Can You Feel The Shift?

Can You Feel The Shift?

 When I started in this industry as a manufacturing rep I was told how important the brand was. We were given studies that demonstrated the consumer awareness of our brand and then we were taught how to leverage that with the retailer for more real estate. We convinced those retailers that if they didn’t advertise that blue butterfly, then they wouldn’t get the foot traffic into their store, nor would they be able to sell the higher priced products.  Private label was around, mostly at Sears, and of course you had many trade brands ready to be brought in to fill the $299-$699 price points leaving the higher end, profitable stuff to the major “S” brands. But that’s changing.

What does the mattress brand mean today? Tempur-Pedic has taught us that it isn’t about brand awareness; it’s about brand preference.  A consumer simply knowing your brand name isn’t enough anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly doesn’t hurt that people are familiar with your brand as it builds trust, but is it as important as it used to be? There are many examples of retailers out there going gangbusters without the “S” brands on their floor and more trying because of the increased margin that typically comes with private label or trade brand products. (Think Bob O Pedic, Hampton and Rhodes, Hotel Collections.) You have the e-commerce guys like Tuft and Needle and Casper showing everyone in this industry that a non-branded product, coming from nowhere, can deliver sales. Lot’s of sales. So what’s changed? Are brands becoming less important today? Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject:

darwin quote Can You Feel The Shift?

  1.  Be somebody or be nobody, the consumer could care less because SOMEONE will fill the void you leave. Most bedding brands don’t stand for much of anything today. Don’t believe me? Take a poll of just 5 people working for one of these branded companies and ask them what their brand stands for. What do you want to bet that you get 5 different answers, and these are the people that are supposed to know! Try that test with the rsa or even worse the consumer and see what you get? By definition, what is a Posturepedic, or a Perfect Sleeper, or a Beautyrest? Are they driving preference that causes consumers to swing the retail door? (If they are it’s not a lot according to the research I have seen and the conversations I have had with large retailers.) At least Tempur-Pedic has made it crystal clear to their audience who they are. Their brand represents the very best memory foam beds you can buy because you don’t want innersprings that are bad for you. Wait; never mind. Sorry Tempur that was a cheap shot but you earned it. At least Tempur does spend the money and drive traffic to store doors in a meaningful way so you guys deserve some credit for sure. You definitely changed our industry for the better.
  2. Information is power and the internet has changed everything. Back in the day a consumer would decide they needed a new bed, maybe ask their friends and family about what they should get, look in the paper, and set off to get that grudge purchase over with. Nowadays, the consumer has access to the internet and reviews. Tuft and Needle for example claims they have the “highest rated mattress in the world.” Do you think a consumer might give that a little bit of consideration? They might visit or another review site and learn that many brands they are not familiar with rank higher than the brands they know. Think about it. If you were in the market for a new television, would you buy something that was unfamiliar to you but had really great reviews from consumers? Reviews that were even better than Sony? I bet you would if prices were competitive and I bet you REALLY would if their prices were better. That is exactly how Visio launched into the market and now they have four of the top ten selling televisions. They broke down the wall with very competitive prices and backed that up by delivering on the promise to the consumer. It is happening in the mattress segment in a very similar way.
  3. Just because you say your product is special DON’T MAKE IT SO. Sorry for the bad grammar but I like that way that sounds. I know that the manufacturing side isn’t going to like this but let me explain. When you get right down to it as it relates to roughly 90% of the business, what differentiates one bed from another? Let’s be very honest with one another, they are mostly made of springs, foam, gel, ticking and some latex here and there. Just about everyone is buying components from the same supplier base and when there is a difference in a foam configuration or a coil construction it is often something that is done just to give the bedding producer a small edge or way to differentiate their story. Is there really a SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE from one $599 bed to the next? How about at the $1,000 price point? How about $3,000? Be careful how you answer because we all know that most of what is talked about (if it is even brought up at the point of sale), is so small that it isn’t really considered to be sigelevant by the consumer. (Don’t know that word? It’s what you get when you fuse significant and relevant into one word; I just made it up-BAM.)  If there was a compelling difference, don’t you think the market share battle would look a little different? When everyone says their foam is cooler/more responsive, and their beds are more comfortable, who really stands out? Do you realize that just about EVERY foundation sold in the industry is exactly they same and by that I mean it has no function other than to fill space and as a result, does nothing to add value. Just about everybody is using a wood build up or even better, something with steel in it, but they all just fill space don’t they? How is it that just about the entire industry is comfortable being just like everybody else when it comes to 50% of the mattress set? (I have been writing about this issue since 2011 so check that out HERE.) Even in the luxury segment of the business everyone says “hand crafted”, they call out some cool exotic raw material, and promise the consumer that these beds are “just different. “ Here is your checklist to become a luxury brand these days…one part hand crafted “story”, one part unusual component not found in $1,000 beds, one part promise of quality, one part expensive ticking and you have yourself a “luxury bed”. My brother Jeff and I have partnered with the Ellman brothers at Sherwood Bedding to produce our new Spink and Edgar products which will launch in the next 60 days. I will put the Sherwood branded products, their state of the art factories, and innovative manufacturing techniques up against any major “S” brand in the industry.  When the consumer sees that kind of quality, the major “S” brand is likely to be much less relevant. It happens all the time where they share floors. Pound for pound and price for price, I will take a Sherwood mattress any day because the consumer gets more bang for the buck and retailers make more money. THERE IS NO MAGIC for most of the products out there, which is what opens the door for others to enter the market. You know if I am being that hard on branded products we had better bring something very special with Spink and Edgar and I promise we will with the product AND the story so stay tuned.
  4. Show me an industry with commodity products and big margins and I will show you an industry that is ripe for disruption.  It happened with eye glasses thanks to Warby Parker, it happened with razor blades thanks to Dollar Shave Club, and it is happening to the mattress industry right now thanks to Tuft and Needle , Casper , and Saatva among others. A consumer wants to believe that they can get something just as good as the leader for much less money. This is the story that factory directs like Original Mattress have told for years and now these e-commerce brands are putting their own spin on it and serving it up digital style. The big difference in what Original Mattress does to what these other guys are doing is that Original makes great products.  If other factory direct concepts were as good as Ron Trzcinski and his team at telling the story, that model would have done better nation wide. Some (NOT ALL), of these internet beds are nothing special and the rude awakening is going to come when the very thing that brought them this far is going to bite them in the butt…the consumer review. How is it possible that we are getting invaded by these young start-ups? Go back to the rest of this post and you will find the answer. Brands that have lost their way, consumers have access to good information, and most of the products out there are easy to knock off.
  5. Just because you have a big stick, doesn’t mean that you have to whack people over the head with it. The big 4 are now the big two and when all of that consolidation started to happen, the concern from the retailers out there was that the larger companies would have too much leverage and the smaller guys would be stuck getting whatever they were handed from the manufactures. One of the things I loved about Ed Lilly, the past CEO at Serta, Inc., was his passion in helping retailers drive their business. One of the slides we had in our marketing presentation said, “We help our retail partners find creative solutions to complex problems.” Is that happening today like it used to? Is there a real partnership out there or are the programs just force-fed to the retailers? Is the service level from the branded producer exceeding or even meeting the expectation of the retailer? Have retailers voiced these concerns and if so, has anyone done anything to improve it? I close out my comments with this one. If the other four points I have made in this blog are true, and then you add in the fact that the perception by some is that the big two are not treating the retailers all that great; there is a problem, and the solutions are all over the place.

I know that there are exceptions to some of the points that I am making here but can you really argue with the sum total of what I am saying? If I were a retailer today I would hold the major brands accountable for the same margin as any non consumer branded product UNLESS they could prove to me that they bring traffic into my stores or that their product was truly unique and compelling in some way. Short of that, they have a very thin argument to charge any premium for their products. A retailer can build value in whatever they want if they train their people properly and educate the consumer during the selling process. (My good buddy Brian Croft at Joplimo Mattress has it figured out and others are doing it every day.)  If you don’t have a consumer brand, just be sure to deliver more value for the money with product/service and story, and make sure your brand reputation on line is solid, and you can compete!

Did I get it wrong? Let’s have a healthy debate!

PS Yes my opinion is strong and yes the conclusion of my thinking here benefits my business partners Sherwood and our new venture Spink and Edgar, but that doesn’t make me wrong.

These are just my opinions so nothing here is “GOSPEL”. Look around for yourself, investigate what is necessary, talk to retailers and consumers out there and if you arrive at a different conclusion please draft a response and you can guest blog right here on Q’s Views.





Sleep Train Raises over $1 Million For Foster Kids

I have been to some really great charity events over the last few decades in the mattress industry and the Sleep Train Charity Golf Classic was no exception. As a matter of fact it was without a doubt one of the best golf tournaments I have ever been to. The swag kit was terrific with my new free pair of sunglasses and stylish golf shirt, the cigar tent was a nice touch handing out stogies, cutters and fire for all that were interested, and of course the beer service. You didn’t have to wait for a cart to roll around, they had coolers full of your favorite frosty beverages on almost every hole! But the best part of it all was the reason behind it.

Dale Carlsen and his wife Katie have been helping foster kids in the Sacramento area for at least the last 10 years with programs like their Ticket To Dream foundation. The money raised helps provide essential items like shoes and school supplies. In addition, the money supports transition programs into post secondary educations or independent living. There are 542,000 children in foster care on any given day in the United States and 66% of those kids leave foster care without a high school degree. They deserve something better and thanks to the entire Sleep Train organization and the mattress industry, they are getting it.

IMG 8855 1024x768 Sleep Train Raises over $1 Million For Foster Kids

It was a HOMECOMING theme. Meet the Zombie Cheerleaders and costume winners.

My hat is off to the Serta/Simmons and Tempur/Sealy groups for paying $155,000 for a three day ski trip in Deer Valley with Steve Stagner and Dale Carlsen to raise a total of $310,000 with just one auction item. I am guessing the two groups will be going at different times but if I was Steve and Dale, why not bring them all on the same trip and have a downhill bump run/race to see who pays for the trip? Just a suggestion. You could then Go Pro the whole thing and sell access to the video/crashes to raise more money. That is another drop the mic, walk off of the stage idea right there. Maybe not, I guess they will have to decide.

Many thanks to Brian Baxter and the other leaders and volunteers of this event. Dale is a class act on so many levels and it is obvious when you are around this group for any period of time. They make it a lot of fun for everyone attending and create some much needed awareness about foster children and the struggles they face. I know I will never look at that the same way again and will be there for Dale whenever I can to support what they are doing. Excellent job to all!

IMG 8848 1024x768 Sleep Train Raises over $1 Million For Foster Kids

Wendy Pederson (NBC), Me, Dale Carlsen (Sleep Train), Mike Oars (NBC), Marisa Moore (NBC), and Mike Wilson (Sleep Train)












When Price Rules The Day

Dave Perry, Executive Bedding Editor for Furniture Today wrote a good article in their September 14th edition. It was titled “Lowball Labor Day Prices Suggest Sleep Is Cheap”, and in it Dave points out all of the screaming deals that were available over the holiday. This is not the first time Dave has written about this subject nor will it be his last because he has a good point. The question on the table is do we as an industry focus too much of our time and attention on the price of our products, versus the benefits they deliver?

 When Price Rules The Day

 Here is what I know. When we as an industry focus our attention on price, the consumer does the same. Per Dave’s article we saw free box springs, $1.99 pillows, twin sets for $109, and just about every sale going announced 50-60% off. The expectation we set for the consumer is clear. We hook them on price and then leave it up to the retail sales associate to get them off of price and re-focused on what really matters. We put a lot on those rsa’s don’t you think?

 The easy solution here is to simply focus some larger percentage of our retail messaging on the great things our products can do for the consumer. Stop beating people over the head with low price promises and instead, bring them in on value added offers. Communicate the emotional side of what we do like how sleeping better can improve their looks, help them lose weight, and provide them with a more positive attitude which can ultimately lead to all kinds of great things.  How realistic is this?

 It’s simple for me to say “get a way from price advertising” because I have never owned a retail store, been in charge of marketing for a retail store, or even worked for a mattress retailer. We have to be careful not to hit the easy button on this issue. I’m not saying we shouldn’t push, but I am eager to learn more about this from the retail perspective so I am reaching out to you, the Q’s Views audience.

 What happens to retail traffic when you stray from the 50% off approach? What non-price theme works the best? Why is it that more retail ads don’t even offer a slight hint of the product benefits? Isn’t there room to do both? What are the real challenges with that approach?

When I think about this logically I come to the conclusion that “benefit based selling” doesn’t really work in advertising. Then I hear about people like Jeff  Giagnocavo who does great in his retail business and never mentions price. Normally I try to present a problem with some hint of a solution baked into the post. Not today. I want to hear from you so give it to us straight; what has to happen to get this industry focused on the things that really matter to the consumer? Other than price of course.

In A Minute

My sister-in-law Romina is on her first boat ride. Ever. They are cruising along the lake about 35 miles per hour and the water starts to get rough. They crash against one wave, then another. As she sits in the bow of the boat she slams down against the railing and shatters her L1 vertebrae. Life changes for her in a minute.

After a very intense surgery where they removed a few ribs and reconstruct her with rod and wire she is doing better. She can walk but needs constant care so she has moved in with my family so that we can take care of her and get her back to her normal self. My wife Bridget stays home to care for our family so we are fortunate that she can now ad her sister to the group that she looks after. Thank God for my wife, she is a rock star.

 In A Minute

All of this to remind you to take some inventory today. Be thankful for all that you have and whatever you do, don’t take your health for granted. The fact that you can walk, take a shower by yourself, tie your shoes, and enjoy a day outside is a BIG DEAL. Don’t believe me, ask someone who can’t.  Make sure that you are caring for your friends and family because you never know when you are going to need to depend on them and if they need you, be the first to offer help because even though it will disrupt your life for a while, what you get back is well worth it. Romina is doing great, our relationship with her is deeper than it has ever been, and she is going to make a full recovery.

Every night my kids and I pray in thanksgiving for each other and the blessings in our life. I hope you are doing the same. I am grateful that I am grateful.

PS ….To my wife…it is impossible to put into words how I feel about you but watching you give up your life to make sure that your sister is doing well just affirms why I fell in love with you to begin with. I am so glad that our kids have you to learn from.



Does Spink and Edgar Pass The Test?

It is easy to spend time talking about the 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing but a little tougher to look at your own company through those filters. Does your business measure up when looking at it through those 22 different lenses? I won’t cover all 22 but let me see if our new bedding brand Spink and Edgar stands up to the test.

Law Of Leadership says be first in a category and if you can’t, then create your own category and be first in it.  We certainly are not the first mattress or even the first hybrid. We are however, going to be the first “”farm to bedroom” product out there so I guess you could say we did in fact create our own category.

Farm Sheep staring sky 841x1024 Does Spink and Edgar Pass The Test?

The Spink and Edgar Sheep

Law Of The Mind says be the first in the mind of the consumer when they think about your category and Spink and Edgar will certainly be that. Because we have created our own category we have an advantage, but we will go further than just “farm to bedroom” and work on being first in the “natural” category as well. I have been in the industry a long time and the only company that really stood out there is now gone so I like our chances.

Law Of Opposites says that you shouldn’t try to just be better, be different. I am guessing that 98% of the mattresses sold in the market today have foam in them. Some are hybrid and use springs and some are simply all foam, but VERY FEW have all natural materials. If a consumer is in a store and they want to spend some money on a great sleep system, Spink and Edgar will be a terrific option at the top end. Today, Tempur-Pedic does a nice job of selling big ticket mattresses but there is great news coming for the rsa that likes those big commissions that come along with selling big tickets. They will now have a product that can actually take the consumer UP market from Tempur-Pedic thanks to the comfort and story of Spink andEdgar. There is no need to sell against Tempur-Pedic because we are going to be the exact opposite from them, giving the rsa another option on the high end.

The Law Of Unpredictability says that unless you write your competitors business plan you can’t predict the future. It also says that you need to be able to react to things when they happen. The good news for us is we have four people making decisions on behalf of Spink and Edgar and the most complex problem we have had so far took us no time to figure out. The benefit many new companies have is that they are small and agile. Speed is a very good thing when you are up against much larger companies with lots of overhead, middle managers and processes that slow things down. Sound familiar anyone?

 The Law Of Success says that large egos cause even larger problems. The Ellman’s have been very successful in the mattress industry and the Quinn brothers have also done pretty well along the way. Spink and Edgar is a new venture for us all and we know that we have a lot of work to do and that no past success can ensure future success.  We understand that we need to work hard and earn our way in with every retail buyer, retail sales associate and consumer. We fully respect the fact that it will require 110% to make this venture work and we are committed to doing what it takes. We will not take our customers for granted as so many brands do today, and we will value every relationship.

The Law Of Hype says that many situations are the opposite of how they are actually presented. The great thing about Spink and Edgar is that there will be no hype, only truth. I think one of the big problems in this industry is that companies allow themselves to go over the top in how they market their products to compensate for their own lack of creativity. If you don’t have anything relevant then beat the drum louder and maybe somebody will notice. Can you think of a few product features out there that are just marketing BS with no real consumer benefit or testing behind the claims that are being made?

That is a quick review of where Spink and Edgar is when compared to the laws I have been talking about. It was fun for me to read this book as there are many things in it that we need to be paying attention to in this industry. I was also able to check myself a few times as a result of the book to make sure we are on the right track. I think we are and I hope you do also once you see our products!