• Jennifer Marks

Command Performance

Sheet sets look for ways to communicate more than just thread count

Triple PlayTriple Play: Nano-Tex sheets for outdoor specialty retailer Cabella’s tout breathability, moisture evaporation and wrinkle-free properties.
What makes a bed sheet a “performance” sheet? There are many takes on the idea, ranging from basic easy care to more complicated formulations that offer moisture wicking and/or cool sleep.

On the subject of which retailers take the most aggressive position in performance sheets, the answer is clearer. Bed Bath & Beyond and Target are the undisputed leaders in the space. JCPenney, Kohl’s and Macy’s also have a hand in the game. Off-pricers largely don’t pursue performance constructions, but several other retailers are trying them out, if only online.

“Some retailers do have a very definite focus on what products they want to sell and others are adding the performance sheets as a way of experimentation and testing the waters,” said Shanthi Srinivasan, managing director of Premier Fine Linens.

Indo Count defines performance simply. “Performance sheets in general offer functional values to the customers in the form of better durability, lower maintenance costs and perfect fit,” said KK Lalpuria, executive director.

And yet, “thread count remains the umbrella under which performance sheets get embedded,” he added.

Even if retailers can’t entirely break free from the thread-count story, they are looking for opportunities to broaden the discussion.

“Every retailer we talk to is challenged on how to change the conversation with the consumer from thread count to performance and/or fashion,” said Ida Moran, vp of sales and marketing at Trident. “There are many evolving and emerging technologies and one has to also be mindful of its commercial viability. The price point needs to resonate with the retailer and, ultimately, the consumer.”

Chill Out:Chill Out: JCPenney offers solutions for consumers who sleep hot with Sleep Philosophy sheets featuring Cool Max technology.
Ask manufacturers which performance attribute has the most traction and wrinkle-free/wrinkle-resistant always tops the list. Other easy care features also rank high, especially quick dry and bleach safe.

“Combining wrinkle free and quick dry addresses two major concerns of time and money — the combination of the two helps today’s busy consumer use her energy cost savings to go shopping since she does not have to iron her sheets,” said Nancy Golden, senior vp of marketing, Welspun.

While many of these benefits derive from topical treatments that launder away over time, “the reality is the consumer doesn’t wash their sheets that often,” said Renee Moizel, creative director at Gul Ahmed.

Manufacturers continue to push the envelope, especially in the area of enhanced sleep. Welspun’s HygroCotton construction makes a pitch for thermal regulation by offering moisture management & temperature regulation. Premiere works with a variety of fi nishes, including Ultra-fresh, Silpure, aloe vera, and Stay Cool. Trident’s AirRich offers a proprietary moisture management process. Nanotex is working with retailers and manufacturers to incorporate its Coolest Comfort technology.

“The bed is one big performance feature to begin with. The next step is to show the consumer that what you sleep on is important, too,” said Randy Rubin, ceo of Crypton, Nanotex’s parent company. “Retailers are now asking for materials that do more. There’s a lot of science behind what you see on the package.”

Sheet buyers are looking for “any handle that’s out there that potentially would attract a consumer,” said Frank Snow, vp merchandising, Royale Linens, the U.S. division of Yunus Textiles Mills. “Any time you make a pitch to a buyer, they want to know what’s new. What’s the next great fiber that’s going to replace cotton?”

Most often, what’s new is a combination of existing fibers often paired with technologies.

“Our conversations with retailers center around which performance attribute combinations are the most logical and then that conversation leads to basing those combinations on the thread count that makes the most sense for the marketing story,” said Arun Agarwal, ceo, Nextt.

On TargetOn Target: The retailer’s private label Threshold brand “Performance Sheets” address a key selling point – easy care.

Gul Ahmed is also looking beyond topical treatments to fiber-based combinations, including Tencel and rayon from bamboo. “People are starting to embrace those things,” said Moizel.

WestPoint Home developed a construction for hospitality that it’s now making available to retail. The Dry Fast sheet was originally created to reduce energy use, a big cost for self-service operators. It also offers easy-care and stain-resistant properties.

“It’s a permanent finish that’s bonded molecularly to the fibers,” said Norman Savaria, ceo, WestPoint Home.

Premier is focusing on balanced fabric constructions for extra-long life. “We are also introducing performance weaves such as twills and oxfords,” said Srinivasan. “These weaves currently are not popular in the market as the customer has not been educated regarding their benefits. But we hope to see a shifting trend.”

The extent to which consumers will pay more for performance is fairly limited, according to manufacturers. Easycare solutions tend to command a smaller premium, while cooling/moisture-wicking may offer plumper margins. However, the marketing must be careful not to set consumers expectations too high.

“When you take a look at the online reviews for some of these things, the consumer is often disappointed by the results,” said Royale Linens’ Snow.

At the end of the day, as ever, developing the next great sheet comes down to listening to the consumer, said Savaria.

“Pay attention to what people are complaining about, then fix it.”

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