Mattress Toppers Gain Ground

Support, Protection are Key Selling Benefits

Jill Rowen, October 20, 2008

Mattress toppers are having a great season. In the midst of an economic crisis, it seems consumers are looking for ways to revamp their beds without splurging for a new mattress. That mindset has created impressive increases in the category for some vendors, who continue to pursue "benefits-plus" constructions along with mattress pad designs that focus on comfort, wellness and protection.

"Despite the soft economy, the topper business has actually held up fairly well," said Lonnie Scheps, svp, Hudson Industries. "We think that because of the economy, people are buying fewer mattresses and instead rejuvenating them with higher quality toppers. We are ahead of 2007 in this category in double digits."

"The topper business is great," agreed Dan Schecter, vp, Carpenter Co. "Engineered foam toppers have made a huge impact in the market and in the mattress business." According to Schecter, Carpenter has "the widest assortment of the specially constructed toppers in the world which have a high degree of pressure-relieving and comfort attributes." Schecter noted, however, that the more traditional polyester mattress pad business is not faring as well.

"The market is surprisingly strong on the luxury end, perhaps due to consumers staying home more and investing more in a comfortable night's sleep rather than an expensive vacation," noted Chris Ernst, vp, Sleep Studio. "Consumers would rather buy a topper than a new mattress."

Consumers are also buying protectors for their mattresses, to extend their life even from the point of purchase. James Bell, ceo of Protect-A- Bed, notes that the company's line of protection products seems to do well during economic downturns. "We find that our products sell at a higher percentage than mattresses when times are tough. People are looking to protect the mattresses they already have, as well as any new purchases."

The company does the bulk of its business in sleep shops, furniture stores, and in the hospitality and cruise market, but is now looking to extend its coverage into broader home retailing channels.

Among the new goods from Protect-A-Bed is the AllerZip line, which encases a mattress and guards against the bed bugs and mites that can cause allergic reactions.

"A featherbed or 'ultra plush' mattress pad can be a great 'mattress rejuvenator' to a consumer that is hesitant to purchase a high-ticket item in this current economy," said Jyl Davis, marketing director, Downlite. "In addition, mattress pads can also add to the durability and the ultimate in protection for a new mattress buyer."

For Downlite, both protection and comfort have been at the heart of its new offerings. "Mattress pads with Nanotex Stain Release and Repel technology have been a focus for us, as it is an additional added value for extra protection for the mattress," noted Davis. The technology is also available as part of the company's featherbed products, with the addition of a skirt, to keep the featherbed from shifting — a common concern for the product.

Downlite is also offering "seasonal" details in the fiber and fabric of a Reversible Featherbed that will cool the body in the summer and can be flipped in winter for added warmth.

"We have found our multiple zonal designs with varying foam amounts in each zone have found renewed interest nationally," said Scheps. Among Hudson's new introductions is their Polar Foam offered in both pads and pillows. "This new, cooler foam technology is actually proven — in independent tests — to be four times cooler than regular viscose," he said.

Polar Foam is also greener, according to Scheps, as it features an "organic, blended formula to contribute to a lesser carbon footprint."

At Sleep Studio, Ernst reports that support is crucial to consumer concerns in this product category. "We're emphasizing the need for better support," she said. "As toppers get thicker, the need to provide support is vital to avoid sore backs. Also, Sleep Studio is leading the way in reducing the impact on the environment of foam bedding products by using plant-based ingredients that, unlike soy, actually increase the performance and decrease the cost."

The newest product from Louisville Bedding is its Muse line of pillows and pads. The line offers products that fit various "sleep styles." Many Talbert, product development manager, Louisville, noted, "Additionally, we are seeing a huge push in allergen-reduction treatments, eco-friendly designs and improved down alternative fibers."

On external finish notes, Talbert confided that on-trend styles include dobby and jacquards, which continue to play a fashion role in the pad business.

According to Talbert, toppers and mattress pads are "destination" purchases and consumers can be divided into two categories: those looking for comfort and those looking for protection. Many vendors think retailers should reflect that position as they merchandise and set their departments. Schecter believes that retailers who have a dedicated space — separate from commodity products — focused on health and wellness benefits instead of price "are on the right track."

Similarly, Davis noted, "We feel the key is how you present your product to provide a solution that speaks directly to the consumer, and how our solution fits their need. That way, each consumer is offered a custom sleep solution."

Despite the fact that foam toppers are a bright spot in the market, vendors are cognizant of their precarious position in these economic times. "We have a real dilemma, in that foam pricing spiked up over 30% this year — and along with retail softness, we must walk a tightrope to insure our longevity as well as fair retail pricing," said Scheps. "We have seen the No. 1 player file bankruptcy [Sleep Innovations] and we have to be vigilant and equitable to assure everyone we are healthy and we have the uniqueness in product at fair prices to help grow our client's businesses. We are constantly looking for ways to reduce internal costs — and to not compromise any quality issues — to help offset uncontrollable raw material hikes."

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