It’s an uncomfortable scene, to say the least: Partners need a new bed but their mattress preferences are incompatible, and retail sales associates may be called on to settle differences. Sleep Savvy delves into this issue and offers suggestions to avoid trouble in paradise and to keep sales strong
BY JULIE A. PALM
You don’t have to be a relationship expert to sell mattresses to couples, but borrowing a few tricks from marriage therapists can help you make sure they sleep happily ever after.
Few relationship problems are solved in a single session with a counselor, and you need to be prepared to spend a bit more time helping couples select the right mattress, if for no other reason than you are trying to satisfy the needs and desires of two people rather than just one.
“It provides the sales associate an opportunity to get the perspective of both people. You have to understand the needs of both,” says Craig McAndrews, chief learning officer for Houston-based mega retailer Mattress Firm. “It can take more time but allows us to provide better sleep solutions. Plus, two people sleeping in a bed can more negatively impact sleep quality, so you need to help them find a mattress that solves those problems.”
Elana Stone, vice president of marketing for BedMart Mattress Superstores, a chain of sleep shops based in Portland, Oregon, suggests retail sales associates first suss out which person in the couple is most in need of a new sleep surface. Because, Stone says, while both may be shopping for and will enjoy the benefits of a new mattress set, one person typically is the “ignition” behind the purchase: His or her health problems and sleeping discomfort are the reason the couple is in the market for a bed and those problems need to be addressed first.
Couples run the gamut from those who walk into your store or visit your e-commerce site already agreeing on what they want and how much to spend to those couples who argue from the start over whether they even need a new bed or not. Thankfully, our experts say, the former is more common than the latter, but you’ll need to be equipped to deal with both types.
“We don’t expect our RSAs to be the referee in someone’s relationship, but they are trained in dealing with couples who have conflicts,” Stone says. “When RSAs are well-trained in technologies and products and really know their sales floor, they can overcome both people’s objections. Say the husband wants a really firm bed and the wife says she can’t sleep on it. The RSA would ask, ‘Sir, why do you want a really firm mattress?’ It may be that he connects ‘firm’ with durability and an RSA can address that.”
Let’s look at three common situations you might encounter when selling to couples. Notice that they sound very much like typical relationship troubles: There’s a reason we called this story “Couples Counseling.” Get ready to sharpen your therapist skills.
1. A Lack of Communication
In many couples, one person is more talkative and forthcoming than the other. The responsibility of an RSA is to make sure both people are heard by drawing out the quieter person to ensure his or her needs are met, too.
“Some of the best sales associates I’ve seen handle this by directing specific questions to each person individually instead of asking general questions of them both,” McAndrews says. “For instance, ‘I would like each of you to rate this mattress comfort on a scale of one to five.’ ”
Another tactic is to give each person an assignment. One effective option is to direct each person to a different mattress for rest-testing and then have them switch places and compare their opinions, McAndrews suggests. This method involves both people in the shopping process and gets them talking.
2. Disagreements about money
It’s not uncommon for couples to disagree about how much money to spend on a new mattress set. In this situation, you’ll want to direct your comments primarily to the person who is reluctant to purchase a higher-priced bed, but otherwise you can address objections the way you would when any customer is concerned about price, says Gerry Morris, a mattress sales training coach, educator and regular contributor to Sleep Savvy.
Comparing the price of a mattress to other products, such as electronics and appliances, can be an effective technique. “We spend far more on other things that we use much less often,” Morris says. “A mattress will last much longer than tires, and you’ll spend more time on it.’ ”
RSAs also can counter price objections by using cost per day (or cost per month or cost per year) comparisons, McAndrews says. For example, a Mattress Firm sales associate might explain that a $1,000 mattress kept for eight years costs about 35 cents a day, but a $1,500 mattress kept for the same length of time costs only a bit more: 51 cents a day. If a retailer offers financing options, then convenient monthly payments also can be a way of providing perspective on the value of investing in a good mattress.
Most of all, you want both people in the couple to think they are getting a good value for their money. “We want people to feel that we have their best interest in mind, which includes them buying something they feel good about,” McAndrews says.
3. Irreconcilable differences
If after researching, investigating and testing a variety of mattresses, a couple can’t agree on which bed to buy, there still are ways to make both people happy.
Many of the experts Sleep Savvy interviewed agreed that if a couple is wavering between a softer and a firmer mattress, it’s typically best for them to go with the firmer model. As Morris notes, one half of a firm bed can be softened with a mattress pad or topper.
You also can recommend the couple consider marrying together two twin extra-long mattresses of different comfort levels to make a king-size bed that suits them both. “One person can have a firm mattress and the other a medium-firm or plush mattress,” McAndrews says. “It’s a meet-in-the-middle solution that works.”
Products perfect for couples
There are some sleep products that are particularly good for couples. Make sure your store or e-commerce site stocks a good selection of each. As an RSA, a good understanding of all these will help you meet any objections couples might have and help them create an ideal sleep environment.
- King-size bed sets: King-size beds offer couples the most sleeping space, but many, especially if they haven’t bought a mattress in a while, have never considered buying a king. (See story on page 24.) “If a couple comes in looking for a queen-size mattress, we’ll ask them why,” Stone says. “ ‘Is it a space limitation in your bedroom?’ ‘Is your bedroom furniture meant for queen size?’ For us, it’s not just about upgrading a couple in terms of price point, a king will give them more space and better sleep. Even if they buy a mattress that provides temperature control and motion transfer reduction, having that extra space is really helpful to a couple.”
Bob Muenkel, director of sales education and development for the Serta mattress brand, part of Atlanta-based Serta Simmons Bedding LLC, agrees. “I recommend couples sleep on a king. If a couple walks in and says, ‘We need a queen size,’ you don’t want to force a king on them, but ask if they’ve ever tried one. You’d be stunned by how many people say, ‘no.’ Say, ‘Let me show you a king.’ They can just stand next to it and will see how much roomier it is. They pick up 16 inches in width going with a king.”
Another way to encourage couples to consider a king size is to ask them about their sleep habits, Muenkel says. If couples answer “yes” to questions such as “Does one of you feel like you’re rolling toward the other on your existing mattress?” or “Does one of you take up more of the bed?” it can provide openings to discuss the advantages of a larger mattress.
- Adjustable bed bases: Adjustable bases, particularly split kings, can be a lifesaver for couples. “I wish we did 100% of our sales with power bases. It’s great for average tickets, but it’s also just a better sleep experience for couples,” McAndrews says. “People can personalize their sleep experience in a way they never could before. My wife likes to sleep flat. I want my shoulders and feet elevated slightly. We both can be happy.”
Stone says simply mentioning the preset anti-snore button available on many remote controls is enough to sell some couples on adjustable bases. “Women love the idea of being able to pop their husbands’ heads up a little when they are snoring,” she says. “That feature can be priceless to many couples.”
- Temperature-regulating mattresses and accessories: One of the most common sleep-related problems couples face is a difference of opinion about bedroom and sleep surface temperatures. (See story on page 22.) Retailers are in luck: These days, virtually all manufacturers of mattresses and sleep accessories (from pillows to protectors to linens) offer temperature-regulating options. Showcase a variety of options in a range of price points. The hot sleeper and cold sleeper in each couple will thank you for making their bed “just right.”
- Airbeds: With air chambers that allow sleepers to adjust their side of the mattress to the comfort level they like best, one person can choose an extra firm setting and the other person can choose the opposite—and both can sleep well. When paired with an adjustable base, airbeds give each person in a couple a highly personalized sleep experience.
- Motion-transfer reduction technologies: A number of mattress components and constructions are designed specifically to reduce motion transfer across the bed. That means one person doesn’t feel it every time the other person rolls over, gets up or climbs back into bed. Pocketed coils (also called “encased” or “wrapped” coils) have long been used to reduce motion transfer; memory foam and latex can have similar effects.
Remember those questions we suggested you ask couples to help them determine if they should buy a king-size bed? The answers to those queries also can tell you if a couple would benefit from mattress constructions specifically designed to reduce mattress movement.
Is This Shopper Single OR Part of a Couple?
If two people walk into your store together and tell you they are looking for a new mattress, you can be fairly certain they will make the selection together. Even if a customer enters alone, there’s a good chance the person is one half of a pair and the other person will have input into the decision at some point.
Industry veteran Bob Muenkel suggests a couple of easy, nonintrusive questions that will help you determine early on if an apparently single shopper is part of a couple.
“If one person walks in, they often are doing research with the intention of bringing their partner back,” says Muenkel, director of sales education and development for the Serta mattress brand, part of Atlanta-based Serta Simmons Bedding LLC. “You can always look on ring fingers, but there are some better ways to learn if they are part of a couple. I like to ask, ‘Will there be anyone else helping you with this decision?’ or ‘Will anyone else be concerned with the comfort of the mattress?’ ”
Solutions For Couples’ Sleeping Problems
One in three Americans report that their partner’s sleep problems keep them from dozing peacefully, according to research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
That’s one in three people fantasizing about smothering their loudly snoring partner with a pillow. One in three people scooching to the edge of the bed to avoid the errant flick of a foot. One in three people flinging off sweat-soaked bed linens while their partner huddles under a pile of blankets. That’s a lot of unrest—and unhappiness.
For some of those people, the situation gets so unbearable, they start sleeping apart, if not every night, then at least some of the time.
“About 25% of couples report sleeping apart, which I think is a shame. Sleeping is bonding time between couples. Even if you’re not touching or talking, it’s an intimate time in a relationship,” says Lissa Coffey, a lifestyle and relationship expert, author, broadcast journalist and BSC spokeswoman. “There are so many accommodations and changes you can make before you get to the point of having separate beds.”
Terry Cralle, a registered nurse, certified clinical sleep educator and BSC spokeswoman, agrees. “Improvements in sleep technology have been so rapid-fire, consumers may not even be aware of everything that’s available,” she says. “There are some amazing products available that can help people continue to sleep in the same bed.”
Investing in a new mattress, as well as problem-solving sleep accessories, often brings relief to both partners. “Too many couples wait to go mattress shopping,” says Cralle, who has a book on sleep issues titled “Sleeping Your Way to the Top” due out in January. “I see people who have all sorts of sleep-related health problems. They are trying all sorts of things and I tell them, ‘Go mattress shopping. Get that new mattress.’ ” Small changes to the bedroom and sleep habits also can be helpful. If problems persist, a trip to a physician is definitely in order.
The BSC offers several remedies for couples with sleep troubles. Feel free to share them with shoppers visiting your store or e-commerce site.
Problem: Your partner likes it hot and you like it cool.
This is the most common complaint among couples, Coffey says. Sleep experts recommend keeping the bedroom between 60 degrees and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. But there are other ways to keep both people comfortable when they have different temperature preferences. Simple solutions include adding a second blanket (or even a twin-size electric blanket) to one side of the bed or investing in a dual-control electric blanket. A number of companies make pillows, protectors and other sleep accessories that incorporate a wide variety of temperature-regulating technologies. Many of today’s mattresses also offer temperature-regulating components that improve airflow and keep heat from building up.
Problem: Your partner snores.
Snoring can be a health concern, so first consult a physician. If the snoring is not the result of a serious medical condition, Coffey suggests snorers try nasal sprays and nasal strips that are designed to help people breathe more easily or buy an anti-snore pillow. The nonsnoring partner can use foam earplugs. Couples also may want to invest in an adjustable bed base. Many models include an anti-snore setting that elevates the head slightly at the touch of a button.
Problem: Your partner tosses and turns.
Invest in a new bed. An old, worn-out mattress becomes uncomfortable and leads to restlessness, Coffey says. The BSC recommends consumers evaluate their bed set every five to seven years for comfort and support. If tossing and turning is a long-standing problem, couples should investigate mattress models designed to reduce motion transfer from one part of the bed to the other. Such mattresses often are made with pocketed coils (sometimes called “encased” or “wrapped” coils). Memory foam or latex constructions can offer similar benefits. When trying a new mattress, make sure to lie down together in the positions in which you normally sleep. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes you can remove easily, Coffey suggests.
Problem: Under cover of dark, your partner turns into a donkey and spends the night kicking.
Whether your partner is just an indiscriminant kicker or suffers from restless leg syndrome, the right size bed can help you get a better night’s sleep. “Make sure your bed gives each person an adequate sleep surface,” Coffey says. Couples who enjoy a lot of physical closeness may be comfortable in a queen-size mattress, but most partners will sleep best in a king.
Problem: You’ve tried everything and still can’t sleep well with your partner.
If you’ve tested these solutions and still have trouble getting a good night’s sleep while sharing the same bed with your partner, Cralle says sleeping separately is OK. “Both people getting a good night’s sleep trumps everything,” she says. “The effects of sleep deprivation will ruin a relationship faster than anything.” But don’t relegate one person to the sofa or the saggy old mattress in the guest room. Both people need a quality, supportive and comfortable bed.
For Couples, Mattress Size Matters
For couples sleeping together, bigger is better—at least when it comes to mattresses. Full- and even queen-size beds simply don’t offer enough room for most couples to sleep comfortably together. The Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, offers these guidelines to consumers who are wondering what size mattress is best for them. Sleep Savvy encourages you to share the information with your customers.
- Full-size mattress: Sometimes called a “double,” a full-size mattress is about 54 inches wide, leaving each partner only 27 inches of space. For comparison’s sake: A crib mattress is about 27 inches wide—and no adult is going to sleep like a baby on a crib-size bed. “A full-size bed is only enough space for a single sleeper and only if the person is under 5 feet 5 inches tall,” the BSC advises, noting that a full-size bed is only about 75 inches long.
- Queen-size mattress: A queen-size mattress is definitely roomier. At 60 inches wide and approximately 80 inches long, it’s 6 inches wider and 5 inches longer than a full. Still, 30 inches of space per sleeper isn’t all that much. A “queen size is a good choice for guest rooms, smaller master bedrooms and for couples who prefer close quarters,” the BSC says.
- King-size mattress: Many couples are going to get their best night’s sleep on a king-size bed. At 76 inches wide, a king-size mattress is 16 inches wider than a queen, giving couples almost as much space as if each person were sleeping in his or her own twin bed—but snuggling is so much easier in a king. “A king-size mattress is the best choice for couples who want maximum personal sleeping space,” the BSC advises. “It’s also the best bet to accommodate that time on Sunday morning when children may pop into bed—or if pets in your house have mattress privileges!”
Julie A. Palm, chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC, has more than 20 years 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 as editor in chief of Sleep Savvy for two years. She can be reached at japalm623 at gmail dot com.