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Trading Up is Key for Mattress Pad Makers

Category Contenders are Updating Materials, Constructions — and Packaging

Jill Rowen -- Home Textiles Today, November 13, 2006

The trend toward high-tech product innovation continues to lead the mattress pad industry. This category is updating materials and constructions to convince retailers to go bigger and better in size and function, and luring consumers to trade up.

As in most bedding categories, pricing is the elephant in the room with vendors forced to deal with rising raw material costs at every level. Despite these cost concerns, the wide range of user benefits attributed to new mattress pad construction is surprising. While "luxury" is a feature call-out and product position that still markets well, more of the emphasis in this category currently comes from comfort and wellness concerns.

Getting the Message Out

The new question is how to get the consumer to notice.

"There is a huge boomer population with disposable income that needs to sleep better," said Lonnie Scheps, vp, Hudson Industries, adding that the company's foam products have had a banner year. But while price sensitivity is real, this market is still willing to pay for a better product, he said.

"We've seen a trend of customers trading up in mattress pads for the last few years," observed Jeff Hollander, Hollander Home Fashions. "The best selling mattress pad at Wal-Mart is not its opening price point product. Consumers have been waiting for and wanting better-performing mattress pads."

"We've always sold functionality — but customers are much more concerned about what we're saying," according to Michael Guidry, vp, American Textiles. "We can be our own worst enemy as an industry. We shouldn't discount the value of the products and how much consumers are willing to pay."

According to Guidry, American Textiles has seen a growing trend toward constructions focused on managing temperature for personal comfort in mattress pads.

Educating Consumers

Ample evidence points to a marketplace where new product information is a welcome, sought-after commodity.

"We've done research that shows consumers go shopping for mattress pads with few expectations," said Fritz Kruger, senior vp, Pacific Coast Feather. "But they are usually impressed with the choices and benefits of what's available — and are willing to trade up if it promises to better their sleeping experience."

Dan Schecter, Carpenter Co., agreed that bright spots in the market are to be found in value-added features that provide consumers tangible benefits. "As an industry, we have to continue to support the category with good research and development," he asserted.

Two areas of interest for Carpenter are its Ambient line of mattress pads designed to increase oxygen flow to the body; and its Isotonic line of foam mattress pads with thickness of 1.25 to 2 inches.

For specialty manufacturers like Natura World, which specializes in all-natural, organic products, the company believes that its "benefits" market has kept it out of the pricing wars fought at opening price points. "We've had our best month ever," reported Ralph Rossdeutscher, president. "Our customers will pay more for natural because they know it costs more to produce. Still, we're very reasonably priced with our mattress pads, ranging from $39.99 to $250.99."

Natura World markets a variety of wool products. According to Rossdeutscher, sleeping on wool reduces tossing and turning; heart rates are more stable and babies have been found to cry less.

While "natural" is an often-used buzzword, Rossdeutscher reports retailers are very slow in embracing the trend in a real way. "We've had discussions with some retailers, but they are only inching toward this category," he noted.

Focus on Branding

The array of benefits offered in mattress pads may seem hard to navigate for consumers. But Chris Ernst, vp, Sleep Studio, sees it as an opportunity. "We're really focusing on branding our products," she said. "It's high time that we believe enough in this category to begin branding products. It's a natural extension of where the category is at currently." Ernst says that increased advertising (including a new logo) and continuing focus on packaging and signage are planned.

From Sleep Studio, the newest offering is the next-generation mattress pads line, branded ViscO2 for its core memory foam product. Geared to those wanting more function, it offers a mattress pad with more ventilation through open-cell construction, coupled with charcoal to keep it fresh.

Pacific Coast Feather carries the Sealy license in mattress pads, and stands by the benefits of a strong brand. "Consumers are definitely influenced by brands that are relevant to the category," said PCF's Kruger. "By the same token, they are very skeptical of brands that don't have a solid base in the industry."

Schecter agrees that marketing plays a big role in educating consumers about mattress pads as well as pillows, and ultimately getting them to trade up. The newly revamped Carpenter Company website, www.sleepbetter.org, is going live Nov.15, conceived to add new energy and focus to this supplier's campaign to educate consumers on sleep issues and solutions.

Merchandising to Sell

That's another reason Scheps at Hudson likes to sell mattress pads and bedding through mail-order catalogs. "There is much more opportunity to explain the benefits of the product in a catalog. You can't rely on an in-store setting to launch a new product," he said.

Many echo the difficulty in merchandising a mostly white, bulky product at retail, but suggest a few simple improvements for retailers: keeping the department neat and clean; having a sales staff that understands the product; and having a reasonable but not overwhelming assortment.

For themselves, it's all about the packaging. For the few seconds that a customer scans the shelves or bins, the packaging has to be clear, educational, but not too word-heavy. Throw in a small sample for shoppers to touch and feel — and you may actually have a sale.

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