Sleep products such as protectors and linens help your customers relax and rejuvenate—and they’re healthy for your store’s bottom line as well. Consider these ways to differentiate and accentuate your accessory lines.
BY JULIE A. PALM
As a mattress retailer, how you think about protectors, linens and other sleep accessories can be a pretty good indicator of how much revenue those items generate for your store. Do you see them as an after-thought? An add-on? A freebie?
If so, you probably don’t sell a lot.
If, on the other hand, you view a mattress set as only one part of a complete sleep system that also includes protectors, linens and other items, you likely do robust business.
By focusing on sleep accessories, one of PureCare’s retailers—the West Coast sleep chain Sit ‘n Sleep—recently upped its accessories attachment rate to a whopping 98%.
“The retailer made a commitment to making accessories a priority,” says Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer for PureCare, a Fairfield, New Jersey-based supplier of sleep products, including protectors, encasements, pillows, toppers and sheets. “They’ve said, ‘We’re going to have goals and we’re going to hit those goals.’ With good merchandizing and our training, they’ve been able to do it. The attitude has to start right at the top.”
Mattress retailers who carry assortments of sleep products—and train retail sales associates how to sell them—benefit in two ways, says Dan Schecter, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Carpenter Co. in Richmond, Virginia.
“No. 1, selling these kinds of products helps get consumers into their stores more often and, No. 2, it builds the ticket price and increases margins,” Schecter says. Carpenter’s Consumer Products division makes mattress pads, protectors and toppers, as well as pillows.
Robert Pearce, vice president of sales for DreamFit, a sheet and accessories brand of HomeTex based in Vinemont, Alabama, agrees: “It’s obvious that these products provide additional revenue to a retailer. These days there’s not as much traffic coming through the door, and retailers need to maximize tickets. But I think the more noteworthy and notable approach to take is that when we give our guests a total comfort solution, we all win.”
In some ways, suppliers say, it’s a mattress retailer’s responsibility to offer all the sleep products needed for a well-dressed bed. Among other benefits, protectors keep mattresses clean and stain-free; encasements protect against allergens; and proper sheets ensure a good fit that doesn’t change the feel of the mattress.
“We think of mattress retailers providing sheeting and protectors as a customer service—to see the process of dressing the bed through to the end. Why make Walmart or JCPenney your accessories department?” says Lisa Bernath, chief executive officer and co-founder of linen, protector and accessory supplier Gotcha Covered in Burbank, California.
The fact is consumers have to buy these products somewhere. Do you want the shopper who just bought a great mattress set from your store to head straight to the big-box retailer across the street to grab some off-the-shelf sheets and a pad that might change the feel of that carefully chosen mattress?
“You can buy a $4,000 mattress and put $4 pillows on it and you then have a $4 mattress. The accessories need to match the consumer, as well as the mattress,” Schecter says.
“About 70% of people who buy a mattress will buy new sheets, etc.,” says Mike Douglas, general manager of Logan, Utah-based Malouf, which offers linens, pillows and protectors. “If you don’t have a sheet/pillow/protector program, you’re letting money walk out the door.”
When customers go elsewhere to outfit their new bed, you not only lose the sale, you do a disservice to your customer, leaving her to face a sea of products online or in another store without much guidance.
“I believe at retail we should be offering a total comfort solution for every guest. I don’t think that happens enough,” Pearce says. “We’ve got to look at things from a different standpoint. We’re not just in the mattress business. We’re in the people business and the comfort business and that means providing every customer with the proper mattress, pillow, sheets and protector.”
The message is clear: Don’t just be a mattress expert. Be a sleep system expert.
An early introduction
To successfully sell sleep accessories, you have to introduce them early in the qualifying process. Do it long before shoppers arrive at the sales counter and even before they make their final mattress selection.
“What consumers dislike during the sales process is when the retail sales associate brings up the accessory purchase at the end without having given any reason for it throughout the sale. They feel like it is being added on. They feel like they’re being had. So, to eliminate that, we recommend RSAs bring up the subject early and build items into a sleep system,” says James Bell, chief executive officer of Protect-A-Bed, a Wheeling, Illinois-based company that offers a complete line of bedding-protection products. “This goes for sheets, protectors or anything else. Mention it during the sale and you’ll increase your attachment rates enormously.”
Herman Tam, group vice president of marketing for Carthage, Missouri-based Leggett & Platt’s Consumer Products Group, agrees: “I don’t like it at a Best Buy when, at the end, they offer you the extended protection plan. No one likes that. But if they displayed a little brochure or message about it by the TVs when I’m shopping, I might be more interested. By the time I’m at the cashier, I want to get out of there. I’m tired and I want to go. Mattress shopping is no different.”
PureCare’s Bergman sums it up: “If the conversation starts at the sales desk, you’re done.”
Gotcha Covered’s Bernath offers this suggestion for how RSAs can introduce the subject during the rest-testing phase of the sales process: “Mention it when the customer is trying to decide and going from mattress to mattress. You might hand them a pillow, and while they are on the bed and you are answering their questions is a good time to say, ‘We have all the sheeting and protection products you’ll need for whatever mattress you chose.’ ”
Sleep accessories suppliers offer a number of other specific suggestions for how RSAs can best introduce and talk about these products with shoppers.
Protect-A-Bed uses a mnemonic device to train RSAs: “M.E.M.O.M.E.” stands for “Mention early. Mention often. Mention every time.”
Bell suggests a script that loosely goes something like this: “Mrs. Jones, we’re going to find the perfect mattress for you and once we do, I will be sure to show you how to properly protect and care for that mattress to keep it comfortable, clean and healthy for as long as possible.”
DreamFit’s Pearce cautions RSAs not to overthink the process of selling sleep accessories and encourages them to look for natural openings in the conversation when mentioning sheets or encasements feels unforced.
For instance, if you’re showing an adjustable base, you can indicate that the shopper needn’t worry about finding sheets that work with mattresses on an adjustable because you carry them.
“It’s just an extension of the same qualifying process you use when selling the mattress,” Pearce says. “If a guest comments on how thick a mattress is, you can say, ‘Don’t worry. We have great sheets to fit this mattress.’ Convey: ‘We have a solution.’ ”
Pearce agrees with Bell that RSAs should talk to every customer about pillows, linens, protectors and encasements: “I would say that we should offer every guest—every time, every day—a total comfort solution.”
Because PureCare markets its products as health and wellness items, Bergman suggests RSAs introduce the subject of accessories through health-related questions, perhaps while asking if the shopper has back or sleep troubles.
“During the qualifying process, ask, ‘Do you or anyone in your family suffer from allergies or allergy-induced asthma?’ That can spark a conversation. The customer is interested in reducing allergies and you have products to help her,” Bergman says. “After the customer has chosen a mattress, you can say, ‘It looks like you’ve found the right mattress. Let me show the products we carry for health and wellness.’ It’s very effective.”
Similarly, you can inquire whether shoppers have any problems with sleeping too hot or cool or if they have concerns about bedbugs, Malouf’s Douglas says.
Bernath cautions RSAs against asking customers “yes” and “no” questions.
“Don’t ask, ‘Do you need sheets?’ ” she says. “Instead ask, ‘How many sheet sets will you need?’ or ‘How many other beds do you have in your home?’ ”
Like others Sleep Savvy interviewed, Bergman cautions against waiting until the very end of the sales process to bring up the subject of other sleep products, but he says that can be a perfect time to inquire about items for other beds in the home.
“When the customer is at the counter paying for a mattress, ask, ‘Do you have any other mattresses in your home that you’d also like to make allergen-proof?’ ” Bergman says. “A lot of times RSAs will sell three or four more because they’ve already established the value earlier in the process.”
When it comes to selling protectors, in particular, Douglas says some of Malouf’s retailers have had success requiring customers to initial on the sales receipt if they have chosen not to purchase a mattress protector. Such a tactic reinforces the importance of a protector and provides the retailer a measure of security if the customer has a stain- or moisture-related problem with the mattress in the future, Douglas says.
And, suppliers say, it doesn’t hurt to financially incentivize RSAs to sell accessories: The margin on the products is high enough to still provide a healthy profit to the retailer.
One way mattress retailers can make the process of introducing accessories to consumers easier is through attractive, inviting displays.
Just as the worst time to start talking about protectors and other items is at the end of the sales process, the worst place to display these items is behind the sales counter, L&P’s Tam says.
“Put the merchandise up front,” he says. “Display protectors and accessories in strategic places on the retail floor so when the RSA walks shoppers through the qualifying process, it encourages them to ask questions. It’s a visual cue.”
When it comes to sheets and other linens, Malouf’s Douglas recommends retailers fully make up a couple of their floor models—perhaps older or twin-size bed sets—with sheets, comforters, pillows and shams.
“Only about 15% of our retailers do this, but they have amazing success,” Douglas says. “The RSA can say, ‘You can make any mattress you choose look like this.’ It’s an easy way to introduce the topic.”
Many retailers like to merchandize accessories on in-store furnishings, but suppliers provide their own displays and point-of-purchase materials, too.
Malouf offers retailers black-and-white shelving units to showcase its products, which are packaged in high-gloss, hard-sided cubes with “crystal” inserts to highlight the color and texture of the product inside. The company also provides point-of-purchase items that include material swatches.
Protect-A-Bed offers an “illuminated racking system” that holds about $1,500 worth of the company’s products and Gotcha Covered provides an ivory-colored display at no charge if the retailer fills it with 30 sheet sets.
“We have very impactful displays,” DreamFit’s Pearce says. “We have large, generous hanging swatches of fabric that encourage the guest to interact with our product. They can feel and not just see. For consumers, especially female consumers, it’s very important to feel the texture of fabrics so we make that easy for the guest.”
TOP TIPS FOR SELLING SLEEP ACCESSORIES
O Discuss sleep accessories early in the sales process.
O Mention sleep accessories to each and every customer.
O Don’t overwhelm shoppers with jargon.
O Use tactile displays that encourage customers to feel fabrics.
O Display sleep accessories in key places on the sales floor.
Stop the giveaways
No one wants to sleep on a bare mattress. Your customers need an array of products—from protectors or encasements to sheets and pillows to comforters and shams—to create an attractive, comfortable sleep environment. And they will buy them somewhere. Don’t give away something that your customers value—and that they would be willing to purchase if you didn’t toss them in as freebies.
Product trends: Accessories provide comfort, healthy sleep environment and better fit
As with the mattresses that dominate their floors, retailers seek sleep accessories featuring technological advancements, performance fibers and innovative features, suppliers say.
“The overall trend that I see are products that have special features and benefits that work to help the body be comfortable, as well as heal and rejuvenate. Retailers are looking for innovation and differentiation,” says Dan Schecter, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Carpenter Co. in Richmond, Virginia, which offers an array of sleep accessories through its Consumer Products division.
The perfect temperature
If you’ve been in the mattress business longer than, say, 15 minutes, you won’t be surprised to learn that suppliers of protectors, linens and other products say some of their “hottest” items incorporate cooling and temperature-regulating technologies.
PureCare’s five-sided mattress protectors are at the core of the company’s business, which also includes encasements, pillows and toppers, as well as its newest offerings—eye masks and sheets. PureCare’s protectors come in versions with Celliant, silver fibers and aromatherapy. Its newest addition to the line is PureCare Frio, which includes a yarn using a special mineral that allows polyester to cool faster, says Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer for the Fairfield, New Jersey-based company. PureCare Frio retails for $119.99 in queen size.
Protect-A-Bed’s best-selling Luxury model protectors for mattresses and pillows are made with Tencel fibers to wick away moisture and regulate temperature, creating a cleaner, drier, more comfortable sleep environment. The company’s Miracle Membrane provides a barrier to dust mites, liquids and other irritants. A queen-size Luxury mattress protector retails from $100 to $140.
“Mattress protectors started as terry cloth products, but have progressed to other more technological fibers and materials,” says James Bell, chief executive officer of the Wheeling, Illinois-based company.
Malouf has had success with its Five 5ided Mattress Protector with Tencel + Omniphase.
“It has phase-change material and moisture-wicking fibers to help sleepers stay cool or warm, depending on the season, and dry and comfortable throughout the year. Performance fabrics are fun to show and talk to customers about,” says Mike Douglas, general manager of the Logan, Utah-based sleep accessories provider. The ultra-thin, liquid-proof but still-breathable protector retails for between $69 and $119 in queen.
In sheets, Malouf’s best-seller is made of rayon from bamboo.
“Again, it’s a good conversation starter,” Douglas says. “The fabric is moisture-wicking and very lightweight. Customers love the feel.” The sheets, which also are hypoallergenic and odor-resistant, feature the company’s Fit Rite elastic on the fitted version to ensure it will stay on any mattress, whether 6 inches or 22 inches thick. A queen-size set retails for about $279.99.
One of Carpenter’s best-selling products is the IsoCool mattress pad, featuring phase-change material. It was introduced about five years ago and has a suggested retail price of $109 in queen size. One of the company’s newest products is a mattress pad featuring “convoluted fiber material” that allows Carpenter to create zones. The polyester-fill pad with 100% cotton cover has the company’s Grip Tight feature. It also retails for $109 in queen.
DreamFit, a sleep accessories brand of HomeTex based in Vinemont, Alabama, uses a Seven Degree system to market its sheets. The 5° Premium is a viscose-from-bamboo and cotton blend that retails for about $169 in a queen set. The 6° Superior incorporates Tencel and features a quilted top sheet with a polyester fill that allows people to use it without an additional blanket. The queen set, which includes reversible pillowcase shams, retails for $319.
“We do very well with products that offer the promise of a cooler night’s sleep and moisture management. Bamboo, cotton blends, Tencel—they’re very popular on the retail sales floor,” says Robert Pearce, DreamFit vice president of sales.
Herman Tam, group vice president of marketing for Leggett & Platt’s Consumer Products Group in Carthage, Missouri, says L&P’s Cool Contact protectors for mattresses and pillows have been well-received by retailers and consumers. They feature breathable CoolMax fabric to wick away moisture and create a cooler-feeling sleep environment. Cool Contact retails for about $89 in a queen-size mattress protector.
“Anything in the bedding market that offers the benefit of keeping you cool is a big hit,” Tam says.
“One of the big things in this category is educating consumers about creating a healthier sleep environment. That’s why you need mattress protection,” Protect-A-Bed’s Bell says.
Protect-A-Bed’s newest product is its R.E.M.-Fit line of protectors and pillows.
“It’s a total sleep recovery system designed for those who embrace an active, healthy lifestyle,” Bell says. Marketing and point-of-purchase materials feature images of athletic women. Products include Tencel fibers and the company’s signature Miracle Membrane.
One of Gotcha Covered’s perennial best-sellers is its GOTS-certified Pure collection, a 300-thread-count sheet made of 100% organic cotton, undyed and unbleached in a sateen weave. It retails for $147 in queen size and comes in a biodegradable bag to continue the natural story through from product to packaging.
“It’s grown exponentially,” says Lisa Bernath, chief executive officer and co-founder of the company, which has headquarters in Burbank, California. “I think consumers are much more aware of the word ‘organic’ because of the organic food movement. They are much more conscious of allergies and skin issues: They are looking for healthier options.”
PureCare’s Bergman says the important quality that links all of his company’s products is “the focus on creating a healthier sleep environment.”
“Whether pads or pillows or protectors or sheets, mixing and matching all of our products together creates a healthier sleep environment,” he says. “Everything we do focuses on health and wellness. Our products are allergen-proof, dust-mite proof and treated with anti-bacterial silver.” Protectors and encasements also prevent stains, mold and mildew.
L&P’s Clean Shield protectors are designed to keep mattresses and pillows stain- and odor-free. Liquid beads up and rolls off the easy-to-clean, disinfectable Crypton Super Fabric. The technology works without plastic, vinyl or other laminated materials. Retail prices in queen size range from $99 to $139.
“The product demos really well,” Tam says. L&P provides retailers a fabric sample and bottle to fill with colored liquid.
“I have not encountered a person who’s not amazed by what they see,” he says.
Fit right, sleep tight
Gotcha Covered got its start providing well-fitting sheets and pillowcases for odd-size mattresses and pillows, including Tempur-Pedic’s first pillow. A perfect fit is still at the core of its business: It offers a variety of sheet pocket depths, as well as sheets that fit everything from cribs to sofa sleepers and cots to split-head California kings.
Gotcha Covered’s patent-pending Smarty-BandZz feature is a double-elastic band sewn into a fitted sheet that helps people easily identify both the size of the sheet set while it’s on the linen closet shelf and which way the sheet should be oriented on the mattress. Made in the U.S.A., Smarty-BandZz are available in the company’s Luxe fitted sheets and sheet sets. A new YouTube video demonstrates and explains the concept.
The Luxe sheets are available in white, ivory and sand colors with three pocket sizes (up to 11 inches, up to 18 inches and up to 20 inches). A queen set retails for about $233.
As DreamFit’s name indicates, the company also focuses on well-fitting sheets with its “DreamFit Guaranteed To Fit & Guaranteed To Stay On” construction.
“The thing that has been our point of difference is our patented 1-inch band of elastic and corner strap. It’s at the heart of our guaranteed fit,” Pearce says. “We’ve found that a good fit is a huge concern for our customers.”
Encasement: Encased locking zipper or other enclosure protects sleepers from bed bugs, dust mites and allergens. Typically waterproof barrier, like protectors. Six-sided.
Fitted sheet: Has pockets at each of the four corners and an elastic band around the sheet. It’s the “bottom” sheet that covers the mattress.
Flat sheet: Hemmed on four sides, usually with a larger hem or cuff at the top of the sheet. It’s the “top” sheet.
Long staple: Long-staple cotton has a fiber sometimes almost 2 inches long. (Short-staple is from 2/3-inch to 1 11/2 inches.)
Mattress protector: A waterproof barrier to protect mattress from accidents, leaks, spills, dust mites, bacteria and other allergens and irritants. Usually five-sided.
Mattress pad: Quilted pad gives mattresses extra cushion. It can be waterproof but is not always.
Thread count: Thread count or threads per inch is measured by counting the number of threads contained in one square inch or one square centimeter of fabric, including both the length (warp) and width (weft) threads. Thread count should be based on single yarns, not plyed yarns. Generally, the higher the thread count, the silkier and lighter the sheets, but this effect is mitigated if manufacturers use two-ply yarns.
Single-ply: Single, or one-ply, yarns are single strands composed of fibers held together by at least a small amount of twist.
Adapted from glossaries from Gotcha Covered and Leggett & Platt
Julie A. Palm is a writer and editor based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: In this story, we focus on selling protectors, encasements and linens. Pillows really are a category unto themselves. See our January/February 2013 issue at www.sleepsavvymagazine.com for more about tips on selling pillows.