This easy-to-follow primer on mattress components will help you understand what the latest advancements mean for comfort, durability and support—and, most important, how they affect your customers’ sleep.
BY JULIE A. PALM
There was a time when springs, foams and latex knew their place in beds. Innersprings provided a durable, resilient mattress core with strong support and a bit of bounce. Foam and latex, whether used in the mattress core or in comfort layers, helped reduce motion transfer and relieve pressure points. They all had clearly defined roles and stuck to them.
But no more. Today, these components often mimic each other’s traits: Tiny coils can be found in the topmost comfort layers of mattresses; gel-embedded foams and perforated latex can provide necessary cooling and airflow through to the core. Innovations and interchangeability are great for consumers, who have more construction options when choosing a new bed. But Sleep Savvy knows it can be challenging for retail sales associates, who have to learn all the features and benefits of these newfangled components—and then find a way to explain them in terms that are meaningful to customers.
We’re here to help. We’ll start by giving you a short, easy-to-understand guide to the latest trends in springs, latex and foams and tell you what those advances mean for mattress comfort, support, durability, etc.—the stuff your customers actually care about. We’ll also give you tips for how to convey all this to shoppers without putting them to sleep.
Improvements give springs a bounce
Making less of an impression (but in a good way!) The big news in springs is that they are getting tinier and tinier—some are now less than 1-inch tall. As they’ve shrunk in height, they’ve begun migrating closer and closer to the top of the mattress and into the comfort layers. Spinks Springs in Leeds, England, has created a coil construction that’s actually intended for use in the panel itself: Quiltech 3D is a pocketed (also called wrapped or fabric-encased) microcoil quilted with a plush, double-knit fabric available as short as 4/10ths of an inch.
Super-low-profile springs are super-conforming, but also maintain a level of support expected from more traditional innerspring units. This means the shorter springs can create a comfortable sleep surface while helping to eliminate body impressions, a problem that has plagued pillow-top and other plush mattresses—and the retailers who have to take them back when customers are unhappy with indentations in their recent purchase.
Leggett & Platt Inc. promotes its NanoCoil, a high-tensile fabric-encased minicoil, as a “body impression-free” replacement for foam in the top layers of a mattress. “Returns due to body impressions are not good for the retailer or the manufacturer. That’s not good for anybody. NanoCoil has been proven to resist mattress sagging and settlement,” says Mark Kinsley, vice president of marketing for L&P’s Bedding Group in Carthage, Missouri.
No pressure Foam and latex mattresses developed avid fans in large part because of their promise of improved pressure relief. But springs suppliers say they can take the pressure off, too. Companies are creating springs with compression ratios that feel similar to those provided by foam or latex and, by zoning units, they can make sleepers even more comfortable.
Again, tiny coils come into play. Sleep Savvy regularly warns RSAs about sharing the industry’s coil-count obsession with shoppers, who are less interested in such things; still, it’s useful to know that thousands of microcoils often are linked into a single sheet meant for the comfort layer of the mattress. “In some cases, we have 3,000 microcoils in one sheet,” says Rick Anthony, director of sales at HSM Bedding Solutions with headquarters in Hickory, North Carolina. “This means the consumer benefits from the long-lasting pressure relief provided by all of those points of support.”
You don’t have to be on edge Every RSA knows the sinking feeling that comes from a mattress with weak edge support. You watch as your customer tentatively presses her hand down on the perimeter of the bed and then cautiously takes a seat, the mattress edge compressing, even crumpling under her weight. For the customer, it’s a literal feeling of sinking; for you, it’s figurative. But it’s not good for either of you. She won’t buy that bed and worse, the experience can make her doubt the quality of other mattresses you might want to show her.
Springs suppliers are addressing the matter. L&P’s Quantum Edge spring unit uses two rows of fabric-encased coils around the mattress perimeter to provide durability and sturdiness. “Customers often touch a mattress first, then they sit on the edge. While they
(RSAs) say that typically a foam-encasement unit would create a good edge, many were critical about the quality of foam used, the construction of it, the separation that can happen, all of which Quantum Edge is meant to solve,” Kinsley says.
Letting some air in Components suppliers and mattress manufacturers use a lot of breath to talk about airflow. Here’s why: Airflow helps move accumulating heat from sleeping bodies out of the mattress and keeps the whole sleep system fresher. These are good things: Consumers don’t like being hot, but they do like their bed to feel clean. Spinks Springs created a whole line of pocketed springs called Posturflo built around the idea of improving airflow. It includes Posturflo Mesh, minicoils wrapped in a breathable mesh fabric, and Posturflo 3D, which wraps the coils in spacer fabric. Starsprings, a springs supplier based in Herrljunga, Sweden, has patented its “S-cut” encased coils, which incorporate a long, vertical vent into the coil wrapper to keep the air moving.
Layer upon layer Why do bakers bother to create layered cakes instead of easier sheet cakes? Because layered cakes are impressive! Why do people enjoy them? Because there’s more cake and frosting per slice! It’s not as fun to think about as cake, but the mattress industry has a reason for layering, too: Innerspring suppliers pile layers of coils on top of each other to create new levels of supportive comfort. For instance, Boycelik, headquartered in Kayseri, Turkey, has a Duo Pocket System, which tops a tall layer of support coils with a shorter layer of thinner coils. “There are twice the number of top coils for softness and pressure relief,” while the larger coils beneath support hips and shoulders, says Idris Babacan, Boycelik area sales executive. Feel free to use the cake analogy with your customers: bottom support coils = cake; top comfort coils = frosting. On second thought, maybe just serve them cake to celebrate their mattress purchase.
The benefits of a cover-up There are plenty of “naked” innerspring units tucked inside mattresses, but it’s the more modest, clothed versions getting the most attention these days. Fabric-encased coils are nothing new. Originally known as Marshall coils, they’ve been around for more than a century. Now they are being used a bit differently—layered together in a unit to provide both support and cushioning or worked into the topmost comfort layers in place of foams (See No. 1 and No. 5). Once used exclusively in luxury bedding, they also are making their way into mattresses with lower price points. What’s good about
encased coils? First, they help reduce motion transfer between sleeping partners. Also, by inserting individual springs into fabric pockets, each spring can move individually, providing focused support, improving conformability and relieving pressure.
Built tough Companies are working to make their innerspring units more durable. Texas Pocket Spring’s glueless Quadcoil innerspring module is made up of rows of pocketed coils ultrasonically welded together. This eliminates the need for glue, which can either soften at high temperatures (not uncommon when mattresses are loaded onto a truck that then sits in traffic on a hot summer day) or become brittle and crack when exposed to extreme cold, says the Cleburne, Texas-based company.
Agro International, a supplier in Bad Essen, Germany, also uses ultrasonic welding instead of glue to seal its pocketed springs, including its newest Squareflaex minipocket unit. The process has the added benefit of making units quieter and more flexible, Agro says. Honestly, except for the “quieter” aspect of welding over glue, this isn’t necessarily a subject you need to address with shoppers, but it’s helpful for you to know how the beds you are selling may or may not hold up once in your customer’s home—and it’s definitely something to discuss with your mattress reps.
Foams and latex fulfill many functions
Study up on these six foam and latex trends before your next shift on the sales floor or in online customer service:
Taking the pressure off One of the key selling points of foam mattresses, particularly memory foam models, has been their ability to relieve pressure (especially in the hips and shoulders of sleepers) but that doesn’t stop suppliers from trying to improve that quality even more and extend it to nonvisco-elastic foams. Last year, Carpenter Co. rolled out a durable polyurethane foam called Serene, which the company says has superior pressure-relieving properties. “Advancements in the chemistry have produced new foams that are not visco but still reduce pressure to elevate comfort,” says Dan Schecter, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the company, with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.
Gel solidifies its place in mattresses – Foam versions still foremost: At this point, embedding, infusing, implanting, inserting or otherwise incorporating gel beads or swirls into bedding foam is routine, with suppliers regularly rolling out new gel-foam combinations to meet what has become solid demand for a component promoted for its ability to make memory foam mattresses feel cooler. Kayfoam’s latest iteration applies phase-change technology and gel to only the top of a foam block, concentrating their effects, according to the Dublin, Ireland-based company.
Plenty of “gel-y” gel, too The earliest mattress gels were touted as a way to relieve pressure on patients in hospital beds. They weren’t incorporated into foams but were used alone in honeycomb, sheet, grid or waffle constructions. These “gel-y” gels appear in consumer bedding for the same reasons they’ve been used in medical settings for decades: They help eliminate pressure points and improve comfort. (OK, we admit it: “Gel-y gels” is not a widely used term but Sleep Savvy would like to see it catch on!)
Mix-ins Foamers are adding all sorts of materials into their products—some of them designed, like gel, to pull heat away from the sleeper and dissipate it from the mattress. Elite Foam in Newnan, Georgia, is incorporating graphite, ceramic and other materials into the surface of its foams to help with temperature regulation. Its version containing microscopic particles of aluminum is called LumaGel.
Talalay Global, based in Shelton, Connecticut, has a Talalay Mineral collection, which includes graphite-infused latex. The latest additions to the line are cores and toppers featuring copper, which the company says helps create an even more durable mattress resistant to body impressions. Copper also is said to have anti-microbial properties and be dust-mite resistant.
Many suppliers are experimenting with performance-based additives that they promise have other health and wellness benefits. Sleep Savvy advises you to be careful when talking to shoppers about any component or material promoted as having specific medical benefits: You don’t want to overpromise or make unsubstantiated claims. Discuss claims with your reps and do your own research, as necessary.
“We are focusing on advancements that have valid benefits and features, where the products are based in science and performance, not just marketing and sizzle,” says Rick Anthony, director of sales at HSM Bedding Solutions in Hickory, North Carolina. “It’s allowing us to really put some science inside of the bed. … It is improving the sleep experience for the consumer at the end of the day.”
It’s (not) getting hot in here Have you noticed a refrain thus far in all our talk about latex and foams? Maybe something about heat? Of course you have: You’re a savvy reader. Many of the adaptations suppliers are making to their products are designed to dissipate heat from the bed to keep sleepers cooler and more comfortable. Is a mattress manufacturer promoting the foam in its newest lineup as “open cell”? Open-cell foams improve airflow and help regulate temperatures. Has a supplier just handed you a colorful block of foams or latex with all sorts of interesting cuts, contours, channels and pinholes? Those all act as air vents. And then there is the wide range of phase-change materials—compounds that store and release heat as they melt and solidify when temperatures fluctuate. Phase-change materials can be applied as coatings or blended into foam and latex formulas.
It’s common for suppliers to use many of these techniques in a single type of foams or latex: HSM is developing a line of CoolActive transitional foams; Draka Interfoam in Hillegom, Netherlands, has introduced Vita Climate Control; and Latexco, with world headquarters in Tielt, Belgium, offers Latexco Pulse using its patented SonoCore process. As an RSA, the important thing to remember is why—to keep air flowing through the mattress and reduce heat buildup so a sleeper can keep dozing blissfully.
Thin is always in Latex suppliers—and some latex-focused mattress manufacturers—are hoping the component soon will enjoy the success of its rival memory foam. Latex proponents say it provides excellent durability, pressure relief and support but with more resiliency (“bounce”) than visco-elastics. But latex traditionally has been a more costly component and, because of its weight, using large slabs can make mattresses heavy and unwieldy.
One way mattress makers are working latex into their beds is to add thinner sheets, particularly in comfort layers and the quilt, where sleepers can most benefit from its qualities. Lien A, a Dunlop-process latex producer with headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, recently introduced a 1-inch quilting latex that is nonperforated and smooth on both surfaces. Be careful about promoting a bed with only a thin layer of latex as a “latex mattress,” but that shouldn’t stop you from discussing the legitimate benefits such a layer can provide sleepers. (That’s a caveat that applies to any component, by the way.)
It’s only natural Many latex suppliers increasingly promote their 100% natural latex offerings. For instance, Vita Talalay by Radium Foam, with headquarters in Maastricht, Netherlands, is working to educate consumers about its 100% natural Talalay latex. Its Natural latex collection earned Cradle to Cradle Silver certification from the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Arpico, a Richard Pieris Natural Foams Ltd. company based in Maharagama, Sri Lanka, specializes in 100% natural latex and GOLS-certified organic latex. Remember when talking to shoppers—especially those looking specifically for “green” products—that just because a mattress includes latex doesn’t mean the latex is natural or organic—many versions are synthetic or contain fillers and additives. Consult with your manufacturer’s rep or the supplier to be certain about the latex in the beds you sell.
The perils of being a mattress know-it-all
As a seller of mattresses, you should know everything you can about your products, including a little something about the companies that manufacture them and a whole lot about what’s inside them.
Coil counts. Foam densities. Fabric types. Base options. You should be able to walk a customer over to any mattress on the floor and talk to her in detail and at length about its components and construction.
But most of the time you shouldn’t do it. Shoppers don’t want to hear long lists of mattress features. You think you’re impressing them with your litany, but they’re bored. Consumers care about practical benefits: Will the new mattress help their sore back? Will it fit their current bed frame? Can it help their partner’s snoring? Or hot flashes? Their last bed started sinking in the middle. Will this one do the same?
When you’re talking to customers about components, you have to tell them not only what those materials are, but what they do and what problems they solve. Sell benefits over features. It’s that simple.
Heck, as you head into work each day, make that your mantra: “Benefits over features, benefits over features, benefits over features.” (Hmmm. That same refrain also might help put you to sleep at the end of a long day ringing up mattress sales.)
Breaking down the key components of selling, well, um, components
- Do invite the experts in. Don’t think of visits from manufacturers’ reps or components suppliers as an inconvenience. Welcome them into your sales and training meetings: They are uniquely positioned to talk about their products and answer your questions. Ask them to focus on practical matters—how their innovations solve previous problems with mattresses, add valuable new features to bed sets or help people to sleep better.
- Do show it off. Manufacturers and suppliers go to great lengths to create cool demonstrations and displays you can use in your store to show a specific component or sleep system’s resiliency, durability, breathability, etc. Incorporate them into your sales process. They can be especially effective with shoppers who learn more easily through a “show, don’t tell” process.
- Don’t serve ‘word salad.’ To acquire patents and distinguish themselves in the marketplace, both mattress makers and components suppliers come up with clever names for all their products. For them, unique, specific titles matter a lot but let’s be honest: Your customers don’t care, and your over-reliance on them during the sales process comes across as confusing jargon. List official brands and trademarked names on point-of-purchase materials as necessary but don’t try to impress shoppers by tossing them around too much in conversation. Use simpler, more common words and phrases most everyone can easily understand.
- Do remember that shoppers don’t always know what they want. Some consumers will know exactly what they seek when they walk into your store or start scrolling around online. Sometimes it’s a specific brand or even a specific component. That’s great: You know you have a customer who’s serious about buying a mattress. But there’s a good chance she doesn’t know exactly why she wants that particular product, aside from the fact that she saw an ad or her sister-in-law bought one and loves it. That’s why the mattress-selling process must start with appropriate qualifying questions. In this case, those would include “How did you hear about Product X?” or “What makes you interested in Component Y?” The answers will likely give you an idea of other bed sets she should consider, as well.
Julie A. Palm, chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC, has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for a variety of newspapers, magazines and other publications. She served as editor in chief of BedTimes for more than nine years and was editor in chief of Sleep Savvy for two years. She can be reached at email@example.com.