An effortless experience—whether online or in-person—is the goal for this omni-channel retailer
BY JULIE A. PALM
PHOTOGRAPHY PROVIDED BY US-MATTRESS
US-Mattress, one of the earliest and one of the most successful online sellers of mattresses, is expanding its brick-and-mortar presence, recently adding two new stores—for a total of five in its headquarters state of Michigan—and planning for more.
The expansion strategy fits with the company’s belief that retail is quickly moving into a new realm, one where merchants sell to consumers through multiple channels and aren’t defined by distinctions like “online retailer” and “brick-and-mortar store.” “US-Mattress is simply a retailer making it easier for consumers to buy mattresses and other sleep products how they want, where they want and when they want,” says Joe Nashif, president of the Brighton, Michigan-based retailer and parent company Mattress USA.
“I wouldn’t characterize us as e-commerce or brick-and-mortar,” Nashif says. “It’s the trend in retail today: Macy’s is closing stores and investing in e-commerce; e-commerce companies like Warby Parker are looking to open stores. We fit under that model. The whole landscape of retail is changing to the notion of omni-channel. The consumer likes to be able to shop anywhere.”
Whether selling online or in-store, US-Mattress’ goal is to provide a good value (the retailer’s website advertises sales prominently), a vast mattress selection and helpful customer service. “We want to offer a good price for the value, but price is just one piece of the puzzle,” Nashif says. “We also want to offer a great selection of leading brands and good customer service all the way through to delivery. It’s about balancing all those pieces.”
It started with stoves—then Sealy
Nashif got his start in retail about 15 years ago when he launched the online appliance store US-Appliance.com.
“The idea began in 1999 while I was working my day job at General Motors,” says Nashif, who held a variety of management positions at the automaker. “I had entrepreneurial interests and was thinking about businesses I might start. Around that time, the Internet was really starting to get going, so I was running through different ideas of what I could sell online.”
Nashif considered everything from cigars to golf clubs before settling on appliances and launching a website. He ventured into mattresses after one of the appliance manufacturer’s reps Nashif worked with introduced him to a Sealy dealer. Those two teamed up to test a mattress site, US-Mattress.com, which spun off into its own company in 2001. By 2005, the mattress enterprise was successful enough for Nashif to sell US-Appliance.com, leave his job at GM and devote himself full time to US-Mattress.
US-Mattress.com, which promotes itself as “America’s #1 online retailer,” says it has served more than a quarter-million customers. It started with Sealy and built its business on strong relationships with it and other leading mattress manufacturers, Nashif says.
“We feel very fortunate that the majors decided early on to partner with us,” he says. “If you think back to 2000 and 2001, pretty much no one was selling these products online. I have to give a lot of credit to Sealy, Serta, Simmons and Spring Air for partnering and testing the e-commerce waters with us. These have been mutually beneficial partnerships over the years.”
The retailer later added products from solid regional producers and licensing groups, including Corsicana and Restonic, as well as specialty and luxury brands such Aireloom, Natura, Stearns & Foster, Tempur-Pedic and Vispring.
“We still do a lot of business with the majors, but in recent years, we’ve been complementing those brands with others,” Nashif says. “We are always open and looking. We can’t carry every brand, but we try to find the right partners who will add something unique that customers want.”
US-Mattress.com also sells a wide assortment of pillows, protectors, sheets, comforters and other top-of-bed linens from Eastern Accents, Northwest Co., Matouk, Sealy, Sferra and Simmons. And though the retailer’s name is US-Mattress, online shoppers also will find a large selection of furniture on its site.
Making online shopping easy
US-Mattress gives shoppers multiple ways to narrow their mattress choices when browsing its website: by size, price, sleeping position, brand, popularity and comfort level. The retailer believes in the value of information to shoppers, and its website lists myriad details about each mattress—everything from the type of foams in quilt and comfort layers to coil counts to overall dimensions. Will a certain mattress work with an adjustable base? The site tells you. What’s the length of the manufacturer’s warranty? US-Mattress.com lists it.
Product reviews by US-Mattress employees, called “Expert Reviews” on the site, provide more guidance to shoppers, in plain language: “I recommend the queen size of this mattress to couples who are looking to keep their cost down, while still getting a decent mattress for their money,” writes employee Jed of an entry-level Simmons BeautySleep model that recently was on sale through the website for $364. Of a Vispring model at the other end of the pricing scale, an employee review tells shoppers the $49,995 mattress is “one of the most luxurious mattresses found anywhere it the world … While the high price tag won’t appeal to everyone, the Masterpiece Vicuña doesn’t disappoint if you are willing to splurge.” The longer reviews by US-Mattress don’t take the place of customer reviews, which also are featured on the website.
About three years ago, the retailer introduced short videos that function much like a retail sales associate does in a brick-and-mortar store: US-Mattress employees explain the features, benefits and sometimes even drawbacks of each mattress, often while rest-testing the beds themselves. The videos are packed with information, but the tone is kept chatty and accessible.
At any time during the research or shopping process, consumers can ask questions or get more information by calling a toll-free number, sending an email, checking an extensive “frequently asked questions” section or engaging a customer service representative by using a “live chat” feature.
“We’ve invested a lot to have good, solid information available to help people make the right purchase and we offer great assistance throughout the process,” Nashif says. “Through phone, email, chat—however the customer wants to communicate—we’re available to help.”
A 30-day price-matching guarantee and 100-day exchange policy help give online shoppers confidence in their purchases. (Mattress sales are nonrefundable, but consumers can exchange their mattress within 100 days of delivery for a $99 processing fee.)
“Some of these tools and features are becoming industrywide, but we were the first to do many of them,” Nashif says. “We were the first to break out and show all the product specifications. Today, that’s commonplace, but we were the first to provide that information to help people better understand the differences between mattresses. We were also the first to offer a comfort-exchange guarantee on a remote delivery. We pioneered that. Our feeling was that we were selling from Michigan, but we needed to stand behind that purchase wherever the mattress was delivered.”
In-store mirrors online
While 95% of US-Mattress’ sales come through the website, the retailer is committed to having physical stores—all part of that idea of allowing the consumer to shop in a way that’s most convenient and comfortable.
“We have a marketing presence through our online efforts that translates well into a retail setting, and we know there are people who like to touch and feel the product,” Nashif says. “It was just a natural extension to take our offering and bring it into a retail setting.”
US-Mattress opened its first store in 2003 and now has five locations in the Michigan cities of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Plymouth, Southfield and West Bloomfield. The Bloomfield and Southfield stores opened this fall. (The company also owns Carolina Rustica, a high-end furniture store in Concord, North Carolina, that carries US-Mattress brands.)
Over the past couple of years, US-Mattress has given its older locations a makeover so that colors, merchandising and point-of-purchase materials at all stores reflect the retailer’s online image. “We are trying to represent who we are online in the store,” Nashif says. “We want to come across as being contemporary—not too serious, but not too frivolous.” Stores are uncluttered, open and airy, with limited signage and point-of-purchase materials. Each bed is shown with the same headboard for a uniform look. Though the website also sells furniture, US-Mattress stores focus on mattresses and basic sleep accessories, such as pillows and protectors.
US-Mattress favors strip malls for its stores, which range from about 3,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet and floor between 30 and 50 models. The company’s Comfort Scale is as important in-store as it is online. Each location prominently displays a section of beds grouped together and numbered “1” through “10” to illustrate the various comfort levels available throughout the store. After helping a shopper find her preferred comfort level, an RSA can then show her other models with the same comfort rating.
The retailer isn’t afraid of shoppers “showrooming” in its stores. In fact, it’s not uncommon for an RSA to walk a consumer over to a store computer monitor to look at other models available on US-Mattress.com—after all, it offers thousands of choices. “A customer in our store doesn’t have to pull out their phone to see how this mattress compares at another retailer,” Nashif says. “We’re extending the transparency of our website into the stores. We’ll pull up our website and even competitors’ websites to compare models and prices. The goal is to find the right product for the customer for the right price.”
Stores are staffed by a manager and a small number of RSAs, all overseen by a sales manager. The data-driven retailer gives employees extensive training in both brands and individual products, as well as an education in company culture. “We emphasize a low-pressure sales environment,” Nashif says. “We’re not pressing people to buy before they walk out the door.” The combination of high levels of information and low-pressure sales tactics help gives US-Mattress stores a close rate of about 60%, the company says.
Though an online pioneer, US-Mattress is fairly traditional when it comes to marketing its stores: Its website serves as a key advertising vehicle for the physical locations, but the retailer also places ads on TV and in print. Marketing messages echo those online: wide selection, good value, friendly staff.
No rest for the retailer
Nashif doesn’t expect the two newly opened stores to be the company’s last, though he doesn’t want to rush the expansion.
“I foresee opening more stores in metro Detroit. In the next several years, we could have 15 to 20 stores in Michigan,” he says. “And, because of our online marketing presence, I think we can go into other markets, too. We know we have something. Consumers are responding positively to our stores when they shop.”
As for the website, it’s constantly changing: Gone are the days of major website redesigns and relaunches every few years. “For us, it’s a perpetual, ongoing optimization of the site,” Nashif says. “We are always evaluating performance.”
And that, in essence, is the business model US-Mattress follows: constant advancement to best serve its customers. “I think the challenge is that retail is always evolving and always competitive,” Nashif says. “That never ends, and that’s why we need to keep evolving, too.”
When it comes to sales tools, retailer’s Comfort Scale is a ‘10’
A key to US-Mattress’ success has been its Comfort Scale, a 10-point comfort-rating system the retailer has used from the beginning to help consumers understand the feel of a particular mattress. It helped solve a problem that comes with selling online—people can’t rest-test a bed before purchasing it. But the scale has become such a reliable sales tool, it’s used to categorize every mattress the retailer sells, whether online or in its expanding stable of brick-and-mortar stores.
The scale—which measures comfort only, not support—uses simple, consumer-friendly language instead of industry-speak to describe the 10 levels. “We tried to put descriptions in terms that people would understand,” says Joe Nashif, president of the Brighton, Michigan-based retailer and parent company Mattress USA. “It’s intuitive for people to use. They instinctually know the difference between a ‘2’ and an ‘8’.”
More detailed descriptions give shoppers an even better idea of what they can expect from mattresses at every level. To wit, a mattress with a “1” rating is “designed for sleepers who are looking for the firmest mattress possible. If you enjoy a rigid feeling of support with very little cushioning, then a mattress with a rating of ‘1’ is a good idea for you,” the retailer tells consumers.
Or, “if you have no problem sleeping comfortably on your living room floor, and you don’t wake up with aches and pains, then a mattress with a Comfort Scale rating of ‘2’ would be ideal for you,” says the company, injecting a bit of humor into the shopper’s decision-making process.
At the other end of the scale are most of the plush and pillow-top mattresses that US-Mattress sells: “Do you find yourself trying to increase the softness of your current mattress with a down mattress pad? Do you love the way a waterbed feels? If so, then a mattress with a Comfort Scale rating of ‘7’ to ‘9’ would be ideal for you. These beds are very soft.”
Online shoppers are encouraged to use the scale to shop for mattresses across brands, but also can click on a specific brand to see how all the mattresses it offers are rated. In US-Mattress stores, shoppers are greeted by a display of 10 beds that demonstrate the feel of all 10 levels of the Comfort Scale. Once they find the number that feels best for them, they can investigate other mattresses on the floor with the same rating.
To ensure consistency, the retailer doesn’t rely on mattress makers to classify their beds; US-Mattress employees evaluate every new mattress and place it on the scale. “We do the ranking internally with a small team because we know our system best and how to apply the scale to individual mattresses,” Nashif says. “A ‘5’ Beautyrest has the same comfort level as a ‘5’ Posturepedic.”
RAISING FUNDS FOR FURRY MICHIGANDERS BUILDS GOOD WILL
Though US-Mattress has thrived in the geographically limitless world of the Internet, the company is firmly rooted in Michigan and dedicated to making it a better place.
For seven years, the retailer’s charitable efforts have been directed toward the Michigan Humane Society. US-Mattress serves as a corporate sponsor and has donated some $300,000 to the animal charity. In addition, the company has a link on its website that allows consumers to donate directly to the charity themselves. There’s a personal connection to the organization, as well. Joe Nashif, president of the Brighton, Michigan-based retailer and parent company Mattress USA, and his wife, Chuu-Lih, have a black cat named Mikki.
It’s not only about giving money. The retailer’s website showcases dogs and cats available for adoption—and gives a free pet bed to anyone who rescues one of the featured animals. US-Mattress also holds regular events—such as pet adoption days and photo contests—all designed to engage pet lovers and raise awareness of the Humane Society’s efforts, while also promoting US-Mattress. “It’s a quality organization,” says Nashif, “and we feel good about what we can contribute to them.
|Leadership||Joe Nashif, president|
|Retail locations||Five stores in the Michigan cities of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Plymouth, Southfield and West Bloomfield|
|Staff||About 100 employees|
|Corporate culture||“We have an informal corporate culture,” Nashif says. “There’s not a lot of micro-management or top-down orders. People are given a lot of responsibility and are encouraged to have a lot of self-direction.”|
|Competition||Online sellers, national furniture and department stores, specialty sleep chains, big boxes, membership clubs and independent sleep shops. “We compete with everybody,” Nashif says. “I don’t think anyone has a lock on the customer. The consumer is looking at all of those options.”|
|Other companies||Parent company Mattress USA has several other retail websites, including CarolinaRustica.com, DayBedDeals.com, FurnitureCrate.com, NameBrandBeds.com, PartySuppliesDelivered.com and TreatChest.com, a subscription candy company.|
Julie A. Palm, chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC, has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor for a variety of newspapers, magazines and other publications. She served as editor in chief of BedTimes for more than nine years and as editor in chief of Sleep Savvy for two years. She can be reached at email@example.com.