This High Point, North Carolina, store within a store has it all—including a private, quiet space for shoppers
BY BETH ENGLISH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ARTISAN IMAGE INC.
Visiting Sleepland isn’t necessarily straightforward. It involves coming in through the main doors of a massive furniture store—Furnitureland South—and cutting through the Starbucks on the left.
Just as you breathe in the heady aroma of coffee and sugar, you spy a bed through an archway with an overhead fishtank. (See related story, page 17.) As you step through the archway, the murmur of private conversations and strains of music fade and then completely hush.
You’re in Sleepland.
The space is clearly its own entity. Showrooms for brands such as Beauty- rest, Kingsdown, Sealy, Serta, Spring Air and Tempur-Pedic pivot out from the main desk, like spokes on a wheel.
The quiet, spalike atmosphere of the High Point, North Carolina, store helps customers, especially women, feel comfortable, says Rachel Sturm, gallery manager and bedding specialist.
“It’s very private,” she says. “You can get people to come in and relax.”
Sleepland, an 11,000-square-foot showroom inside a 1.3 million square-foot furniture store, opened in April 2012. Furnitureland South describes itself as the “single largest furniture store in the world.”
While the store within a store is a familiar set up, at Sleepland, it certainly has its unique advantages.
As part of a destination shopping experience, the retailer is able to outfit a shopper’s entire bedroom. In Sleepland, she can purchase the entire bedding ensemble—from mattresses to linens to pillows—and then visit other departments in Furnitureland South to select bedroom furniture. Free design services help shoppers pull together the entire room.
“We have a good synergy with the rest of the store,” Sturm says.
Rachel Harris, assistant bedding specialist, agrees. “It’s more of a world-class experience,” she says.
But even among the perks of being a large store, they don’t lose the personal touch. Furnitureland South is a family-owned and operated store that started in 1969 with Darrell Harris selling showroom samples out of the back of his truck.
His sons, Jason and Jeff, now run the business, which welcomes families year after year and helps them “create home.”
Sturm notes some retail sales associates find themselves working with people they sold pieces to 10 to 15 years ago.
“It’s very intimate,” she says. “We take the time. We want long-term relationships.”
Furnitureland South has 150 RSAs who are responsible for all departments of the store, not just Sleepland.
“Our design consultants are a cut above in design skills and project management,” Sturm says. In terms of mattresses, she expects them to be just as knowledgeable.
Each is required to attend two classes—Sleepland 101, which educates them on the products and the importance of sleep, and Sleepland 201, which applies what they learned previously and helps them get comfortable navigating the showroom. RSAs are expected to complete these classes within their first year at the store. Everyone attends vendor training throughout the year to stay up to date on the products.
She considers her relationships with vendors to be essential and estimates that she reaches out to them numerous times a week.
When it comes to mattress sales, RSAs are encouraged to ask qualifying questions. “Mattresses are very personal,” Sturm says. “It’s definitely not one size fits all here.”
RSAs ask about use (Will this be used in a guest bedroom or vacation home?) and personal factors (In what position do you typically sleep?). They also make sure customers spend at least 10 minutes on a bed before making a decision.
“Rachel (Harris) and I try to be involved in every sale,” Sturm says. “We know our stuff. We know why one would be a better choice than another.”
She recently sold a $4,000 Tempur-Pedic to a customer and then the customer’s friend bought one, as well.
“We’re here to advocate for the customer,” Sturm says. “She truly needed a new mattress, and we were able to identify the problem and help her.”
The pair focuses on educating the customer about the health benefits of sleep. “You spend one-third of your life in bed. No other purchase directly affects your health more,” Sturm says. “We have to change their mindset from a mattress being a commodity (something you have to purchase) to how do you want to feel over the next 10 years?”
When Sleepland first opened and the economy still was struggling through the effects of the recession, talking about the health benefits of a new mattress didn’t always go so well. “When we first opened, I felt like many people did not associate the quality of their sleep with a new mattress purchase, but now more people are starting to see merit in that.”
Sleepland RSAs understand the need to communicate the importance of healthy sleep. They also find themselves the recipients of a healthy commission on each sale.
The emphasis is working. The average ticket price per sale is $2,095. Furnitureland South had a profitable year last year and has seen a 43% increase in business since Sturm joined the store three-and-a-half years ago.
Getting the word out
Sturm says her biggest challenge is raising awareness. Even with the sheer size of Furnitureland South, not everyone in the area knows about it. Or if they do, they assume it’s out of their price range.
Not true. Their price points for queen mattresses range from $499 to $10,000. They also carry children’s mattresses.
“While most of our customers are more settled in life, there are young couples, too,” she says. “Everyone can afford to shop here.”
To make Sleepland more visible, the retailer has done radio spots, purchased billboard space and currently sends eblasts two to three times a month. The Furnitureland South marketing department is active on social media, and Sturm often forwards links for them to use that stress the importance of quality sleep. But the most effective thing they’ve tried? An oversized postcard mailer detailing tiered promotions.
“The tangible aspect is so important,” Sturm says, noting that people tend to delete emails quickly these days.
In 2014, Sleepland sent out two direct mail pieces. In 2015, it plans to send four.
In addition to offering special promotions from time to time, Sleepland also stands by a low-price guarantee—if you bring a lower advertised price for the same mattress it carries, it will match it.
Customers are given a 30-day guarantee. If not satisfied with their mattress, Sleepland will help them select a new one. They also get free “white glove” delivery, and the delivery team removes old bedding.
Linens and more
Both Sturm and Harris are committed to helping customers make their bedrooms sanctuaries. To do so, Sturm sees a bigger integration of linen sales with mattresses.
“It sets us apart,” Sturm says. “Other stores are not going to help you find the right inseam on a fitted sheet or the drop of a custom bed skirt. You’ve got to ask those questions.”
Because people come to Furnitureland South to purchase items for an entire room, all the beds throughout the larger store are dressed. People are visual and it helps them to see how the linens can be put together, she says.
In addition to carrying a wide variety of brands such as Sferra, Legacy Home, Pine Cone Hill, Peacock Alley, Blissliving Home and Designer’s Guild, the Design Studio can create custom linens. “Anything you can dream, you can have,” Sturm says.
Sleepland also offers a variety of other accessories. A display of mattress pads, protectors and pillows hugs one wall of the Sleepland hub.
Bases are another essential item. Sturm says she’s seen a rapid increase in the number of adjustable bases they sell. And those bases are not just for Baby Boomers. Couples in their 30s and 40s also are investing in this technology.
Mattress accessories go along with Sleepland’s focus on the entire bedroom—from health and comfort to determining what height of box spring a customer needs.
Sturm is proud of everything in the gallery. She was hired for her role before construction even began.
“This is my baby,” she says. “I have a hand in everything that touches this gallery.”
And nothing comes in that she doesn’t believe in.
“I merchandise every single bed in here,” she says. “I don’t have a bed in here I don’t like.”
Sleeping with the fishes
When Sleepland opened in April 2012, it did so with a splash.
Animal Planet’s reality series, “Tanked,” in which two brothers-in-law produce one-of-a-kind fish tanks by the largest aquarium-manufacturing company in the nation, took on designing and creating a special “headboard” just for Sleepland. The episode aired April 28, 2012.
The 650-gallon overhead bed frame tank features serene lighting and colorful seawater fish, including pajama cardinals, hogfish, heniochus butterflies and threadfin lookdowns.
During the big reveal, Furnitureland South executive vice presidents and brothers Jason and Jeff Harris lay down on the bed to take in the underwater view.
“You know you spend a third of your life on your bed, but I think if I had this bed, I’d definitely spend half of my life (in bed),” Jason Harris said as he watched the fish. “This definitely sets the mood for Furnitureland, right here.”
The tank currently is on display at the entrance of Sleepland.
To see the reveal, visit Furnitureland South’s website.