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Tech Benefits Spur Mattress Pad Sales

Jill Rowen -- Home Textiles Today, October 1, 2007

With the entire world looking for technical fixes, even for non-technical problems, mattress pad manufacturers are heeding the call and delivering high tech solutions and fabrications to restless and sleep-deprived consumers. This array of products with a "functional fix" — promising better sleep, healthy backs and even relief for asthma sufferers — is also starting to deliver higher price points, a plus for margin-focused retailers and manufacturers.

As always, challenges remain in this market. Raw material prices continue to escalate, while retail pressures call for keeping prices the same — or even lower. "It's not pretty," said Dan Schecter, vp sales and marketing, Carpenter Co. "China and its currency issues continue to change and challenge the industry. The cost of cotton and world consumption, the loss of manufacturing in the U.S., and world oil market — all of these are very different from a year ago."

The bright spot for many manufacturers is the higher-end benefits category, where products can demand higher price points.

"The 'Better Sleep' promise is rekindling mattress pads," agreed Scott Walters, director, product development, Louisville Bedding. "Products such as a zoned mattress pad that provides more comfort and support at key pressure points, resulting in less tossing and turning, are driving business. Similarly, our foam fusion product that combines the support of convoluted foam with the comfort of visco-elastic, is wildly successful."

"The biggest trend I see is what I call 'sleep therapy'," said Stefan Hunter, marketing director, Down Lite International, which has worked to grow its mattress pad business in the last year.

"The consumer has been beaten to death with the topic of sleeping health needs, so products that address those needs are critical," said Hunter. "At our recent market week, we segmented consumers into three mattress pad buyer segments: protection, performance, and rejuvenation. Our retailers really loved this approach and it opened additional doors for us in the mattress pad business."

According to Hunter, Down Lite also differentiates itself in the category with "exclusive bells and whistles," such as SureGrip skirting material, MemoryGel polyester fill, and Cool Touch fabric.

"Anything with a 'tech' benefit is doing well in mattress pads," said Amy Webster, vp, Basic Bedding, Hollander. The firm is extending its success with its asthma-friendly pillow (which carries a certification from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) to the mattress pad category. The product is already in one mid-tier retailer, and will be in another as well as the specialty retailer channel in the coming months.

"One design trend that is impacting our business is the form and function in our new overlays," said Schecter. "We do a lot of business in Europe, where they do not use innerspring mattresses as much. They use foams to create what many consider to be the most healthful sleep surfaces in the world. Using different foams and constructions, these beds fit and support the body specific to individual need. We have scaled down these high-tech sleep surfaces to a 3-inch, over-the-mattress sleep system, while losing none of the effectiveness."

At Natura World, Ralph Rossdeutscher, president, noted that the company's organic offerings speak to the wellness benefits of mattress pads, but they have also added a number of special-function products. The company continues to do well with its aloe-infused mattress topper, designed to provide a skin-soothing treatment to sleepers. Meanwhile, its 100% cotton Comfort Plus Topper is designed to reduce tossing and turning.

While the solutions market creates interest in the mattress pad category, Fritz Kruger, senior vp, marketing, Pacific Coast Feather warns not to forget that the basics of the category still matter more: "This is a less trend-sensitive category and the solutions area is great for creating interest, but fit, quality and performance remain key. The consumer is looking at all the products, saying, 'yes, but does it fit?' "

According to Webster, the array of value-added products definitely allow for higher price points. Hollander's asthma-friendly mattress pad sells for about $79.99. Likewise, Hunter at Down Lite reported prices ranges in their lines go from $19.99 to $99.99.

"Consumers are trading up," agreed Chris Ann Ernst, vp, Sleep Studio. She noted that once consumers experience the benefits, they become more savvy about what they want, and less price-conscious. The company's 2-inch memory foam enhancer is overtaking its 1-and-a-half-inch product, for instance, as people look for more comfort and luxury.

Another area garnering attention is product packaging. Spurred by the green movement, and the logistics of merchandising such bulky products at retail, most manufacturers are looking for solutions to the issue.

"We're taking a good look at packaging," said Kruger. "But we need to sort out fact from fiction to deliver the best solution. Packaging has to deliver on being transportable, protective, and good to merchandise and market."

According to Bob Hickman, svp, sales and marketing, United Feather and Down, the company is poised to present new packaging that is earth-friendlier in spring '08. One of its greener mattress pad products is its Nature's Touch brand, which incorporates Lyocell, a plant fiber.

"Packaging is also an important topic for us and our customers," noted Hunter. "Many of our customers are doing private-label programs and the packaging has to be stellar — it's one of the reasons we have a team of four full-time folks just in packaging."

And the future?

"I would speculate that as you see the consumer confidence shakeup, the purchase of new beds will dip and mattress pads and bed toppers will increase," said Hunter. "We used to show eight feather and fiber beds and a dozen mattress pads — now we show three and six surefire hits and buyers love them."

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