The Power of the Pillow

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Consumers will spend years searching for the right pillow. Help them end their quest by offering the latest feature-filled models and bestsellers that have a proven track record.

Pillows are more than a place to rest a weary head. In addition to providing proper spine alignment during the night, a good pillow can help solve sleepers’ problems, too — keeping them cool, adapting as they change position, infusing the air with relaxing scents.

Even more than with mattresses, what makes a pillow “right” varies widely from person to person, and many shoppers get frustrated with what seems like an endless hunt. Retailers who offer a well-edited selection of profiles and constructions with problem-solving features can save shoppers from a long pillow search. 

If you’re the retailer who helped them find that perfect pillow, they might offer a word of gratitude to you as they drift off to sleep.

Pillow producers are doing their part by offering increasingly complex pillows that address people’s most common complaints about their sleep environment while still providing all-important comfort and support. 

“The right pillow is an essential sleep accessory that can make a world of difference. Consumers don’t always realize that the pillow represents 30% of their spinal alignment and support. Some RSAs call it the mattress for your head,” says Ashlee Willes, brand manager for Malouf, a sleep products source based in Logan, Utah. “Consumers are often looking for something that will help them wake up without neck pain and keep them asleep all night.”

Sleep Savvy talked to several producers about their latest, most innovative pillows and what those offerings say about trends in the category. We also asked about their bestselling models to learn what keeps customers buying and recommending them.

Always keeping it cool

Consumers continue to want to stay comfortably cool throughout the night — and are looking for something more efficient and longer lasting than flipping their pillow over in frustration.

“Sleeping hot is a common issue for sleepers in the U.S. today,” Willes says. “When a customer touches (our) CarbonCool (pillow), they can feel the coolness. With the CarbonCool, they don’t have to flip their pillow over in the middle of the night to find the cool side.” 

Malouf says the pillow, the company’s current bestseller, has 20 times the cooling capacity of other gel memory foams, and it uses Omniphase technology on the surface to actively pull heat from the body. It retails for $149 in queen size. 

Not surprisingly, cooling pillows are top sellers for other producers, too.

Blu Sleep’s Ice Gel model, made with breathable foamed gel and dotted with ventilation channels for better airflow, is a perennial bestseller for the company. “The feel is plush and bouncy like latex, giving you the right amount of softness and support,” says Elizabeth Dell’Accio, president of the Pompano Beach, Florida-based maker of mattresses, pillows and other sleep products. Good Housekeeping magazine named Ice Gel (with a retail of $159) one of the best pillows of 2021.

PureCare’s Sarah Bergman says the company’s Cooling SoftCell Chill hybrid pillow is “always at the top of our bestsellers list.” The pillow, which retails for $180 in queen, combines a down alternative with memory foam for comfort and support, and incorporates Tencel’s Lyocell and PureCare’s exclusive FRiO rapid-chill fibers for cooling, says Bergman, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of product development for the Phoenix-based sleep accessories producer.

An ensemble approach

There’s been a trend to replicate mattress components in pillows to create complementary products that enhance the total sleep ensemble. Such product pairings are also an easier sell for retail sales associates and e-commerce sites, which can easily explain the benefits of buying the two together.

The Tempur-Pedic brand is often credited with ushering in an age of premium pillows, starting with its distinctively curved Tempur-Neck pillow, and it remains committed to the category.

“Pillows continue to be a really strong part of the
Tempur-Pedic portfolio,” says Jill Johnson, vice president of marketing for the Tempur-Pedic brand, part of Tempur Sealy International headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky. “Our famous neck pillow is in our Tempur-Pedic logo and still grows organically year over year. So, we certainly have continued to focus on our pillow business and are rooted in our ability to sell full sleep solutions to consumers. … We really go to market with pillows that were designed to complement the mattress that they’re sold with.”

A strong seller for the Tempur-Pedic brand is the
Tempur-Adapt Cloud + Cooling pillow, an ultra-conforming pillow designed to complement the brand’s Cloud mattresses. It retails for $129 in queen. Another favorite among consumers is the Tempur-breeze ProLo, which uses the same technology to cool hot sleepers as the company’s Tempur- breeze mattress line. It also features a cooling cover and retails for $229 in queen. 

Rounding out a trio of top sellers — again tied to the company’s mattress lines — is the Tempur-Adapt ProMid + Cooling. It’s a dual-sided pillow with conforming micro- cushions made of shredded Tempur material on one side and supportive Tempur material on the other. It features a cool-to-the-touch cover and retails for $179 in queen. All of Tempur-Pedic’s pillows are offered in low, mid- and high profiles to accommodate the full range of sleeping positions and body types, Johnson says.

The Serta brand recently launched Serta Arctic pillows to complement its Serta Arctic mattresses, using the same cooling technology in both, says Erin Dress, vice president of marketing for Atlanta-based Serta Simmons Bedding.

“We’re seeing consumer demand for a full system approach, with technologies working together to provide a more holistic benefit to the sleeper. The Serta Arctic accessories are a great example of this, offering the same cooling experience across the line,” she says.

Extra, extra

Some pillow producers who’ve found success with certain components or profiles are taking the next logical step and combining them into new models.

For example, Malouf paired two of its most popular pillow features — a shoulder-cutout design and its ActiveDough foam with benefits of latex and memory foam — to create its Shoulder Zoned Gel ActiveDough pillow. The pillow, which debuted in October at the High Point Market, also has cooling gel for temperature regulation and zoning for support. It retails for $99 in queen.

“We’re seeing consumer demand
for a full system approach, with
technologies working together.”

“We have had success with both shoulder cutout designs and ActiveDough materials up to this point and we are excited to combine them in this new addition,” Willes says. “The majority of sleepers in the U.S. are side sleepers, so we wanted to expand our specific offering to that demographic.”

Blu Sleep’s latest pillow is a Support[+] memory foam model. The high-profile pillow with a “plush yet firm feel” is made especially for side sleepers, Dell’Accio says. Then the company, known for its aromatherapy options, added that feature to the pillow, too. Support[+] comes in four scents — coconut, lemon verbena, lavender and sandalwood. A graphite version offers cooling features and helps reduce bacterial growth. It retails for $189 in queen.

PureCare followed a “let’s make this great pillow even better” strategy when it decided to wrap its five bestselling pillow models in covers containing premium microencapsulated CBD from Suncliff. (CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical found in marijuana. It doesn’t contain the THC that produces a high, but is known for its calming, soothing benefits.) 

The five pillows offered with CBD covers are the company’s Cooling SoftCell Chill and SoftCell Lite, Cooling Replenish, Cooling Down Complete and Bamboo, all retailing for $180 in queen.

“Each of our CBD pillows offers a different fill and designer construction details to match the unique sleep needs of our consumers,” Bergman says. “From traditional down to our designer down-alternative, memory foam to latex, we have a premium support option for everyone.”

Sumptuous comfort

As nifty as aromatherapy, zoning, cutouts and CBD are, some consumers simply want a luxurious pillow. 

Shifman Mattress Co. focuses on luxury materials, including latex, goose feathers and goose down, for
its three-model pillow line.
Time tested Shifman Mattress Co. focuses on luxury materials, including latex, goose feathers and goose down, for
its three-model pillow line.

Known for its luxury mattresses, Shifman Mattress Co. in Newark, New Jersey, offers a line of three pillows, all made with high-end, natural materials, such as latex, goose down and goose feathers. Each is encased in a 330-thread-count, 100% “silk cotton sateen outer cover” with a hidden zipper. On the versions with feathers and down, the cover blocks those components to help eliminate concerns about allergens. 

Shifman’s bestsellers are a model with a white goose feather core surrounded by white goose down ($360 in queen) and another model with a natural latex core surrounded by white goose down ($560 in queen). Both
“offer a construction and a feel that is unique in the marketplace,” says Alison Minella, Shifman marketing director. The feather and down pillow has an added selling point: It is certified Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex.

“Shifman remains authentic in its product offering, by producing products that do not focus on the latest trendy materials, and prides itself on the use of natural fibers, which have been time-tested to achieve the most comfortable sleep,” she says.

In keeping with its strategy of pairing pillow and mattress lines for a complementary ensemble, Serta also recently launched a line of Beautyrest by Nate Berkus pillows. The down and feather pillows feature the same exclusive pattern of the Beautyrest by Nate Berkus mattress line, Dress notes.

For consumers who like the luxurious feel of a down pillow, but avoid animal products or have concerns about price, down alternatives can be an option. 

“Our goal is to offer sleep solutions
that actually do something.”

Carpenter’s Beyond Down line of pillows has been a top performer for more than 20 years “because it’s a great comfort pillow,” says Ken Brown, vice president of the Richmond, Virginia-based company’s consumer products division. “The Beyond Down pillow is filled with our gel-fiber that allows the pillow to be very adjustable, while offering the level of comfort you don’t expect from a synthetic down pillow.” It has a 300-thread-count, 100% cotton cover and is available in both traditional and gusset constructions. The gusset side-sleeper version, Brown adds, is especially popular. 

Offering customers customization

Even with the growing number of components and features available in seemingly endless combinations, at times an off-the-shelf pillow still isn’t quite right for some consumers. 

Carpenter addresses that with a pillow series it calls Adjustable Sleep Solutions. The group exemplifies a philosophy that drives innovation at Carpenter. “Our goal is to offer sleep solutions that actually do something,” Brown says. “Customers are purchasing pillows and other sleep categories because they, ultimately, want to sleep better.”

The Adjustable Sleep Solutions pillows allow sleepers to adjust firmness, height, comfort and support, “all important attributes when it comes to offering sleep solutions that do something,” he says. “These constructions can be tailored to fit different price points, but we shouldn’t focus on that because we’ve learned that customers’ willingness to pay more has a direct correlation with the ‘hope’ of finding a pillow that meets their needs.”

If it’s been a while since you’ve expanded or upgraded your pillow selection, now is a good time to do so. Help your next customer find the pillow that makes them say “ah” when they go to bed each night.