The bedding industry has long been designing and marketing its products to the female consumer—and with good reason. Today women drive nearly 80% of all consumer purchasing, with both buying power and influence. And because they often serve as the primary caregiver to children and elderly parents, women are the decision maker across many different market segments.
Though women make up the majority of the mattress industry’s customer base, the same cannot be said about its workforce. According to the US Department of Labor, women made up only 41% of the home furnishings retail and just 28% of furniture manufacturing industries in 2015. While there are more women working in the mattress industry than ever before, there is still a clear lack in senior level management positions.
Since founding Suite Sleep in 2003, owner Angela Owen has had first-hand experience with being one of the few female executives. “The mattress industry is deeply rooted in tradition,” she explains. “It was an uphill battle trying to get manufacturers to try new techniques based on a woman’s ideas and feedback in the marketplace.”
Tradition remains a key trait of the bedding industry, but times are changing.
“Social media has transformed the industry in a multitude of ways—and it will continue to transform it as we continue to embrace digital communications in our lives,” says Julia Rosien, Brand Director for Restonic.
Digital media has altered the way people are buying mattresses, making it necessary for manufacturers and retailers to rethink the way they communicate with consumers. Adapting to the changing market requires companies to have an acute understanding of the people they are trying to reach. While research and testing can help illuminate key insights into the minds of consumers, the benefits of having women in the board room and on the sales floor are clear.
“We work in a male-dominated industry that is focused on selling to a female consumer base,” explains Sarah Bergman, PureCare’s Vice President of Marketing and Creative. “We may be the minority when it comes to numbers, but we are the voice of the consumer for our industry.”
In her role, Bergman is tasked with guiding the in-house team on how to translate its brand messaging across the board. She works closely with the sales team and stresses the importance of “having strong leadership in place with a focus on team building.”
As President and Inventor of The Pillow Bar, Merrimac Dillon has leadership experience in all facets of the bedding industry—from developing new products to overseeing production to serving as the primary sales person.
“I do believe that many women bring a completely different and more creative perspective to the table,” Dillon explains. “Especially in ‘messaging’ to the end consumer. We tend to look at things from a value and family perspective and I think that matters in the bedding world.”
This unique perspective benefits more than just marketing; it allows women to develop products that truly resonate with their peers. Both Owen and Dillon cite their own family life as the inspiration behind starting their companies—with Owen aiming to help “other moms make healthier choices in their home furnishings needs” and Dillon developing her pillow line to help solve her husband’s health problems. Rather than just focusing on “feminine” styling or advertising, these businesses have been successful because they provide real solutions for issues that matter.
“Suite Sleep strives to work with as many women-owned manufacturers as possible and we find those relationships last longer, bring greater trust and loyalty and are far more collaborative in nature,” Owen explains. “Women executives clearly know what women want, so they have so much to offer in product development, marketing and sales.”
Of course, it’s not just women who benefit from increased representation in the workplace. According to Bridget Brennan, CEO of the consulting firm Female Factor, research has shown that companies whose management teams are gender balanced yield a higher ROI.
“Women bring diversity to the table,” says Rosien. “We bring a different way to look at things and a different way to solve problems. We need men and women working together— not one over the other.”
But if greater gender parity has proven beneficial for the industry as a whole, why isn’t female leadership more prevalent?
“One of the things that still holds women back from advancing to senior level management positions is lack of access to leadership training and opportunities to lead,” explains Amy Van Dorp, Director of WithIt, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to in the home furnishings industry. “Few companies are investing in the focused leadership training because of the expense.”
The best way to support women in the bedding industry is a more dedicated focus on opportunity and mentorship—from both men and women.
“I think we need to give women more of a voice in the industry,” Owen explains. Women in our industry need to be mentors to the young women coming up in the ranks. We are strong when we pull others up.”
Programs like WithIt, Mattress Firm’s LeadHERship program and ISPA’s Women’s Network all strive to foster this sense of community—providing affordable professional development resources that benefit the industry at large.
As retail continues to change, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to invest in its female workforce. Those that do will reap the benefits of their unique perspective, insight and problem-solving abilities.
What advice do you have for other women in the bedding industry?
“I encourage people to follow their passion regardless of the industry. If you believe in what you are doing, research extensively and work to create outstanding products, you will find the market and the buyers for your product...If you believe in what you are doing, research extensively and work to create outstanding products, you will find the market and the buyers for your product."
—Merrimac Dillon, President of The Pillow Bar
“Be a good collaborator, ask questions, find solutions and always hire people who have skills you lack — in other words, let go of your ego and get on with business...The best advice I can give is to trust your instincts and stay strong. If we are committed to our ideas and stay true to ourselves, we will succeed. Women in our industry need to be mentors to the young women coming up in the ranks. We are stronger when we pull others up rather than putting them down. Be fearless – we don’t get a lot of second shots, so take the shot already!"
—Angela Owen, President of Suite Sleep
“Look at the bigger picture and start dedicating a portion of your professional time to the development of the industry as a whole. Working in a vacuum does little to advance your perspective or career...Throughout my career I’ve had the good fortune to learn from many mentors, both male and female. Across the board, these individuals had one thing in common; they saw my strengths before I did and, in turn, provided me with opportunities for growth and development in the areas where I could succeed. I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you for believing in me and providing me with a foundation that has lead me to where I am today. I certainly did not get here alone."
—Sarah Bergman, Vice President of Marketing and Creative of PureCare
“Be grateful. When someone points out an error, thank them for pointing it out because now you can fix it. Stop apologizing. Be strong. You bring value to the table and if you don’t see that value, how do you expect anyone else to? Be curious. Not having the right answer is never the problem. Pretending you have it when you don’t – that’s a problem. Be a mentor. A strong leader doesn’t create followers – she creates more strong leaders. Be yourself. You. Are. Enough.”
—Julia Rosien, Brand Director of Restonic