BY JULIE A. PALM
This easy-to-follow guide on the latest innovations in springs, foams and latex will help you understand how such advancements affect comfort, cost, durability, support—and, most of all, a good night’s sleep
Springs, foams and latex.
Put together in seemingly endless configurations, they are the key components of every bed you sell. So, it’s worth spending time looking at what’s new in each category and, more importantly, what those advancements mean to your customers.
Along the way, we’ll offer ideas for talking about each component in terms that are easy to understand and meaningful to shoppers. Because, let’s face it: The “tech and spec” shopper may want all the details about coil counts and foam densities, but to the average consumer that stuff is more boring and befuddling than helpful. They want to know how a bed feels, how long it will last and, of course, what it costs.
For their part, suppliers of these key components say they are just as focused on helping you sell mattresses and making sure your customers get a good night’s sleep as they are on meeting manufacturers’ pricing and production demands.
“We think about how all our products cascade down to the retail level so we can help retailers sell better and bring more value to their customers,” says Mark Kinsley, staff vice president of marketing for the bedding group at Carthage, Missouri-based Leggett & Platt Inc. “Our product development isn’t done in a vacuum. We’re very conscious of what the retailer needs and, ultimately, what will benefit the consumer.”
Springs are dressing up
Mattress manufacturers still use Bonnell and other open-coil innerspring units in mattress cores to provide durable support, but many increasingly are turning to “pocket” coils—coils that are individually wrapped or encased in fabric (typically nonwovens but also cotton and other materials) and then glued or welded together.
Individually encased coils, originally called Marshall coils, used to be reserved for premium mattresses, but competition among suppliers and improvements in the production process have driven costs down, making them an affordable option for mattresses at lower price points, says Tim Witherell, director of bedding for Hickory, North Carolina-based Hickory Springs Manufacturing. Such spring units can be zoned to provide varying degrees of comfort and support and also layered to increase coil counts and change mattress feels. Both Agro, based in Bad Essen, Germany, and Metal Matris, headquartered in Kayseri, Turkey, touted double-layered units at recent trade shows. (For more on coil counts, see story to the right.)
Mattress producers also like encased coils because they stretch in several directions without losing their structural integrity and can be compressed and rolled, making them suitable for boxed beds—one of the fastest-growing bedding segments. It also means they work well on adjustable bases, another booming part of the business.
“So, from a merchandising standpoint, they are great. Because if you are a retail sales associate or retail manager and someone becomes interested in an adjustable after they picked a mattress, you don’t want to be crossing your fingers hoping they picked a mattress that works,” Kinsley says. L&P offers its fabric-encased springs under the ComfortCore brand umbrella.
But here’s what is most important about encased coils for consumers: They move independently, reducing motion across the bed. And that means when your sleeping partner changes positions and gets in and out of bed during the night, you are less likely to feel it through the mattress.
And many wrapped coil units are designed to provide support across the entire mattress, doing away with foam-encasements around the bed’s perimeter.
“We surveyed hundreds of RSAs and they said the edge of a mattress comes up in 93% of their interactions. Anecdotally, many tell us the same thing: Customers usually sit on the edge of a bed first, and if it buckles or feels weak that can break a sale,” Kinsley says. L&P offers ActivEdge, Quantum Edge and recently introduced Caliber Edge perimeter units.
“They give you a consistent sleep surface across the mattress,” he says. “There’s no ‘bathtub effect’ (of motion sloshing through the mattress) when someone sits down. There’s no bowing, no buckling, no concaves.”
Whether encased in fabric or not, springs have worked reliably in mattress cores for decades, but they no longer are content to remain solely in that support role, however important it may be. They’re movin’ on up—up into the comfort layers as microcoils.
Microcoils are made of thinner gauge wire to give them a softer feel and are encased in fabric to provide the same independent motion of their thicker wrapped cousins residing in the core. The coils themselves can be less than an inch tall, though a similar effect can be achieved by putting a taller coil into a short pocket. For instance, Texas Pocket Springs, based in Alvarado, Texas, makes microcoils from 17-gauge high tensile wire using a 7-inch coil squeezed into a 2 ½-inch pocket.
By wrapping microcoils in sturdy nonwovens and even spacer fabrics and then topping or sandwiching them between foam and/or latex layers, there’s no concern about the springs poking through. That’s true even with a product like Hickory Springs’ Evocoil, in which microcoils are ultrasonically welded to the ticking, putting the innersprings in the topmost comfort layer.
When it comes to microcoils, “we talk about points of comfort,” Witherell says. Through a partnership with Leeds, England-based Spinks Springs, Hickory Springs offers its family of microcoils, including Evocoil, under the Posturfil brand.
“Our Posturfil products give you comfortable support with just a little resistance,” Witherell says. “It’s a very soft feeling, not squishy.”
Other pluses for consumers: Like all innersprings, microcoils help improve airflow and they bring ventilation to the comfort layers, keeping the sleeping surface cooler. In addition, suppliers say their compression tests have shown microcoils are extremely durable, reducing the body impressions that develop in some mattresses. And that means happier customers who won’t return a bed because it’s sagging.
“Microcoils are a comfort layering option that transfer heat well and offer more support and durability,” says Kinsley, adding that L&P’s microcoil offerings include NanoCoil and Softech. “Using microcoils in the top layers gives people the same night’s sleep over and over again instead of creating divots and body impressions over time.”
Foams have all the feels
When we talk about bedding foam, we mean primarily polyurethane, from the high-density foams often found in mattress cores to the viscoelastic/memory foam formulations used to create transition and comfort layers. As with springs, these foam types are breaking out of their traditional roles, moving up and down in the mattress to create different feels. Plus, PU foams are being enhanced with other materials (gel, copper, graphite, etc.) for temperature-regulation and other benefits.
“In the industry in general, there have been really significant developments in foams, in particular memory foams,” says Matt Anderson, vice president of Elite Comfort Solutions, a foam supplier with headquarters in Newnan, Georgia. “They are much more breathable, have enhanced heat dissipation technologies, have better feels and, in certain cases, are more durable.”
Here’s another important trend that improves mattresses but makes being a knowledgeable mattress seller more challenging: “Ten years ago, there wasn’t much differentiation in foam technologies,” Anderson says. “Companies were generally producing relatively similar products with similar performance capabilities. Today, we’re seeing core aspects of product design—because of cell structure, additives and other technologies—that are creating meaningfully differentiated foams. And that trend is accelerating pretty dramatically.”
And that brings us to an important point RSAs can explain to consumers, especially those who might have tried a foam mattress in the past and not liked it: With the variety of foams available, there’s a foam mattress available to suit virtually everyone. The array of foams also is a reason why it’s more important than ever for RSAs to understand the various foams used in the mattresses they sell.
Memory foam mattresses have had a reputation for “sleeping hot” and advancements have been made to mitigate that. But before we get into those, let’s address that phrase “sleeping hot.” We say it a lot in the mattress industry but it’s not ideal language to use with consumers because it can subtly raise concerns about something they may never have considered before: “A mattress can make you hot? I don’t want to buy a mattress that makes me sweat.” Far better is to talk about how most people prefer sleeping in a cooler environment—and then go on to talk about how a particular mattress helps regulate temperature.
OK. Back to those temperature-regulating methods and there are many, beginning with structural things like adding channels and pinholes to using open-cell formulations, all of which improve airflow to keep the sleeping environment cool. Examples of open-cell foams include CoolFlow from ECS and AmbiAire from Media, Pennsylvania-based FXI.
Another way foamers control the mattress microclimate is to add materials like gel (typically either swirled into the foam or embedded as flecks or beads). For instance, ECS’s LumaGel combines visco, microalumnium and gel for cooling comfort, as well as pressure relief and durability. Or foamers can introduce phase-change materials (which store and release heat), either incorporating them into the foam formulation or applying them to the foam’s surface. Especially nifty are dual-action PCM foams, in which two PCMs with different activation points are incorporated into a foam layer. “Dual-action PCMs can provide a desirable range of temperature for each side of the bed or the feet or torso of a sleeper, with different activation points for each region,” Anderson says.
Foam suppliers also are creating foams to improve the comfort and support of mattresses, often by sculpting and layering foams. By doing that in zones, they can provide varying degrees of pressure relief and support in areas from the shoulder to the heel.
Traditional memory foam has an unmistakable feel that cradles the sleeper without a lot of bounce. In fact, it’s ability to stop motion transfer from one part of the mattress to another was a huge selling point when it was introduced. Many newer foams offer more resiliency to appeal to consumers who like a little “spring” in their bed, so to speak. For instance, Richmond, Virginia-based Carpenter Co.’s new Serene Foam is a memory foam substitute that adjusts to body contours but with added support. And Latexco offers FLO Fom, a hybrid of memory foam and bouncier PU foam, for both mattress cores and comfort layers.
Ben Ducatteeuw, chief executive officer of Lavonia, Georgia-based Latexco U.S., describes FLO Fom as “medium release and medium recovery.” “It makes you feel like you are floating, like you are sleeping on a layer of water,” he says. “It’s a very soft, very special feel.” The supplier’s NEU Fom relies on cell design to create the cradling effect of memory foam but with improved support and recovery.
Resiliency is particularly important for mattresses that will be used on adjustable bases or in boxed beds. Latexco’s COR Fom, an MDI formulation that offers improved support, consistency and durability, is designed to bounce back “almost immediately” after decompression, Ducatteeuw says. That means customers don’t have to wait 24 or even 48 hours to sleep on their new boxed bed.
Some of the latest foams being used in mattresses include elements like copper, which imbues beds with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties to maintain a clean, hygienic interior. Highly conductive, copper also helps to dissipate heat, making it yet another way to regulate temperature. Graphite is said to do the same thing.
Latex gets new bounce in beds
Of the three main bedding components, latex may be the one your shoppers are least familiar with, which gives you an opportunity to introduce them to something new.
Latex typically is described as either being Dunlop or Talalay, which delineates how the latex was produced. Both types start with the sap of the rubber tree, but the way it’s processed and the final quality of Talalay typically makes it a pricier foam. Mattress makers use 100% natural latex but also synthetic latex, combinations of the two or latex with other materials added.
Latexco, which has long produced Dunlop latex, also has a patented SonoCore process that uses radio frequencies to turn liquid latex into rubber. Ducatteeuw says the process uses less energy (so it’s more ecologically friendly) and produces a latex with a more homogeneous cell structure and better ventilation. “It’s partly natural and partly synthetic—and the best blend for optimized comfort, buoyancy and resilience,” he says. The foam, branded as Pulse, has been available in Europe and soon will be introduced in the United States.
In general, Ducatteeuw says, key points to bring up with consumers about latex include its comfort (“I don’t think there’s a foam that exceeds the comfort index of latex. It has the perfect rebound and also great support.”); its natural breathability, which keeps the mattress interior dry and clean; and its resilience. “We’ve taken 2-inch sheets of latex, put an egg between them and then struck them with a bowling ball. The egg doesn’t break,” he says. (Pro tip: Check with your store manager before using any eggs in store demonstrations!)
Talalay Global, a Shelton, Connecticut-based foam supplier that also produces finished product under the Pure Talalay Bliss brand, is working hard to increase consumer awareness, specifically of Talalay latex. The company has a new tagline: “Earth’s Most Perfect Sleep Material.” A recent ad campaign on Sirius XM radio emphasized what Kimberly Fisher, president and chief operating officer, calls Talalay latex’s “three Bs.”
“It’s buoyant, it’s breathable and it’s baby safe. If a retailer can get to the gist of that pretty quickly, customers respond. You don’t have to get into a complicated selling process,” she says. “Once they feel Talalay, they know it’s fantastic.” (All of Talalay Global’s products are certified Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Class 1, designating safety for children 3 and younger.)
The supplier also has updated its website (TalalayGlobal.com) with explainer videos and other information aimed directly at consumers but that can be used by retailers, too. For instance, one video emphasizes latex’s breathability. Just two minutes long, it can play on a loop in stores, linked to from retailer websites or shown to shoppers on a smartphone or tablet while they rest-test.
Another key consumer benefit Fisher encourages retailers to tout: It’s naturally hypoallergenic (resistant to mold, mildew, bacteria and dust mites).
Latex is heavier and more expensive than most PU foams—an all-latex mattress definitely falls in the luxury range. Ducatteeuw notes that a comfortable all-latex mattress can be made with just 4 or 6 inches of latex but most U.S. consumers like—and expect—a taller mattress.
For those reasons, a nice way to introduce many shoppers to latex is through a hybrid. Talalay Global recently unveiled the Talalay Hybrid collection by Pure Talalay Bliss. The two-bed group features a 6-inch wrapped-coil core over a 1-inch Talalay base layer. The spring unit is topped with a 3-inch Talalay comfort layer. Both Fisher and Ducatteeuw agree that just 2 inches of latex can give a sleeper its benefits but, of course, they add: The more latex, the better.
Why coil counts matter and how to talk about them
Inexperienced or poorly trained retail sales associates sometimes rely on coil counts as a talking point for innerspring mattresses, essentially just tossing out a number: “This mattress has 1,000 coils.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with discussing coil counts but it should be done in a way that makes sense to a shopper. “There are skilled RSAs and retail managers who can use coil counts to differentiate mattresses in a quantifiable way, but it takes some practice and rehearsing to know how to introduce the information at the right time,” says Mark Kinsley, staff vice president of marketing for the bedding group at Carthage, Missouri-based Leggett & Platt Inc. “And retail managers should set the tone regarding how coil counts are discussed in the store.”
One of the most meaningful selling points of higher coil counts is that they provide, as Kinsley says, “more contouring support for the body” (i.e., more coils means a more supportive, comfortable night’s sleep). So, that’s a good place to start a coil-count conversation. From there, you can talk about, as Tim Witherell likes to note, a mattress with more coils generally is more durable than one with fewer coils.
“Longevity is a selling point,” says Witherell, director of bedding for Hickory, North Carolina-based Hickory Springs Manufacturing. “The higher the coil count, the longer a mattress should last. And, ultimately, people want to spend money on the best mattress they can afford.”
Learn all you can about components
Anyone who directly helps shoppers choose a new mattress—from the store manager to the retail sales associate to the customer service representative—needs to be well-trained and well-versed in the detailed features of bedding components.
But wait, haven’t we been telling you that such granular information can turn off many shoppers? Yes, we have. Here’s the deal: The deeper your knowledge base, the better you’re able to explain the benefits of components to shoppers in simple, easy-to-understand terms. Being well-educated also prepares you to trot out technical specifications and documentation of component claims for those shoppers most interested in such details. In contrast, surface knowledge can lead to making inaccurate, vague claims that confuse shoppers.
The key is to use your expertise wisely—to know why certain beds perform in certain ways and then match customers with the right technology to meet their needs and solve their sleep problems, says Matt Anderson, vice president of foam supplier Elite Comfort Solutions in Newnan, Georgia. Don’t make the mistake of barraging shoppers with component details to show how much you know or to fill a silence in the sales conversation. Ideally, you want to share knowledge to answer specific questions from shoppers and to help them differentiate mattresses after they’ve narrowed their choices.
“I think it’s important to understand what the customer is looking for in a mattress and to address the things that are relevant to that customer,” Anderson says. “A mattress is a complex and daunting purchase. You don’t want to confuse them by introducing a topic they don’t value or believe to be an issue for them.”
Here are some good ways to stay up to date on the latest advancements in components:
- Take advantage of videos, written explainers, test results and other information provided by suppliers about their components. The materials can be used to train store managers and RSAs, as well as to educate shoppers who want more details. For instance, Carthage, Missouri-based Leggett & Platt Inc. has a series of whimsical videos to promote and explain its NanoCoil microcoils. Similarly, Talalay Global, headquartered in Shelton, Connecticut, has video explainers suitable for both RSAs and consumers and is sharing recent pressure-testing results showing the benefits of Talalay latex with retailers.
- Ask your bedding vendors or components suppliers for samples of springs, foams and latex used in your most popular mattresses to help you demonstrate components’ properties.
- Visit suppliers at furniture markets. Richmond, Virginia-based Carpenter Co., Talalay Global and other suppliers often show at the Las Vegas Market. Stop by to get to know how their products are improving the beds you’ll soon be selling.
- And, of course, read Sleep Savvy regularly in print and online at SleepSavvyMagazine.com. During bedding markets, we tweet about cool new products from @SleepSavvyMag.
Certification by the numbers
In just the past few months, the nearly 10-year-old program—which previously was limited to certification of slabstock foam—launched a certification program for molded foam. And with a new social media push, the debut of the Home Sweet Foam blog and the launch of a national publicity campaign, all indicators show the program growing stronger.
Here’s an at-a-glance look at the program, which is based in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and administered by the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam Inc.:
6. Number of foam producers already offering certified molded foams. The new foam certification officially was launched by the CertiPUR-US program in August, following a one-year beta test. Previously, only slabstock foams could be certified.
43. Participating foam producers from Canada, China, Mexico, Vietnam and the United States.
60. Approximate number of days it takes for a foam product to go through the certification process.
88. Percentage of company and brand representatives who consider it beneficial to be listed in the CertiPUR-US online consumer directory, according to a 2017 survey.
121. Number of foam families (conventional, memory, molded, etc.) currently certified.
708. Approximate number of bedding and upholstered furniture companies and brands listed as containing or selling products containing CertiPUR-US certified foams.
1,172. Retail sales associates and customer service representatives who have taken the free, online, 20-minute CertiPUR-US certificate of knowledge course.
Talking the component talk
Here are a handful of general talking points for each major component category. You’ll note the emphasis is on the positive, using clear language that focuses on benefits to the consumer.
- Because of their springy nature (compressing and depressing when weight is applied and removed), innersprings act like bellows in a mattress, moving air in and out to regulate temperature and keep the interior of the mattress moisture-free and hygienic.
- Fabric-encased coils move independently so that when a sleeping partner moves, you’re less likely to feel it in the mattress.
- Made of steel, innersprings of all types are extremely durable and provide long-lasting support to sleepers.
- At the end of a mattress’ useful life, steel innersprings can be recycled for use in other products.
- Foam formulations, structural innovations and additives make many of today’s foams highly breathable, facilitating airflow through the mattress for a cool, but also clean sleeping environment.
- Traditional memory foam envelops and cradles sleepers; some newer types offer a bit more of resiliency and bounce—meaning there’s a feel to match just about every sleeper’s preference.
- Memory foam, in particular, is known for reducing motion transfer so you don’t feel when your partner rolls over—or the dog jumps up in the middle of the night.
- Highly resilient foams make it so mattresses regain their shape quickly as people unpack their boxed beds or change positions using adjustable bases.
- Latex has a uniquely supportive but buoyant feel.
- Because of its structure, latex is naturally breathable, creating a cool and clean sleep environment.
- Latex is naturally hypoallergenic (resistant to mold, mildew, bacteria and dust mites).
- Natural latex is a renewable resource. It starts as liquid latex from the rubber tree, tapped from the plant much like maple syrup.
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.