What Drives Innovation Q&A

Whether you’re a retailer or a manufacturer, new ideas can make a huge competitive difference. Whether these developments take the form of new products, selling techniques, packaging or presentations, new approaches can expand business opportunities and increase sales. Innovation helps set companies apart from crowd. To find out what’s behind some of the most exciting new developments in the mattress and bedding industry today, we asked a number of manufactures a series of questions to learn how they innovate!

1. What motivates you to create new products?

Sealy is America's No. 1 mattress brand, and in searching for new product opportunities, we are driven by the desire to deliver world-class sleep systems that truly make a difference to our consumers and customers. – Dave Moret, Vice-President of Research, Development & Engineering, Sealy

We have a passion for developing and launching meaningful new products. Sleep Innovations’ core leadership team has innovation in our DNA and we hire people who have that same drive. It’s not just that we are all competitive people, but more importantly that we want to build this company around certain values, a culture of innovation being among them. – Michael Loomis, Executive Vice-President of Business Development, Sleep Innovations

First of all a genuine love of the creative process is a major motivator. Always asking the question of… what’s next… how can we improve this product? How can we help our customers attract more attention to their product? We live for that magic 10th of a second, when the consumer sees something that compels them to action. – Don Wright, Executive Vice-President, Business Development & Chairman of the Board, Wright of Thomasville

The greatest motivator for me is identifying a consumer need that’s not being met. Whatever that need may be, we view it as our opportunity to develop a product that addresses it. There’s fun in that process and I like to have fun. – Denny Boyd, President, Boyd Specialty Sleepy

We are passionate about designing sleep products that satisfy known and unmet customers needs. Our recent introduction of ActiveFUSION climate control technology is a great example of designing mattresses, pillows, and toppers to help consumers sleep better at consistent ideal temperatures throughout the night. Our winter introduction of 3.0 Latex Hybrids makes a "durable even more durable" by providing a consumer with a high density, longer lasting, more resilient core than previously available in the industry. We continue to seek designs and technology that bring relevant innovation to our products. These items need to be meaningful to consumers, which makes them willing pay extra for them.

We are also passionate about designing products, which are distinctive and help our business and our retailers businesses grow. Our strategy had been to strengthen our core business and extend our ends through innovation. At the high end, we have introduced finely granulated LatexDOWN(tm) pillows, which creates a feel never felt before with any material. We also introduced the Worlds Best Bed(tm) with 16" of Talalay Latex, more latex than any other mattress in the world. At more moderate price points, we have introduced our hybrid collection for retailers who have requested more than 4 models with Talalay latex inside. – Kurt Ling, President, Pure LatexBLISS

2. How do you come up with new ideas?

New ideas come from a number of sources including basic understanding of consumer insights and values, coupled with focused creative and innovation activities to identify meaningful changes with the potential to create excitement. We have become very deliberate in this process, partnering with some of the world’s leading innovation firms in developing our pipeline of ideas. We are seeing the positive results as we focus our researchers and suppliers in targeted innovation areas ripe for growth. Finally, we recognize the importance of the retailer in providing us valuable direction on trends and opportunities, which translate into meaningful innovation opportunities. – Moret

New ideas come to us in a lot of different ways. We have an Innovation Center staffed with a group of highly creative product development experts, looking at our consumers’ needs and creating products to meet those needs. In addition to our internal think tank, we also utilize outside agencies for more focused development efforts and our customers come to us with ideas that can evolve into great products. – Loomis

I personally try to look outside of the industry. Looking for new products and materials happens in the mall, a lot. Cosmetic Packaging, Wine Labels. Basically anything that is a blind product, where by the first connection with the consumer is how that product is packaged. I try to take those experiences and translate them into the Bedding and Home Furnishings Industry. – Wright

Usually we develop a core idea, which we then ‘test’ with our staff and with retail management and floor salespeople. Many ideas come from market research, which we perform yearly to gather feedback on products or services and to determine the best way to communicate features and benefits to consumers. – Boyd

We strive to create a culture that is constantly listening to each other and challenging the status quo. One of our three corporate values is that "we have to be creative in everything we do." We work hard not to shoot each others ideas down, no matter how out of the box we get. We try to challenge the way the industry traditionally does things by at least proposing the "opposite" of what everyone else does.

Everyone is responsible for new ideas in our companies. It is a team effort. Sometimes innovation happens as we analyze trends. Other times innovation happens when we discover new material components. And often, innovation happens as we dream up new ideas. One of the most important things we have learned is to be structured and disciplined about the innovation process and at the same time leave room for non-agenda, out of the box thinking time. Our best ideas never happen in a traditional venue or planned meeting. – Ling

3. How do you decide if an idea gets put into development?

The two most important characteristics of an idea are whether it offers clear claimable benefits that generate consumer excitement and whether it differentiates itself from other offerings. Our consumers are the best judge, so we objectively evaluate new concepts through vigorous rounds of research before they find their way into our products. The value of this approach is evidenced in recent Las Vegas Furniture Market introductions of the breakthrough Optimum line of specialty bedding, and category leading Stearns & Foster and Sealy Brand advancements. – Moret

Our Product Development team has a large number of new product concepts in our development pipeline. Using a concept-screening model to prioritize these projects, we score each concept based on more than a dozen market, financial, and strategic factors to see which ideas float to the top. With continuous evaluation of our project list, since market conditions are constantly changing, a concept that scored low originally may end up at the top of the list. This process enables us to have a balanced product portfolio and a constant flow of new products hitting customer’s shelves. – Loomis

Typically, if the inspiration strikes deeply enough, We take that idea and do a summary of how it might fit our industry. Is it right for the Market? Will our customers be willing to pay for it? Does it fit into our customers current manufacturing or distribution model? From there, our R&D team and production departments will help develop a prototype. We then look for opportunities to introduce that product to a customer when they are launching a new product line. Of course… sometimes, we will just see how far we can take a product to test our skills and challenge our team. A little challenge is always refreshing. It forces you to look at things differently. – Wright

That happens in stages. First, the idea needs to pass through our staff and retail contacts. Next, we take the idea to the Las Vegas market, for example, and collect additional retailer feedback. Finally, we research the concept with consumers. If the response is mostly positive at each stage of that process, we’ll move forward with development. – Boyd

We test it against retail sales people that are going to sell it and consumers who are going to buy it. Our ideas have to pass through both gates. We take our time and listen. We follow a process and don't rush it, although we are reasonably fast to market. - Ling

4. Does innovation start with existing products?

At Sealy, we're always looking for innovations to improve existing product lines. In the past year, we have introduced re-designs for Posturepedic, Stearns & Foster and Sealy brands including new features, craftsmanship and materials. Our goal is to offer new features in our products, which provide solutions for our consumers. For example, in response to consumers who complained about "sleeping hot," we sought out superior materials to incorporate into a new product that would create a better sleep experience. As a result, we introduced our proprietary OptiCool gel blend with OUTLAST, proven to be 12 times more effective for removing excess heat during the night than standard memory foam or gel alone, in our Optimum and Posturepedic with gel product lines. – Moret

Like everything else we do, innovation starts with the consumer. For new products, we conduct extensive research to acquire consumer insights. These insights help identify consumer wants and needs that become the true drivers for new product development. – Loomis

Often times yes.. or at least we use the existing product to help establish some basic parameters. If we create a product, a branding method, that is going to require a company to rework their manufacturing process.. we tend to give that a lot of consideration. Any new product really needs to fit into our customers manufacturing model, or the engineers get nervous. – Wright

Some innovations originate from existing products and others take shape on blank paper. Sometimes it’s a matter of taking a market innovation to a new level; other times it’s the result of adopting a new component that is served or complemented by an existing innovation in your products.

A good example of a “blank paper” innovation was our recent introduction of the industry’s first manually adjustable bed base that can be UPS-shipped. Our longstanding Channel Venting™ design ultimately served as an important cooling component in our new gel-enhanced memory foam beds. – Boyd

Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes we have ideas that are truly out of our sandbox. Cool things that we shouldn't do because they are not strategic to our business. Other times, innovation is a natural extension of things. - Ling

5. How do you carry out the testing process before taking the product to market?

We believe we have development and testing capabilities that are second to no-one in the industry, and we use them to develop winning products in very short timeframes. As examples, our research and development team uses virtual mattress modeling - high-powered computers using custom-made software - to examine the performance of the various components used in a mattress before we take the product to market. This computational analysis enables Sealy to conduct advanced product development with a shorter product development cycle. Additionally, our test lab employs proprietary test methods, including robotics that stress and abuse development products to insure durability. We have even invested in our own certified FR lab. – Moret

Testing is conducted during all phases of our product development process. We may start with consumer trend analysis and end with regulatory compliance testing, and in between we do concept testing, Shop-alongs, comparative packaging analysis, etc. Our goal is to validate our product and to understand how it will perform on the store shelves. We never use a retailers shelves to test our new products. – Loomis

We have a sample and presentation showroom. We tend to lay the product out. Let our associates interact with it. In all honesty… since we are dealing with branding methods… it is really not very sophisticated. We primarily focus on making sure it won’t cause any problems… either for the consumer or the Retail Sales Associates. – Wright

We test for a product’s function, performance and efficacy at a number of third-party labs. To get retailer feedback, we’ll often ship sample products to several of our customers before taking them to the marketplace. Product trials as a part of the focus group process are also very helpful in evaluating how consumers will respond at retail. – Boyd

Testing is done within our center with both retailers and consumers present. – Ling

6. Where do the consumer and retailer fit in the process?

Our relationships with our consumers and retailers are an intricate part of the innovation process. From soliciting consumer research and feedback on our products to offering a variety of in-store point of purchase materials and selling tips, we consider much of our success in large part from these strong consumer and retailer relationships. – Moret

Certainly we have to consider both the consumer and the retailer within our process, but, the good news is that their needs are usually not at odds with each other. The product development process is a series of trade-offs. The goal is to strike the right balance of value for the consumer. Every retailer has their own unique customer base. We are able to isolate consumers at each retailer, understand their specific needs and tailor the value proposition directly to them. – Loomis

Obviously, the consumer is our final target. I have always said that our products tend to be an integral part of the consumers initial impression, and ultimately it is the brand identity for years to come. We really strive to make branding products, Logo Design, Labeling, Border Identification, that will stand the test of time. We want the consumer to feel good about their purchase, and the company they bought from, every time they change the sheets. – Wright

We consider the critiques and comments we solicit from dealers and consumers an invaluable part of the innovation process. The feedback we’ve received from retailers and end users of our products also has proven to be a reliable indicator of the likelihood of success. – Boyd

Objective and subjective research. Informal and formal research. The internet has made research incredibly easy and fast. The more people we talk to, the more the introduction sorts itself out on its own. - Ling