers,” Bergman says. He suggests handing shoppers a few different constructions, say a down (or alternative-down) pillow, a latex model and a memory foam option to see which they instinctively like best. Based on the customer’s feedback, you can offer another option or two. After shoppers chose a feel, you can help them select a profile (low, medium or high) based on their build and preferred sleep position, and then start rest-testing mattresses.
“They’re ‘trying them on’ to find the one that feels best,” Bergman says of the process. “The goal is to have them say, ‘I really like the feel of this one,’ and have them bond with that pillow.”
There may be times when you can’t fit shoppers for a pillow. Perhaps they declined your initial offer, or you were with another customer when they arrived and already were rest-testing on their own by the time you could assist them. There still are opportunities to help them find the right pillow early on. For instance, while they are lying on a mattress, ask them how the display pillow on that model feels and then take them one that might be a better fit. Or, if you notice them lying on their side, take them two options that side sleepers often choose and ask them to give those a try.
As customers finalize their mattress choice, RSAs can double-check how they like the pillow they’ve been using during rest-testing and bring them a couple of final options for comparison, Rachid suggests.
Which brings us to another useful technique: selling the sleep system.
Create an ensemble
At many mattress retailers, it’s second nature for RSAs to sell not only a mattress, but also a flat or adjustable foundation and a mattress protector to create a sleep system that works together. Adding pillows to that collection isn’t a big leap.
Start by explaining to shoppers that pillows contribute significantly to the overall comfort of a bed set.
“I know people like to say that 25% of a bed’s comfort comes from the pillow,” Bergman says, quoting a percentage often cited in the mattress industry. “But it can be 100% of the comfort if the pillow isn’t right.”
If, as an RSA, you worry about shoppers feeling like you’re pushing add-ons, think of lending customers your expertise so they can save time and avoid hassles. People need pillows: You can help them find them right in your store.
“When you go in as a consumer to buy a mattress and leave with not only a mattress, but everything else you need — pillows, sheets, protector, etc. — that’s great for the consumer,” says Jeff Chilton, chief executive officer of Soft-Tex International, a sleep products manufacturer based in Waterford, New York.
Part of creating a sleep ensemble is helping customers choose items that work well together, reinforcing each other’s benefits. If early on, a shopper expresses interest in natural products, you may suggest they try a down pillow, says Mike Douglas, vice president of sales for Malouf, a sleep accessories company based in Logan, Utah. If they like a latex mattress, a latex pillow with a similar feel could be a perfect pairing.
Blu Sleep purposely highlights links between its mattresses and pillows, making it easier for RSAs to explain technologies and their benefits to shoppers. When it revamped its pillow line in 2018, it took a cue from its Nature pillow collection, streamlining the bedding assortment to five boxed mattresses that coordinate with the pillow group.
At Tempur-Pedic, mattresses and pillows also share features.
“We find strong retailers are opening the conversation with a proper pillow fit and then, as associates talk to consumers about Tempur-Pedic technologies and benefits, it’s a natural segue to the benefits of a Tempur-Pedic mattress,” Pfister says. “Pillow and mattress work together.”
As with any product, RSAs need to be prepared to counter possible objections, including common concerns about price. Ultra-luxury pillows priced as high as $400 prove there are consumers who will pay a premium for the right fit and feel. Even shoppers with smaller budgets will invest in a quality pillow, if they see the value in doing so.
“People value comfort and quality, and they will pay for certain things, like products that will help them sleep better,” Dell’Accio says. The key for RSAs, she adds, is to sell pillows as they do mattresses, by emphasizing the features and benefits, such as cooling and aromatherapy.
Managers can help get RSAs comfortable with selling pricier pillows. “It’s about changing mindsets and training retail sales associates, showing them how they can move from $139 to $179 price points,” Rachid says.
3 more selling tips
Here are some other ideas for boosting pillow sales:
1. Solve shoppers’ problems. A clean and fresh new pillow wrapped in a pillow protector can help asthma and allergy sufferers sleep through the night without a wheeze or sniffle. Most people enjoy the feel of a cool pillow, and they are especially valued by people who sleep hot. Make sure your pillow assortment includes options that address people’s common health and sleep issues.
2. Think about packaging. If you’re considering adding a pillow line or changing vendors, make pillow packaging one of your considerations. Pillow manufacturers are putting a good deal of effort into their own packaging decisions, giving you attractive, attention-getting options that can help you make the sale.
“Packaging is important,” Danican’s Weingarten says. “It’s especially important in a store where the shelf is selling the pillow. Attractive packaging also helps sales associates to add on pillow sales in furniture and mattresses stores.” As part of its private-label accessories program, Danican works with its customers to provide the ideal sales packaging for their pillow program. “When we’re developing a brand, we can provide creative color box artwork and logo design to help the sales packaging stand out to the consumer,” he says.
Recent pillow introductions highlight packaging innovations. Blu Sleep now compresses and packages its pillows in mylar bags. The bags set the company’s pillows apart at retail and, when consumers get them home from the store or receive them shipped to their house, Dell’Accio says, they unseal a valve in the back of the package to expand the “fresh, hygienic pillow” inside.
When creating its new Sleep Addict line, Soft-Tex paid particular attention to packaging. “We built it around the idea of ‘gift with purchase,’ ” Chilton says. “The packaging is really pretty, so it feels like the customer is getting something special.” And one of Malouf’s newest offerings, the TripleLayer Down Pillow, comes packaged in a bag made of the same cotton as the pillow cover with a nifty wood button closure to emphasize the natural qualities of the pillow.
When Tempur-Pedic relaunched its pillow line geared toward furniture and mattress retailers, one goal was to simplify language on packaging and other marketing materials to avoid jargon. Using consumer-centric descriptions makes it easier both for RSAs to explain differences and similarities, and for consumers to understand each pillow’s benefits, Pfister says.
3. Spiff up your presentation. If you’re committed to selling pillows, your store display needs to look like it. Our secret shoppers visiting mattress stores in both the Southeast and Gulf Coast had to search to find pillows, which were often hidden on back walls behind sales desks. In contrast, retailers racking up pillow sales have destination displays that draw shoppers’ attention and encourage them to explore products.
Tempur-Pedic is among the brands that have upgraded their in-store displays to draw more attention to accessories and encourage shoppers both to feel and read more about the products, Pfister says.
“Our high-touch displays have helped make products more visible to customers as they shop and help initiate an exploration phase that then creates a good opportunity for the sales associate to explain the differences between products and their benefits,” he explains.
Malouf created a display it calls the Modern Marquee, an arch that can be placed over a mattress, creating a space-saving, attention-getting way to showcase pillows, sheets and other accessories. The Modern Marquee, which has clean lines and a black-and-white color scheme that echoes Malouf’s branding, gives RSAs an opening to introduce pillows and other accessories early in the conversation and encourages shoppers to try products on their own.
Just as important, “it doesn’t take up much floor space or mattress slots and shows you’re serious about the category,” Douglas says.
Whether creating your own displays or using shelving and rack systems made by your vendors, show a mix of packaged and unpackaged pillows, so shoppers can feel the products and easily compare features.
New Feature-Filled Pillows Make for Easy Sales
The latest pillows are as multifunctional as mattresses, offering not only support and comfort but also temperature regulation, allergy protection, aromatherapy and more. Many hybrid constructions combine the benefits of two components, say memory foam paired with feathers and down, for new feels. Here’s a look at some recent introductions and best-sellers you may want to add to your lineup:
Blu Sleep’s newest pillow collection comes in a rainbow of hues. The Cool Gel Essential collection features water-expanded foamed gel constructions infused with essential oils. The covers are made with high-tech cooling fabrics on one side and a cozy fabric on the other. The three newest pillows in the group — Lavender Frost, Chamomile Cool and Aloe Ice — retail for $169. “They smell so good,” says Elizabeth Dell’Accio, vice president of the company, based in Pompano Beach, Florida. The scent is part of the chemistry of the foam and will last for months, she adds. Blu’s pillows come compressed and packaged in an attractive mylar bag coated with aluminum, similar to those used for some coffees to “seal in the freshness of the pillow,” Dell’Accio says.
Danican is able to make pillows in many different constructions and designs at all price points. The company works in partnership with retailers and mattress manufacturers to create private-label lines of sleep accessories. Memory foam, whether molded or cut, remains a popular option among Danican’s customers, says Jonathan Weingarten, sales manager for the company, based in Atascadero, California. One of Danican’s pillow core designs for memory foam pillows is to laser cut the memory foam into differently shaped pieces. “It’s clean and organized, so it’s perfect if you’re going to do a customizable pillow where consumers can remove some of the fill to attain their ideal pillow height and it also creates good airflow for a cooler sleep feature,” he says. Danican also offers hybrid pillows, for instance, a solid or laser-cut memory foam core surrounded by a cover padded with duck feathers or goose down that retail for about $99 and more. The company can add features such as cooling or aromatherapy to a variety of pillow designs, Weingarten says.
Malouf offers nearly 50 pillows in an array of constructions that hit a wide range of price points. Current strong sellers include those with both shredded and solid latex cores, plus ergonomic pillows with zoning or cutouts to improve body alignment during sleep. The Logan, Utah-based company also has had success with aromatherapy pillows made with its ActiveDough proprietary foam, which Malouf says provides the “quick-response feel and superior support of latex, plus the just-right cushion and contouring relief of memory foam.” They are available infused with three scents — chamomile, lavender and peppermint ($99) — and come with an oil spritzer to refresh the fragrance. Malouf’s newest pillow is the TripleLayer Down Pillow ($99). Its outer layer is made of 90% down and 10% feathers for softness and its inner layer is the opposite — 90% feathers and 10% down — for support.
PureCare has augmented its premium pillow lines with a five-model collection of Fabrictech-branded pillows that “focus on quality and value,” says Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer for the Phoenix-based company. Retail prices range from $30 to $70. Among the collection is a cooling “memory fiber” model with a 100% cotton cover that’s filled with spiral-shaped polyester designed to mimic the responsiveness of memory foam. The Fabrictech line also includes a reversible pillow for two feels, a model containing memory foam puffs, a pillow with a temperature-neutral solid memory foam core and a cool-to-the-touch cover, and a U-shaped sculpted pillow. In addition, the company has added a body pillow ($69) to its SUB-0° collection. The pillow features a fill of cooling gel memory foam puffs and a cover made with the company’s FRÍO rapid-chill cooling fibers and Tencel for plushness.
Protect-A-Bed, with headquarters in Wheeling, Illinois, has added cooling features across its line of sleep accessories, including pillows. The company also has bumped up its pillow sizes, still offering standard models (16 inches by 25 inches) but now making and promoting every model in queen size (20 inches by 30 inches), too. Consumers like the “bigger, beefier pillows,” says John Rachid, former president, who recently left the company. In its line of 43 pillows, the company offers a wide range of constructions. Its best-selling pillow is a $99 down alternative, but Rachid is pleased with the success of higher-end pocketed coil pillows, which feature a 3 ½-inch-tall pocketed innerspring core wrapped with either down alternative ($179) or memory foam ($199). “The response to the pocketed coils has been great because it’s something different in pillows and has a unique feel,” he says.
Soft-Tex International, based in Waterford, New York, recently introduced Sleep Addict, a premium line of sleep accessories aimed at furniture stores and sleep specialists. The pillows feature latex clusters, gel-embedded memory foam, molded foam, specialty fibers and a foam-and-fiber fill blend called Elevation, says Jeff Chilton, chief executive officer. Chilton describes Elevation as “a pliable, moldable composition that has almost a gooey feel. When you put your head on it, you get the support but also the softness that is the Holy Grail in pillow design.” With an emphasis on wellness, the pillows also include cooling features, infusions of aromatherapy essential oils and ingredients like charcoal, silver and copper.
During the past year, Tempur-Pedic has relaunched its pillow program geared specifically to furniture and mattress retailers. The first rollouts in the eight-pillow group included the Tempur-Adapt (in ProLo, ProMid and ProHi profiles) and the Tempur-Adapt Cloud — all with cooling features. At the Winter Las Vegas Market, the brand unveiled three new Breeze models (ProLo, ProHi and a neck version) with advanced cooling features such as gel. “We’ve found that offering cooling features has become table stakes, but that doesn’t mean there’s a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Brent Pfister, vice president of marketing for the Tempur-Pedic brand, part of Tempur Sealy International Inc. in Lexington, Kentucky. “Some consumers want the cooling, refreshing feeling that Adapt offers. Some people sleep hot and need the deeper cooling of Breeze.” Rounding out the group is the Tempur Down Adjustable Support pillow, which has a down shell with adjustable Tempur material inserts in the core. Retail prices range from $99 to $199.
Please, Please, Please Offer Protection
If you already have a successful pillow program, you can take the next step and add pillow protectors to your sales presentation. Many consumers aren’t even aware they exist, let alone understand their value in keeping their pillow sanitary and allergen-free.
A perfect time to introduce the topic of protectors is when a shopper mentions having trouble with allergies or asthma. Retail sales associates also can introduce pillow protectors when talking about the benefits of mattress protectors or bring the subject up when a shopper has settled on a pillow to go with her new mattress set.
And don’t forget to offer disposable pillow protector sheets to shoppers as they try pillows and rest-test mattresses. It’s worth the effort and added expense. Besides being a thoughtful gesture, protector sheets keep your floor samples clean longer. Maintain a stash of disposable protectors at your pillow-fitting display and a second supply near the store entrance for shoppers who start browsing on their own.
Showing How It’s Done
A number of retailers Sleep Savvy has showcased in Retail Road Trips follow best practices when it comes to pillow sales and merchandising — and they enjoy strong accessories sales because of it.
Read more about pillow all-stars we’ve featured recently:
- Mattress Direct (March 2019)
- Shovlin Mattress Factory (July/August 2018)
- Moore’s Sleep World (May/June 2018)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.