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Specialty Features, E-tail Bright Spots for Bed Pillows

New York - The consensus from pillow makers is that business is holding steady with bright spots in the specialty areas, and makers reporting promising increases in their e-tail sales. Usually the jewel in the bedding category, sleep pillows are holding their own considering that price deflation and the sky rocketing cost of raw material is wreaking havoc on the entire home textiles industry.
     Value-added features that guarantee a better night's sleep - everything from relieving snoring to keeping heads cool - are still leading the pack. And even though the bed bug scare may not have directly impacted sales, it is getting people into the bedding section at retail, some report.
     "The foam pillow market is under-performing mostly due to deflation at retail and substandard material used to get to the price," noted Dan Schecter, vp sales and marketing, Carpenter Co. "Value-added products (something other than contour shaped pillows or traditional shaped pillows) show significant growth and are expected to continue on an up curve."
     "The pillow business is generally good. We usually see this during tough economic times," agreed Jeff Chilton, president, Perfect Fit Industries. "[There] is lots of price pressure, though, with rising cotton and polyester costs. We are concentrating on technologies that add consumer benefit without impacting pricing (severely)."
     According to Chilton, one example is the company's Odor-Out technology that eliminates odors. The fabric is coated and odors such as cigarette, pet, cooking and even urine are eliminated.
     "In general, basic bed pillows are "flat"- pardon the pun," said noted Lonnie Scheps, svp, Hudson Industries. "The entire growth of this classification is in specialty bed pillows, and I am happy to report these specialty therapeutic versions in both polyester and memory foam are doing nicely."
     Among the better performing offerings, Scheps said, shapes with varying fills including memory foams addressing side, back or stomach sleepers as very popular right now.

"The pillow business is generally good. We usually see this during tough economic times."
-Jeff Chilton, president,
Perfect Fit Industries

     "Snore reduction remains hot and now, due to an unusual number of new sleep apnea users, C-Pap machine users need specially designed pillows to accommodate these users," he said. "As we had the very first one a few years ago, we have seen more than a 100% pop in this classification. Again, America's issue with obesity has also enhanced interest here as well."
     "Pillows tend to be one of the more stable items always," said Joe Mauer, vp sales, M & Z Marketing. The company has had success with health-benefit features that it tested with ear, nose and throat doctors as well as physical therapists for ailments such as sleep apnea, lower back pain and chronic snoring.
     Another point of agreement for pillow makers - the escalating cost of raw materials, especially cotton. What does differ is what suppliers are doing about it. While some propose passing on price increases, others are changing everything from sourcing to construction to offset the out-of-control costs.
     "We are all facing the same raw material upward pricing increases - especially in cotton," said Chad Alba tier, up, sales and marketing, Downlite. "We are focusing on alternative fabrications in order to maintain costs and retail price points. Some retailers are looking towards higher price points on like items/programs in 2011."
     Added Albaier, "We are continuing to see interest in both construction, fabric, and fill innovation. Marketing 'better/ healthier' sleep is resonating well with retailers and consumers today. Our launch of the Surely Memory at market was very well-received, and this product will be seen in Retail in 2011."
     "[It's] simple. We raise our prices - cost is cost we have no desire to go out of business out of fear of raising prices," noted Schechter. "In order to make quality products cost must be reflected in our selling prices. We have no intention of cheating in size or quality to meet a static retail."
     "Raw material increases (particularly cotton) are always difficult to pass through completely. Retail partners are sharing; everyone is sharing when it gets this dramatic. It's a very difficult situation. We are redesigning many products to eliminate cotton," said Chilton.
     Perfect Fit is also changing the sourcing game book for its company. "We are proud to say we are moving a huge percentage of our business that we had placed in China, back to the U.S.," said Chilton. "We can react quicker and with all the increases, we are surprisingly competitive. We have very good retail partners and the future looks healthy. We are building/ planning one of the largest facilities for pillows in the world, in Monroe, N.C., and are aggressively pursuing new business."
     "We look at alternative options (be it logistical, materials, packaging, etc.) to see where we can capture new opportunities, where we can help reduce or eliminate cost - all without sacrificing the quality and value of our products," said Mandy Talbert, brand and communications manager, Louisville Bedding. "We work every day to maintain and absorb as much of the increase as we can and fortunately to date, we've been able to do so."
     "We're looking at expanding our sourcing to other countries outside of China and from a product perspective, we're working on products that are poly/cotton blends with finishing techniques that make it look more like cotton," noted Beth Mack, chief merchandising office, Hollander Home Fasions.
     Hollander has been working more with consumers and a research panel to zero in on consumer wants and needs. Its lines include anti-microbial, hypo-allergenic features - "always paired with comfort," according to Mack. This past market, Hollander introduced the Homer-ic's brand of pillows. "Brands meet the needs of consumers that want legitimacy in blind products; Homeric's hit a lot of nerves and did very well."
     Branding is also top of mind for fiberfill producer Invista, which now markets its products under the Dacron label. According to Brain Nix, segment manger, North America, branding gives instant assurances to consumers and customers in the midst of rising increases at every level of the pipeline.

"Pillows tend to be one of the more stable items always.
-Joe Mauer,
M & Z Marketing

     "People in the pillow industry spend a lot of time talking about cover thread count and health benefits, but in our research, the top issue for consumers is comfort and the fill used in the pillow has a direct impact on that. Having the Dacron brand speaks to quality and durability and imparts trust among consumers, Nix noted.
     "Like every other manufacturer, we're trying to hold pricing as long as we can," said Mauer. One thing it is doing is changing the packaging for its products. "You see an improvement in the packaging, you can increase the impulse at retail and do better with sales," he noted.
     Future Foam has focused on core issues of memory foam, including odor neutral constructions under its Stay Fresh trademark. According to Joe Blazer, director, marketing and product development, the company offers lighter foam that allowed it to increase the size of the pillow to better meet consumers' expectations; and an encapsulated gel to create a more supportive foam product. According to Blazer, the recent market "was one of the best I've seen. There may be fewer buyers, but they were very focused - and we had a very focused marketing program."
     Though still cautious, pillow makers reported that retailers were in better buying moods this last market, each looking for new and different in the product world. One aspect of the business that has vendors 'plumped' up is the state of Internet. Most of the vendors HTT spoke to have been doing drop or factory shipments for many years and are continuing to see the sector growing as a percentage of sales. Internet sales also give retailers a chance to buy into a program or product on a test basis and then move it to the brick-and-mortar sales floor with more certainty.
     "We love e-tail and have been Factory-Shipping for over 12 years now," said Scheps. "Hudson has perfected it so it becomes a very important part of our business. Retailers are open-arms for new innovative skus for e-tail and they test many varying SKUs for possible brick-and-mortar placement as well. It grows every year by double digits."
     "The internet business is growing," agreed Schecter of Carpenter. "The internet and a drop-ship program give them the opportunity to test new product concepts, color ways and price points. We expect to continue that growth."
     "We pride ourselves in our ability to drop ship and it is a growing part of our business, reported Jeff Chilton. "It had doubled year to year until 2008 and is still on a dramatic growth pattern."
     "Our Internet business is doing phenomenally well," asserted Talbert. "Retailers seem to be much more open for their web stores, as the risk is minimal; it's really a win-win situation, with not much to lose." She added that if something doesn't work on the site, "you just remove it; it's really as simple as that. We do drop ship directly and it is a huge growing percentage of our business. Our Internet business has more than tripled in the past two years and continues to climb."

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