With an origin story that dates back to 1927, Bedding Industries of America (BIA) has had a firsthand look at the many ups and downs of the mattress industry. As the retail marketplace continues to shift, this long history has proven to be an asset for the North Brunswick, New Jersey-based company, which has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. Today, BIA serves as a prime example of how traditional manufacturers can successfully adapt to changing economic tides and trends without abandoning its core ethos. Under the leadership of current CEO Stuart Carlitz, the company has not only sustained itself as one of the nation’s oldest bedding manufacturers—but has quietly evolved into one of the mattress industry’s strongest and most forward-thinking licensing groups.
Serving as the overarching corporate entity, BIA boasts a portfolio of unique mattress brands that include Eclipse International, Eastman House and Saatva, among others. The company has developed a growing roster of licensees that total over 15 factories in the United States and 40 abroad, with product distribution reaching over 50 countries worldwide. As the company continues to expand, the key to their success lies in a leadership structure that prioritizes honest partnership and communication. BIA is committed to working with its licensees in order to develop products that are not only substantive, but financially viable for their unique markets.
This collaborative, non-hierarchical structure is firmly grounded in the company’s history. Before BIA evolved into the company we know today, it started out as a single factory. Jerry Gershaw inherited Bedding Industries of America from his father-in-law and maintained the trademark on the name even as he founded Therapedic Sleep Products Incorporated in 1957. In the face of increasing financial demands, Gershaw set out across the country to convince other mattress factories to join him as part of a new “marketing cooperative.” His plan was for each factory to pool together their resources and divvy up the cost of creating necessary marketing and signage. Starting with key partners in New York and Chicago, Gershaw’s group grew to include 12 factories by the 1960’s.
To this day, that cooperative mentality remains a major asset in the company’s operations. In addition to its network of licensing partners, BIA runs its own manufacturing New Jersey factory, which consists of two facilities with a combined 116,000 square feet, and services key markets along the East Coast. From this unique vantage point, the company leadership is able to share more credible expertise with its licensees—equipping them with products and technologies that have already been tested at retail and proven successful.
“The biggest thing that sets us apart from the competition is that we’re not just some corporate office in the sky. We’re also a manufacturer. Everything we ask of a licensee, we’re willing to do ourselves for our New Jersey factory.”—Stuart Carlitz
As CEO, Carlitz himself is armed with a unique level of insight and experience only afforded to true industry veterans. After working with Gershaw for a brief stint in the 1980’s, he returned in 1995 as partner—his sights set on further strengthening the company’s licensing program. Between 1997 and 2001, the company underwent a series of changes as it began to operate multiple mattress brands. After Gershsaw finalized his buy-out of the Therapedic brand in 1999, Carlitz took over as the company’s sole owner and reintroduced the “Bedding Industries of America” name to serve as the overarching umbrella brand. before taking over as BIA’s sole owner in 2001—his sights set on further strengthening the company’s licensing program. The next six years saw a period of rapid expansion for the licensing group—at which point Carlitz made the conscious decision to reset their goals to focus more on quality rather than quantity. Today, he credits much of the company’s success to the strength of its licensees.
“Each one of our factories is a successful operation,” he says. “They are aggressive factories that are willing to provide the retailer with everything they need, from promotional price points all the way up to high-end, with a variety of products.”
In order to foster an effectual licensing partnership, Carlitz insists that both sides must be able to carry their share of the weight. All of the company’s licensees have a proven track record of being efficient, reliable and financially sound. With that stability in place, BIA is able to leverage and bolster their success by providing key market differentiation through meaningful brand stories, exclusive technology and nationwide marketing. Beyond simply providing factories with the tools and branding they need to succeed, BIA also ensures that they have the opportunities to share their products with a wider audience—without ever blindsiding them with hidden costs or unattainable requests. This includes providing the necessary financial support so that the licensees are able to showcase their products within the company’s Las Vegas and High Point showrooms.
“We allow our licensees the opportunity and the flexibility to share with us what they would want to see in the showroom,” says Matthew Connolly, President of Eclipse and Eastman House. “That helps the factories kind of get a feel for what we’re doing in our market, while we get a feel for what they’re doing in their market. As a manufacturer, we have our finger on the pulse of what’s happening at the retail level, on the Internet as well as the private label business. We do it all and we share those marketing and merchandising ideas with everyone so that they can do similar things in their marketplace.”
Put simply, BIA is a “licensing group that gets along,” says Cartliz. In turn, these harmonious partnerships are able to yield high-quality bedding and tangible retail successes—like those experienced by Heritage Sleep Concepts, a Georgia-based BIA licensee. When industry veteran Terry Spears and Cartliz came together nearly two and a half years ago, retail consolidation had left the southern market lacking. By combining their vital industry expertise, Heritage Sleep Concepts has been able to bring valuable business back to mid-sized retailers along the local southern region.
“We were proud to get the Eclipse name, so we really put all our efforts behind it,” Spears explains. “Stuart is willing to listen and work as a team and I think that goes a long way with the brand, which actually makes it better for all of us. I think that’s one of the good qualities that he has—he’ll listen to what we have to say.”
Stan Schnitzer of Sleep Designs, Eclipse & Eastman House of Texas, became a BIA licensing partner eight years ago and credits the company for being “the first business relationship that has brought us real business.” In addition to “the use of numerous marketing materials and patented features with real products and consumer benefits,” he values the Eastman House and Eclipse brands for “[allowing] us local flexibility and national cohesiveness.”
With the Eclipse and Eastman House brands, BIA equips its manufacturing partners with a winning combination of meaningful history, technology and product variety. By offering a wide range of feature-filled nation-wide mattress collections, the company and its factories are able to pass on that value to the retailer—providing the market differentiation they need to remain competitive.
“I think the most important for me is that there are benefits that are unique to these brands. It’s not just a name: there’s actually something to it,” says Gus Arias, VP of Sales for Eclipse of Florida. “Our customers have asked us for features that they can sell to their end-users because it’s such a competitive market and I believe that’s probably where Bedding Industries of America is the strongest.“
When National Mattress Company announced it would be shutting down production of Eclipse Mattress in 1999, Cartliz jumped at the chance to acquire the nearly 90-year-old brand. He saw within it an exciting opportunity: to enhance his company’s existing manufacturing capabilities with a historic brand and patented technologies. Founded in 1905, Eclipse International brings with it a tradition of old world craftsmanship and advanced features. Today the brand offers five nationwide mattress collections that range in price from $399 to $1,999 in queen at retail.
The company’s Spinal Zone technology was first patented in 1993 and has been a mainstay of the Eclipse brand for more than 20 years. This unique system provides superior support to the innerspring system by enhancing the outer frame of the mattress with a slightly lighter border rod that goes across the center third of the bed. With two rows of coils clipped to the both the upper and lower portions of the bed, the Spinal Zone reinforces the area of the mattress that supports the lumbar region—maintaining correct spinal alignment and delivering enhanced back support. Along with the patent, customers have the added reassurance of extensive research from the University of West Virginia—which found that the Spinal Zone improves sleep, with a 29% improvement in sleep quality, 34% reduction in back pain and 96% reduction of back stiffness. Working in conjunction with Spinal Zone, the patented Spinal Zone Quilting adds a layer of high-density visco-elastic memory foam to the center third of the mattress. In addition to bolstering the support benefits of the innerspring system, this exclusive technology delivers more topical support to the mattress as a whole—maximizing pressure point relief and minimizing body impressions.
“[BIA] is one of the few mid-sized organizations in our industry that is aggressively pursuing intellectual property and patents,” says Rion Morgenstern, President of Pleasant Mattress of California and newly signed Eclipse and Eastman House licensee. “From a retailer standpoint, knowing that there is dependable intellectual property behind these products is important. You can actually look up the patent number to see that it’s not just a name but an actual patented technology.”
It was through these patented technologies that BIA first caught the attention of the Congress of Chiropractic State Association, a non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of the chiropractic profession. As part of its mission to promote back and spinal health, COCSA endorses products that meet its strict orthopedic standards with its “Seal of Approval.” The organization first endorsed BIA in 2003—an honor that the company has maintained for over 10 years. As consumer interest in marketing transparency continues to grow, this endorsement provides a valuable sense of credibility that can be easily communicated to customers.
These same patented features can also be found in BIA’s esteemed Eastman House lineup, which ranges in retail price from $799 to $4,999 in queen. Founded in 1866 and acquired by BIA in 2008, Eastman House is the oldest continuously operated mattress manufacturing company in the United States, lending a luxuriously handcrafted quality to the company’s advanced technologies. The five nationwide Eastman House offerings feature the finest materials and processes, including natural latex, Joma Wool, Pima Cotton and high-end silk components and handcrafted lace tack tufting. This year, the brand celebrated its 150th birthday in a big way—with the introduction of its popular 150th Anniversary Collection. Officially launched this past spring, the line-up was designed to offer an ultra premium product at a more broadly approachable price point.
From Eclipse’s high-tech Health Sense Collection to Eastman House’s sumptuous English Hand Tufted line, the benefits of BIA’s national collections are further reinforced by the strength of its licensee network. This means that, in addition to widespread marketing and brand recognition, retailers are afforded all the benefits of working with a local manufacturer: from superior customer service to quality control. Beyond that, BIA also gives its licensees the “latitude to take those patents and utilize them within products that will be more tailored to their market,” explains Connolly.
“In addition to the national specs, BIA licensees can be as creative as they want to be or need to be in order to be aggressive in their own individual market.”—Matthew Connolly
As BIA looks to the future, the company remains committed to creating more valuable business for their factory and retail partners. As high-level consolidation continues to dilute the industry, the company continues to create new opportunities for mid-size retailers to better connect with their customers through a wide range of products and brands. With a comprehensive network of industry veterans, BIA facilitates a shared economy of best practices that apply not only to manufacturing but advertising and distribution as well.
“What BIA brings us, number one, is a network of manufacturers that we can work with to work on national programs,” says Arias. “They have people who will be working with us directly to help increase their brand and business: people with experience, people who have connections and relationships out in the market in our trading area.”
The company’s work with Saatva is proof of its ability to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to changing retail trends. As one of the first bedding brands to harness the power of e-commerce, BIA holds a wealth of valuable experience in that growing category. Unlike the many new bed-in-a-box options available today, Saatva is a full-service, online network of direct-to-consumer mattress sales. All of the online brand’s mattress offerings were designed and developed by Cartliz, and manufactured by BIA’s network of US licensees. Using unique specifications and quality components, the product is unparalleled in the market—a fact that has helped the company’s licensees to become more flexible and efficient in their own manufacturing capabilities. As the supplier for one of the largest online bedding retailers, BIA truly has its finger on the pulse of this rapidly evolving industry.
“Consumers are changing generationally as younger customers are moving into a shopping pattern that starts online,” explains Armando Murillo, VP of Licensing and New Business Development and the newest addition to the BIA team.
"We are one of the pioneers of the online distribution and advertising channel. As most brick-and-mortar retailers are expanding their presence in the e-commerce category, we have the experience to support them.”—Armando Murillo
In order to better connect with consumers earlier on in the purchasing process, the company recently unveiled sleek new websites for Eclipse and Eastman House. Both sites are designed to give a clear overview of each available line-up, effectively communicating their key selling points before directing consumers to the retail spaces where they can be purchased. And because of BIA’s widespread roster of licensees, retailers can be assured that there is a local factory to service each nationwide collection.
It’s that sense of pragmatic innovation and reliable service that has come to define BIA and its licensing group. Over the past twenty years, Cartliz has fostered a corporate environment in which input and collaboration are not simply welcome but integral—creating a business structure that allows it to maintain a dynamic understanding of the marketplace that starts from the ground up. From this unique vantage point, BIA has been able to continuously bolster the retail power of its heritage brands by providing real benefits that are meaningful to customers. Armed with a comprehensive network of industry veterans and decades of experience, Bedding Industries of America has developed a thorough reserve of resources that will continue to bring true value to its retail partners for years to come.