Comfort Drives Utility Bedding

Consumers Buy Innovation in Pillows, Pads

Don Hogsett, March 26, 2007

Sometimes an uneven economy carries benefits. Cash-strapped, fretful consumers, made all the more antsy by the housing market, seem to be getting more choosy about the bedding products they buy. They are heading back to basics and driving sales of down-to-earth utility bedding higher.

It may not be the fashion end of the business, where the sizzle often helps to sell the steak, but a lack of obvious design appeal doesn't seem to be hurting sales of utility bedding products, which often rely on comfort, or sheer practicality, to tell their story. Indeed, a Home Textiles Today canvass of utility bedding as part of its revised Facts series of product reports, shows estimated retail sales of these mostly basic products edged up by 2.1%, to $2.27 billion last year, from $2.22 billion in 2005, even after accounting for persistently downward pressure on pricing.

That's cheering news for producers and sellers of these bread-and-butter basics that lack the glamour and pizzazz of their often pricier siblings in the bedding business. And it comes in stark contrast to a HTT report on Top of the Bed products that appeared earlier this month, which showed sales of comforters, bedspreads, bed in a bag, quilts and duvets skidded down by 7.0% last year, to $3.1 billion from $3.4 billion the preceding year, with every category heading south with the exception of bedspreads.

By far the biggest gainer in utility bedding products was the one that most obviously appeals to consumers' need for comfort — sleep pillows. Sales in the category jumped up by 7.5% to an estimated $806 million from $750 million last year. That's not including sales of high-margin, high-priced memory foam pillows which are increasingly grabbing shelf space and market share.

Since memory foam pillows are a relatively recent innovation, their sales have not historically been tracked by the Facts series, and are not included this year, but will be broken out in future editions.

A second bread-and-butter category, mattress pads, gained by 1.6%, to $442 million from $435 million, helped by innovative new products including water-proof and stain-resistant pads.

The big disappointment was blankets, where sales fell by 5.3%, to $535 million from $565 million, hit hard by unseasonably warm weather which had retailers dusting off their "40% Off" signs.

Another winner was the throw category, a kissing cousin of blankets, where sales improved by 2.1%, to $485 million from an upwardly revised $470 million in 2005.

Steve Elias, ceo of Louisville Bedding, chalked up the success of basic bedding to two factors — comfort and innovation in basic goods. "Memory foam products is a big part of it, with that foam story moving from mattresses to basic bedding. Convoluted foam has been around for 20 years or so, and it had a strong run for a couple of years and then kind of settled down. Then different versions of foam started coming out, including memory foam, and that really revitalized the category. That's probably the single-biggest reason."

At the same time, he said, product innovation has also piqued consumer interest. "You have water-proof and stain-resistant product, a thread-count story, and that's helped to revitalize that basic dum-dum category of mattress pads. I'd say 15% to 18% of our pad sales are done in waterproof fabric. A mattress you spend $2,000 on, you don't want to spill anything on it."

Utility Bedding ($ millions)
2006 total retail sales: $2.27 billion
Up 2.1% from $2.22 billion in 2005

2006 2005 % change
r = Revised
Blankets $535 $565 -5.3%
Mattress pads 442 435 1.6
Sleep pillows 806 750 7.5
Throws 485 470r 3.1
Total $2,268 $2,220 2.1%
2006 2005 % change
Home textiles specialty chains $499 503 -0.8%
Single-unit home textiles specialty stores 45 40 13.4
Department stores 136 128 6.3
Mid-price chains 227 210 8.0
Discount department stores 1,202 1188 1.2
Off-price chains 45 42 8.0
Variety/closeout 23 23 -1.4
Direct-to-consumer 23 23 -1.4
Warehouse clubs 45 41 10.6
Other 23 22 3.1

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