Spring Air has been a leader in the mattress industry since 1926. After more than 90 years of sleep innovation, the company continues to blaze a cutting-edge trail under the leadership of President Nick Bates. At just 29 years of age, Bates brings with him a unique perspective on today’s bedding market and a meaningful understanding of the millennial shopper. This visionary spirit is further bolstered and fortified by a talented team of knowledgeable veteran licensees operating in 43 countries worldwide. Today, Spring Air is building on its longstanding success by developing new programs and strategies designed to enhance the customer experience, increase consumer communications and expand its social benefit philosophy. This marriage of ingenuity and expertise has made Spring Air an invaluable asset to retailers who are looking to not only adapt to the evolving marketplace—but thrive within it.
Bates was named president of Spring Air this past January. Since then, he has worked closely with the executive team and the licensee group to determine a clear path for the future of the company. While many manufacturers and retailers have struggled to understand the changing shopping habits of younger consumers, Bates is able to pull from his own experience when developing strategies that will actually connect with this growing segment.
“Millennials are put off by hard selling salespeople, which has been the mattress industry’s model for years,” Bates explains. “When I want to go shopping for a big-ticket item, 100 percent of my research is done online before I walk into that store. That means I already know what I’m getting, how I’m getting it and how much I’m paying for it.”
This has changed the way most young people go about buying a bed. The retail salesperson is no longer the primary source of information, but rather a secondary consultant—someone who should be prepared to answer any lingering questions the customer wasn’t able to solve on their own online. As millennials’ shopping habits have shifted, so too have their expectations.
“We look at an item for quality, for style and of course price,” he continues. “But we’re not just going to walk into a mattress store and, if a bed looks like a bed, buy it. We want something better than that. We want something that tells a story, something that has innovation, something that draws us over to it.”
This understanding of today’s consumers has helped shape Bates’ vision for Spring Air. The company recently set forth a new strategy for the years ahead: a three-pronged approach that aims to meet a wide variety of bedding customers at every stage of their buying journey.
“We want something that tells a story, something that has innovation, something that draws us over to it.”
The first step was to figure out how to enhance that in-store customer experience. The team looked outside the bedding industry for inspiration, seeking out creative new ways to update its point-of-sale materials. This includes integrating more familiar components into its top-of-bed displays, ones that consumers already engage with on a more regular basis. Every Spring Air mattress on the retail floor now features an informational hangtag like the ones that are commonly found in clothing stores.
“When a customer walks into a store, they can look at a Spring Air mattress and immediately grab the hangtag and start reading about the product,” Bates says. “It makes them feel more comfortable at point of sale, because they’re familiar with the idea. People buy clothing a lot more than they buy a mattress, so they already know to look there to get information about a product.”
For some of Spring Air’s higher-end collections, this attention to detail extends beyond the point of purchase to include more specialized packaging as well. Every Chattam & Wells mattress is delivered to the consumer wrapped, not in the traditional plastic, but in sumptuous fabric that they can keep. This builds upon the luxury elements of the collection, further enhancing the buying process and the consumer’s relationship to the Spring Air brand.
But customer experience goes deeper than just marketing and packaging. Spring Air has updated a number of its key collections with new, on-trend styling and upholstery-grade fabrics. “We’re changing the way we make a mattress,” Bates explains. “We’re using fabrics that draw people over. It doesn’t look like a traditional mattress set because we’re going outside our industry’s fabric gatherings.”
For the second step of its new vision, Spring Air set out to solve two different issues: help customers fix their sleep problems and help retailers get customers in the door. As more and more consumers head online to research their mattress options, most people have already made up their mind long before they ever step into a retail space (if they even go to a physical store at all). In order to compete with the competitive ecommerce market, companies must engage with their customers much earlier on in their decision-making process—which means effectively connecting with them online first. By taking a step back from the “traditional” sales strategy, Bates developed a greater understanding on when and why people start their search for a mattress—and built a new digital strategy around reaching them from the very beginning.
“Not only are we enhancing the product experience on the floor, we’re looking to engage the consumer when they start their journey for a new mattress,” Bates explains. “Because when does anyone look for a new mattress? You don’t look for a new mattress if everything’s OK. You look when your hip hurts or your back hurts or your wife’s not sleeping. Consumers start their journey when they start looking online for solutions to these problems. So we’ve been using social media and blogging to reach out to these customers, field their questions and help them solve their sleep problems.”
At this stage in the customer journey, Spring Air isn’t selling anything. By providing valuable insights and information for free instead, the company is able to drive more potential customers to its website and into the “Spring Air World.” In order to do this most effectively, Spring Air teamed up with TRIO—a full-service marketing communications firm that specializes in social media and web design. Together, the two companies have begun developing original content for blogs and popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. By leveraging a variety of different digital marketing methods, Spring Air is working to build stronger relationships with consumers, fostering a greater sense of trust and familiarity with the brand. In addition to working with TRIO, Spring Air has also named Michael Giurleo as Director of E-Commerce, who will oversee all of the new web initiatives and social media services.
“We’re not only going to be stepping up our interactions with consumers but also engaging with them in new, more meaningful ways,” Bates reveals. “Our objective is to build a base of Spring Air followers from the ground up. Ultimately, we plan to establish a constantly growing fan base that is not only familiar with who we are and what we represent, but also wants to buy Spring Air-branded beds.”
Bates knows that in today’s marketplace, digital plays an essential part in driving sales both in-store and online. By integrating these methods into the company’s overall mission, Spring Air is investing in a long-term strategy that will support retail efforts for years to come. “It could be a month-long journey or it could be a three year journey—it all depends on the customer,” he says. “But through our progression of finding out what their problem is, how they’re sleeping, and their price point, we can direct them to a mattress that will better suit them.”
Once the consumer is ready to buy, they are directed to the site’s Dealer Locator tool, which populates by zip code to show them nearby stores where they can try out the best mattress for their needs. This not only helps retailers increase foot traffic, but provides them with quality leads with people who are ready to buy.
“Not only are we enhancing the product experience on the floor, we’re looking to engage the consumer when they start their journey for a new mattress.”
For the final piece of the new vision, Bates set his sights beyond the traditional business model. “I looked back and said we sell a lot of mattresses and that’s great,” he explains, “but why don’t we look to elevate our social benefit philosophy? There’s so much good we could do to help people in need by selling the item we sell every day.”
More than just doing good for the world, this decision is another smart way to connect with younger shoppers. Research has shown that 70% of millennials are willing to pay more for products that give back to issues they care about. For a consumer segment that wields an estimated $2.45 trillion in spending power, companies can no longer afford to consider social entrepreneurship a lesser priority. It’s now an essential part of any business model. Instead of simply donating to the charitable causes, Spring Air has developed a new program that puts the social benefit contribution at the forefront. The company recently teamed up with Love Your Melon, an apparel brand that is dedicated to supporting the fight against pediatric cancer, on a new line of Spring Air Back Supporter mattresses.
With this new collection, Bates has created a valuable new sales opportunity for retailers. While consumers will be immediately drawn to the stylish mattress, their interest is further reinforced once they learn the story behind it and how this purchase will have a direct effect on an important cause. It’s that kind of powerful story that transforms one-time customers into true brand advocates.
In building this new vision for Spring Air, Bates brought much more to the table than just his perspective as a millennial. While his understanding of the demographic group is a major resource for the company, so too is the diverse set of skills he cultivated throughout his time at Spring Air. Over the past eight years, Bates has had a hand in nearly every aspect of the brand. He began his career with the company at the ground level, joining the team as a Sales & Marketing Coordinator in 2009 before switching gears to focus on merchandising for Costco, one of Spring Air’s first national accounts. It was not long before he transitioned into the role of Director of Corporate Accounts. As the leader of the Sleepy’s account, Bates was able to utilize the skills he had acquired in his previous positions—from marketing and customer service all the way through merchandising—to help nurture this relationship into the company’s fastest growing accounts.
“When you go into a retailer, you have to really understand how they’re trying to resonate with their consumers,” he underscores. “By understanding what Sleepy’s was looking for in a mattress, whether in terms of specifications and price or customer service and delivery times, we were able to provide them with those exact factors in the most efficient way.”
In the two years leading up to his appointment as president of the company, Bates had already begun what he calls his “executive preparation.” Under the leadership of his uncle Ed Bates and the late Rick Robinson, Bates began to “learn the ropes of how to run a brand,” he explains. “Instead of just dealing with today, I was dealing with ‘Where are we going to be in three to five years? What about five to ten or even 20 years?’ It extends your vision when you get into that executive preparation role and you start to look at what the overall vision of Spring Air will be moving forward.”
Building on his own experience and the guidance from his mentors, Bates has adopted a very hands-on leadership style. He recently joined a group of sales managers to help run a training program with one of Spring Air’s newest accounts—a move that he didn’t realize would come as a surprise to those around him.
“I like to be places that sometimes people don’t expect the company president to be,” he says. “I think that’s the best way to really understand a program or a partner. There’s no better way to learn than being hands-on. I think the hardest thing for me personally is going to be learning how to step back when I need to. We have great people who will get the work done and my role is to empower the team to be hands-on as well.”
He is doing just that by working to foster a greater sense of collaboration throughout all the different parts of the company. The team recently launched a new internal messaging service that allows the licensees and Spring Air corporate to directly communicate with one another in real time, faster than ever before. Additionally, the company continues to host a number of specialized committees, including the newly formed Las Vegas Market Committee, where licensees can come together to propose new ideas and move through the process towards creating a finalized product. By facilitating the sharing of knowledge from within the company, Spring Air has been able to really capitalize on the strength of its licensing structure.
“We believe that we’re stronger as a group than any one person and committees like these are only going to help us grow even stronger,” Bates says. “Our licensees all come from different backgrounds, which means they see problems and opportunities in many different lights. Each one of those licensees can bring up an even better point than the next one on how to solve those problems. So although many people do look at a licensing structure as a weakness, we here look at it as one of our biggest strengths.”
“We believe that we’re stronger as a group than any one person and committees like these are only going to help us grow even stronger.”
As Spring Air heads into the future, it is this diverse communion of voices that will serve as the source of innovation. Rather than setting out to “disrupt” the industry, Bates is committed to rethinking the way things have always been done without abandoning what still works. Led by a bold new vision and supported by long-established network of licensees, Spring Air is committed to finding powerful new ways to help its retail partners succeed.