Mattress Wars Get Hot And Heavy
It may not be as bloody as a battle between warring Mafia families, or as ruthless as campus politics, but the snarky insults were flying back and forth in the New York Times yesterday.
#1 Sealy doesn't think giving its consumers another option is such a big deal, Stephanie Clifford reports. "To say it's not a major shift -- of course it is," Simmons CEO Gary Fazio fires back. "Do you not have faith in the brand promise you're making?"
"This, to me, feels like the competition is just aggressively going after this," Sealy CMO Jodi Allen tells Clifford. "Consumers could, really, to be honest, care less."
We've been shopping for a new mattress for, oh, about a decade. Maybe more. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with the full-sized Sears-o-Pedic Dream Velvet polyurethane model we purchased more than 25 years ago -- except that it has gotten smaller by dint of the two cats and one pit bull insisting on their territorial rights where human legs have every right to go.
There have been intense active periods and long passive stretches where we just gave up looking. Nothing has been more difficult in our lives to sort out. Not a house. Not colleges. Not financial services, automobiles, computers, cell phones, surgeons or bottled water. A little newspaper in the countryside where the deadlines are later than 7:30 a.m., perhaps, but that's another story.
It all started when I became enamored of Tempur-Pedic ads circa 1990. I got on their mailing list. They must have spent more than the cost of an original twin-sized bed, with a few memory-foam pillows thrown in, trying to get me to buy. The marketing material sounded so ... right. I can't give you specifics but I remember walking around for years thinking that I was spending about a third of my life (eight hours a night) on a mattress and I deserved, by golly, to have those eight hours be as restful and restorative as possible, no matter what the cost.
(Make that should be spending, according to sleep researchers; unfortunately maintaining the lifestyle that such aspirational thinking supports means that I've actually been spending, like most Americans, about 25% (six hours) of my lifetime sleeping and a good portion of the rest of it earning enough to pay off previous my aspirations.)
Anyway, I never pulled the trigger on Tempur-Pedic's many glossy, 90-day free-trial offers. In the end, whatever I bought would have cost at least five times more than the Sears-o-Pedic Dream Velvet and the trusty captain's bed we'd gotten at an unpainted furniture store to support it. Plus, I didn't think I'd have the guts to return it if I didn't like it. And when I finally lay down on a memory-foam Tempur-Pedic in a Sleepy's, I felt I was mired in pond muck. But that's just me. From polls I've seen, the vast majority of memory-foam purchasers feel good about their mattress.
Let's go back to the cost factor for a moment because, truth be told, that's what's really been separating us from a purchase. I Googled "Why do mattresses cost so much?" and came up with some interesting insights. Superior technology costs more. There's more steel in the inner-spring mattress than there used to be and steel is expensive. Government regulations drove up the price (what, you think it doesn't cost money to produce models that don't go up in flames every time you drop a lighted cigarette on it?).
Then there's the fellow in Arizona who sells "eco-friendly" latex mattresses, purportedly at a price far better than the competition. He says the new latex models are "just bad for business due to their durability." Bottom line: the major manufacturers ratchet up the price because they're not getting the repeat business they used to get. His marketing philosophy is "maybe not, but if you like my deal, you'll tell your cousin Vinnie."
Good ol' Consumer Reports says that the margins are usually higher for mattresses than any other product in a furniture store, with gross profit margins of basic models as high as 30% to 40% each for wholesalers and retailers. And those deluxe versions carry margins as high as 50%. You can read more here about "Eight Mattress Mysteries" (including the difference between a "warranty" and a "comfort guarantee" if you have a subscription).
But what Consumer Reports editors won't do is make a recommendation. Despite extensive testing on memory foam, air, latex and inner spring models, they beg off with the "it-all-comes-down-to-individual-preference" demurral.
I did find one fellow who has compiled a bunch of those individual preferences into a database that names names. When he made this very helpful YouTube video, he'd sorted through 8,300 responses. (I'm not sure, as a marketing wag, that I'd have advised him to use SleepLikeTheDead.com as a brand name, but that's what separates the commentators from the doers.)
Nick Robinson now has collected nearly 14,000 "consumer experiences" about a whole bunch of foam-memory, air, latex, coil-spring and water-bed brands, as well as ancillary products like mattress toppers, electric blankets and dog beds (yeah, right, who uses those?). The models are rated in a number of categories including price, durability, motion isolation (do you get seasick every time hubby rolls over?), allergies and "less pain."
On the grand scale, memory foam, air and latex all score around 80% in user satisfaction. Inner-spring mattresses -- the mainstays of Sealy's and Simmons -- come in at 61%. There was only one category in which users rated inner-spring mattresses better than air, latex or memory foam. Sex.
I'm not going to go anywhere with that. I'm just surprised that the mattress companies haven't. In fact, and surprisingly, no mattress advertising I've seen would get anywhere near a "C" rating from the Legion of Decency. Except, perhaps, anything for Bob's Discount Furniture's Bob-O-Pedic. There's nothing salacious about it. You just have to condemn it out of, well, aesthetic decency.