BY JULIE A. PALM
How to get sleep accessories off your shelves and into your customers’ shopping bags
Imagine you buy a new pair of running shoes. Ready to go for a run, you take them out of the box, slip them on—and flop around because they came without the necessary shoelaces. Turns out, the retailer who sold you the shoes assumes you’ll either reuse the dirty, frayed laces from your old pair or go to a discount store and buy new ones. Ridiculous, right?
And yet mattress retailers who let customers leave their stores—or their websites—without buying a new mattress protector/encasement and sheet set for their mattress are doing essentially the same thing.
They’ve lost a valuable sale and done their customer a disservice.
“For a mattress store, sleep accessories can easily be 10% of sales volume or more if a retailer makes a commitment to be successful,” says Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer for sleep accessories provider PureCare, which has headquarters in Fairfield, New Jersey. “And if you’re a furniture store, soft goods accessories should contribute at least 10% to your overall bedding sales. These are some of the most profitable products you can have on the floor. I see retailers succeeding in sleep accessories that have never sold them before because they’re merchandising well, educating themselves, and training and incentivizing retail sales associates.”
At its most basic, a complete sleep system includes a mattress set, mattress protector/encasement/pad and sheets. (Pillows are an important part of that ensemble, too, but that’s a big topic to cover. For pillow selling and merchandising tips, check out the Sleep Savvy articles “Why Pillows Are the Solution to Higher Sales” [May/June 2016] and “The Power of Pillows” [May/June 2015]. Sleep Savvy will delve into the latest trends and innovations in pillows in 2017.)
“You need to help your customers understand that what they need isn’t just a new mattress, it’s a complete sleep system,” says Mike Douglas, vice president of sales for Malouf, a sleep accessories vendor based in Logan, Utah. “The right accessories—pillows, sheets, protectors—are key to optimal sleep.”
Here we look at top trends in protectors and sheets, highlighting some of the latest introductions in both categories. We’ll also give you tips for merchandising these products in your store and introducing them to customers as part of the sales process. (See story on page 20.)
Cooling is very cool
Temperature-regulating technologies, which help warm up and cool down the sleep environment, are found in everything from mattresses to pillows, but when it comes to sleep accessories, the hot story today is cool.
“Cooling products are no longer a trend, but a staple of companies’ lineups,” says Jeremy Wootten, president of sleep accessories specialist DreamFit, part of Vinemont, Alabama-based HomTex. “There’s a large group of customers who consistently are going to want cooling effects when they sleep.”
Jeff Chilton, chief executive officer of sleep accessories vendor Soft-Tex, which has headquarters in Waterford, New York, agrees. “Most consumers are looking for cooling aspects in sleep products,” he says, noting that all five of the protectors in his company’s Dream Smart line offer some cooling properties and two are specifically designed with super-cooling features.
Cooling properties in sleep accessories typically come from the addition of technical fibers, gel or 3-D spacer fabrics or even the use of special weaving patterns in fabrics.
‘Show me what you can do’
Consumers increasingly want sleep products that offer real, tangible benefits in addition to looking good.
“In sleep accessories, as with all categories, people are looking for new technologies and for the features and benefits those technologies provide,” says Rob O’Neill, vice president of product development for Fashion Bed Group, a division of Carthage, Missouri-based Leggett & Platt Inc.
Such benefits can include not only temperature regulation, but also stain resistance, water repellency, bed bug and dust mite protection, as well as better fitting products.
Better sleep is worth the money
There always will be a market for lower-priced sheets or protectors and, as a retailer, you want to be able to serve customers with varying budgets, but sleep accessories vendors say shoppers are willing to pay more when they can see a clear reason for the higher price.
“We’re finding in sheets and mattress protectors that consumers are moving to higher-end products,” Douglas says. Not that long ago, the majority of Malouf’s sales were entry level but today, he says, some of its high-end lines routinely outsell its base products: “Consumers are willing to pay more for better sleep.”
Pads, protectors and encasements
- Pure mattress pads: Gotcha Covered has extended its Pure collection of bed linens with a natural cotton quilted mattress pad. The undyed, unbleached fitted pad is made of 100% natural combed cotton filled with 100% pure virgin carded cotton that eliminates lumps and bumps. “We have been looking for a natural pad to fill our customers’ needs as an added option to our current line of protection products. We found this extraordinary, well-established factory in Spain, and together we designed and developed a pad for our Pure collection,” says Lisa Bernath, chief executive officer of the Burbank, California-based company. The machine-washable pad is EU Ecolabel and Oeko-Tex certified. It retails for about $169 in queen size. The company also offers fitted sheets and sheet sets, all with its “perfect fit” construction.
Sleep Chill+ protectors: Earlier this year, Fashion Bed Group added Sleep Chill+ mattress and pillow protectors to its lineup—step-ups from the company’s Sleep Chill protectors, which feature CoolMax moisture-wicking fabric. With “‘gel-infused fibers’ in the top layer and a textured, diamond pattern on the fabric surface to facilitate airflow, Sleep Chill+ “is a more advanced cooling solution,” O’Neill says. A Sleep Chill+ mattress protector retails for $129 in queen size.
- Sleep Tite Five-5ided Ice Tech: The Ice Tech protector from Malouf is made with a 50-50 combination of viscose and a fabric that feels cool to the touch, thanks to a super-quick moisture-transferring property. “Even when you put a sheet on top, it still helps you sleep cool,” Douglas says. Ice Tech retails between $179 and $199 in queen size and is available as a pillow protector ($60 for two). Malouf also has added the Sleep Tite Encase Omniphase encasement to its lineup. It includes moisture-wicking Tencel fibers and temperature-regulating Omniphase fabric. It retails for $119 in queen.
- Supercool mattress protector: This protector is part of Soft-Tex’s new Dream Smart five-model line of protectors. Dream Smart offers a step-up range of products, with each protector providing differentiated properties to the consumer, Chilton says. Retail prices range from $29 to $129 in queen. At the high end of the line is the Supercool protector, made not with a phase-change material but with a proprietary cooling yarn that Chilton describes as “literally cool to the touch.” “You notice the cooling effect immediately,” he says. “It’s designed for those customers—and there are many of them today—looking for cooling features.”
- Arbor sheets: PureCare has expanded its Elements sheet lineup with the addition of Arbor, made of a blend of cotton and Lenzing’s Modal fiber derived from beechwood. “Elements is fueled by technical textiles. Arbor with Modal has a nice hand to it and a fantastic comfort. You can feel the luxury and quality. And because of the botanic fiber, it has a unique ‘ecological’ story consistent with premium Lenzing,” Bergman says. The sheets are available in white, ivory, light blue and dove gray. Like all of the products in PureCare’s Elements line, the Arbor fitted sheet features the company’s Precision-Fit elastic corners and 1-inch-thick elastic cuff. Envelope-style pillowcases keep pillows in place and create a nice finished look on the bed. A queen-size set of Arbor sheets retails for $149.
- Cool Pointe sheets: As the name implies, Danican’s Cool Pointe sheets are cool to the touch, thanks to a technologically advanced satinlike tightly woven fabric, more commonly found in parachutes. The company, which has long used the fabric on its Scandinavian-designed mattresses, toppers and pillows, recently extended it to sheeting and now is offering Cool Pointe pillowcases and fitted sheets. The sheets provide an easy fit and can stretch to fit mattresses up to 18-inches deep, says Jerry Mihaic, sales manager for Danican, which has U.S. headquarters in Atascadero, California. Danican’s parent company, EverRest ApS, is based in Aarhus, Denmark. The fitted sheet retails for $149 in queen size; a pillowcase is $39. Both are Oeko-Tex certified.
- 6˚ Superior sheets: DreamFit recently introduced 6˚ Superior sheets, made with a 70%-30% blend of micro Tencel fiber and Supima cotton, to its 7˚ line of sheets. “They bring all the features of Tencel—moisture wicking, temperature regulation—along with a premium cotton feel,” Wootten says. The sheets are available in white, ivory and taupe and retail for $199 in a queen-size set. All sheets in the 7˚ line feature the company’s patented “Guaranteed To Fit & Guaranteed To Stay On” corner strap system. Each step-up product in the line offers unique fibers, weaves and finishes.
- Sleep Plush sheets: The newest sheet offering from Fashion Bed Group is Sleep Plush, “a 500-thread-count cotton sheet with a luxurious, soft and supple feel,” O’Neill says. Sleep Plush is available only in white. “In the luxury arena, we’ve found white rises to the top in terms of consumer preference,” O’Neill says. The sheets are available in a “gift-box-style package.” A queen set retails for $79.
- WOVEN French linen sheets: Malouf’s WOVEN French linen sheets are made of 100% pure linen from flax grown in France. “The trend toward an urban, rustic, industrial feel is making linen appealing,” says Jake Neeley, Malouf marketing communications director. “Linen lasts forever and gets softer with every wash. It’s a high-quality, breathable fabric.” The sheets are available in charcoal, flax, smoke and white and come packaged in a matching fabric bag tied with a flax ribbon. A set retails for $350.
What to say and how to display
How retail sales associates introduce the topic of sheets and protectors/encasements/pads to shoppers and how retailers merchandise the products can mean the difference between sales success and failure, happy customers or unsatisfied ones. Here are five tips to do both better:
1. Mention accessories early—and often.
During an effective sales conversation with a customer, there typically are several opportunities to introduce the topic of sheets and protectors.
“Engage your customer in a conversation. Don’t just give them a sales spiel,” says Jerry Mihaic, sales manager for sleep products vendor Danican, which has U.S. headquarters in Atascadero, California. “Learn about them as a customer. Ask open-ended questions. Are you moving or remodeling your home? Are you having health problems? What do you do for a living? Try to make them comfortable sharing information about their lives and then provide solutions that help them solve their problems.”
In most RSA-customer interactions, there are obvious openings: Does the customer have allergies? Yes? Then mention she likely will be interested in an encasement to protect her from dust mites. Will the bed be used for a child? A waterproof protector is a must-have. Is the shopper buying a memory foam mattress with gel foam. Then cool-to-the-touch sheets will be the perfect complement. Talking to a frequent traveler? Suggest purchasing an additional pillow protector to take along to cover hotel pillows.
If you’ve discussed sleep accessories early on and throughout the conversation, a shopper won’t be put off when, after she’s decided on a sleep set, you say, “Now that you’ve found the right mattress, let’s go choose a protector to maintain your investment and a sheet set that will enhance the mattress’ benefits.”
2. Tell a good bedtime story.
“Consumers are looking for products that have a story,” says Lisa Bernath, chief executive officer of Burbank, California-based sleep accessories provider Gotcha Covered. “They are savvy, but they want products that are easily understandable and relatable.”
Yes, shoppers want a good story—but one that’s easy to follow and with no surprise endings.
Sleep accessories providers say they are doing their part to aid shoppers by offering packaging that explains product benefits with icons and easy-to-follow descriptions and by providing step-up programs and display units that allow customers to easily compare one product with another.
Do your part by avoiding a hodge-podge assortment and display of products. Most accessories suppliers offer carefully crafted selections. Choose the lines you carry just as judiciously so that your customers are served, not confused.
3. Create a store-within-a-store.
Many vendors offer displays in various sizes that allow you to show an array of products, from protectors to pillows to duvets. You can create a similar presentation using your own fixtures or shelving. Such a concentrated display does a couple of things: It shows your commitment to the products (you don’t consider them an add-on) and it gives shoppers a place to browse if RSAs are helping other customers.
Stock your display with fabric swatches so shoppers can get a feel for products and clearly see colors, as well as minibuns that demonstrate how protectors work. And be sure to keep displays well-stocked with products.
Retailers with a strong e-commerce business can follow a similar strategy online, organizing protectors, sheets and related products into a single overall category called “Sleep Essentials” or something similar. Create pop-up reminders during the online shopping process to encourage customers to add the appropriate protector or sheet set to their shopping cart.
4. Make logical matches.
In addition to a “destination” display of sleep accessories, incorporate sheets and protectors into other parts of your store.
Sheet sets made for adjustable-base-friendly mattresses can go near those models. A small display of protectors works nicely at the sales desk, where RSAs can make a final case that a protector helps maintain a mattress warranty.
Ideally, shoppers will see your primary accessories display when they first enter the store. If it’s not immediately visible, do a second, smaller presentation closer to the store entrance so these products catch customers’ attention at the start of the shopping process.
5. Pick up on offers to drop ship.
Some retailers are reluctant to stock sleep accessories like sheets because they worry about having to maintain a large inventory or devote a huge amount of floor space to display. That’s not the case. Most providers of sheets and protectors offer drop shipping—sending products directly to your customer’s home, typically within just a few days for a small flat fee or the cost of shipping. This means you can offer customers an enormous product selection in terms of constructions, sizes and colors.
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 email@example.com.