Why Do We Introduce New Products In The Winter?

As we’re getting ready to head to the fall High Point Market, the buzz around the winter Las Vegas show is already in full swing. In fact, we first started hearing winter teasers months ago - even before the summer market. This probably won’t come as a surprise to most industry folks: this has become the name of the game. While other markets are still on the docket, the Winter Las Vegas Market reigns supreme when it comes to major product introductions and new collection roll-outs. Though this has become accepted as common industry practice, we can’t help but wonder why that is. Considering that most consumers only replace their mattresses every eight years (at the earliest), is it necessary for bedding brands to roll out entirely new products every winter? Is the sleep industry investing time, money and energy in an intro cycle that doesn’t actually translate into more sales?

In some ways, the popularity of the winter market does make some sense. Coming at the heels of Black Friday Sales and the holiday season, a late-January market gives retailers and buyers enough time to explore new products to be placed in stores before the rush of spring sales picks back up. Geographically, Las Vegas also attracts buyers from all across the country and the world - a draw for an industry that has become increasingly nationally and globally focused (as opposed to the more regional appeal of the High Point Market). And of course, retailers are busy. Packing all the major collection debuts into one market means that store owners and buyers can, theoretically, see all that they need to see in one go.

But as the number of mattress companies continues to rise, with major brands and smaller manufacturers both focusing their attention on the winter show - are valuable collections getting lost in the mix?

More than simply debating the merits of the winter market specifically, we also wonder if it is necessary for mattress manufacturers to roll out new collections every year, regardless of the season. While top-of-bed accessories and sleep tech may be a more regular purchase for some consumers, most are not replacing their mattresses every year—nor should they. According to the National Sleep Foundation, mattresses have an approximate lifespan of eight years, and should be replaced accordingly. But even with that accepted wisdom, few consumers actually do that.

So why are brands routinely adding new models to the market? One of the biggest consumer complaints about the mattress industry is the confusion. There are too many options within showrooms, with not enough clear variation between them. Oftentimes, similar or identical collections feature different names across different retail stores, which makes comparison shopping difficult. While in theory, this practice could benefit the retailer, it also leads to added frustration. By routinely replacing the mattresses on showroom floors, RSAs are tasked with learning new product information and component details—and manufacturers and retailers must invest in more training.

Over the past few years, a number of mattress brands have dialed down the frequency with which they make new product introductions, choosing instead to direct most of their attention towards winter. While this has become an unspoken rule for some, others have taken it a step further. A few years ago, Tempur-Sealy announced that it would be slowing its introduction cycle from a 24-month schedule to a 36-month schedule. The company cited numerous reasons for doing so. Not only it allow them “better continuity in running their business,” but the brand was also “confident that the quality and innovation behind these new collections will continue to offer great value for years.” Further, it allowed the company to invest more heavily in “full 360-degree integrated marketing plans designed to surround the consumer and drive retail traffic and demand.” According to Tempur-Sealy, the investment in marketing was of greater value to their bottom line than more frequent product news.

Of course, we’re not advocating for manufacturers to stop innovating but, rather, think more thoughtfully about where to place their focus. Is each new collection better than the ones that came before it? Or are we simply throwing new ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks? 

According to Joan Schneider and Julie Hall in an article from the Harvard Business Review, companies face a lot of risk when introducing new products into the market. “Numerous factors can cause new products to fail,” they explained. “The biggest problem we’ve encountered is lack of preparation: companies are so focused on designing and manufacturing new products that they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game.”

The article goes on to explain the necessary work - and some of the pitfalls brands face when making introductions. Sometimes the new product falls short of the claims laid out by the brand - or it exists in ‘product limbo’ wherein the features or benefits are not enough to sway potential buyers. Sometimes, it goes the other way, and the product is so innovative that it requires “substantial consumer education” before people understand its value or purpose.   

By taking the time to thoroughly test new products and gather meaningful data on technology trends and consumer shopping habits, companies can make their product roll-outs more dynamic—and potentially more successful as well. But the work doesn’t end once the product hits the market.

“Prepare yourself: Your launch never ends,” said Marsha Lindsay in an article for Fast Company that outlines eight ways to ensure the success of a product launch. “Marketers must face that their launch will be forever in beta, a state of continuous improvement that prevents the brand from losing momentum, or worse, stalling out. Studies confirm that marketers who assume their launch is over, who pull back, who stop innovating, or who let share of voice fall below their market share, do not fare well.”

We’re seeing this line of thinking more and more. Rather than focus solely on rolling out new innovations, manufacturers are taking the time to reinvest in existing line-ups and legacy brands. Though styling updates or specific product tweaks can seem less than exciting, they can be very successful on the retail floor. By reenergizing collections that consumers already know with meaningful step-up features, these brands understand how to engage with potential mattress customers.

As the mattress retail market continues to evolve, many manufacturers are reconsidering a number of different ways things have always been done. If we’ve learned anything from the online bed-in-a-box boom, it’s that sales success does not rely on product alone. From developing new manufacturing efficiencies and consumer marketing to in-store displays and shipping options, there are plenty of ways brands can keep things fresh. With that in mind, maybe it is time to reconsider the way and frequency that new products are introduced as well.

Read more here, here, here and here.

This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on September 27, 2018

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