We asked Owen Shoemaker, senior vice president of marketing and product development, from Comfort Solutions, to talk about his company’s strategy, explain the evolution of its most successful brands, and address what the future of the industry might look like.
Comfort Solutions has a solid reputation for marketing brands that target specific consumer needs. Can you shed more light on that strategy?
“We’ve made our name both our mission and our strategy: To deliver mattress features and benefits that resonate with consumers and deliver the sleep solution they need. “For example, recent national headlines talked about America’s weight gain as a national epidemic. We studied the connections between obesity and poor sleep identifying the need for a line of extremely durable, yet comfortable mattresses intended for plus size sleepers. That line became Extended Life™, the ‘No-Sag Mattress.’
“The Laura Ashley® collection is another case in point. Years ago when retail floors were awash in white beds, we worked to bring color, style and fashion to the mattress experience through that brand. It not only set the line apart, but consumers found it extremely appealing and retailers liked the fresh new direction.”
How does your marketing approach help differentiate you and your retailers?
“Imagine a consumer who hasn’t shopped for a bed in 10 years. She visits several local stores, all of which offer the same brands, prices and looks. It’s a mind-numbing experience and no surprise that consumers postpone or dislike it.
“Given that, our approach is to identify real consumer sleep needs, address those needs in our products and then create clear conversation points about both. Everything has to make sense: the product, the price and the new information the retailer can offer the customer about better comfort and value.”
Currently, what is your fastest growing mattress line and what are the reasons for that?
“By far it’s our Sleep iD™, dedicated to the idea that ‘One size does NOT fit all.’ Sleep iD relates to the small, medium, large and extra-large sizes used in the apparel industry, but we call it your proper ‘support size’ or fit, which can range from 1 to 4. Size 1, for example, is softer and attuned to smaller, thinner people; size 3 is for larger body types with more mass and density, which require different support dynamics.
“Sleep iD provides direction for the best ‘mattress fit’—one that will keep the customer’s body in proper postural alignment while taking into account their physical characteristics.
It’s simple and intuitive, and both retailers and consumers have responded very positively to it.”
You were the first major producer to introduce a mattress line (Extended Life) designed for overweight sleepers. Since size or weight can be sensitive topics on the sales floor, how have you and your retailers met that challenge?
“We first had to recognize several realities: That it’s difficult for bigger people to find a well-designed sleep set, and that the spiral of poor choices they make in finding a good bed is frustrating and expensive. Our research also showed that plus-size sleepers need and want to know where to find these products.
“So, the first step is to advertise the product for what it is. In the store, the features and benefits of the line should be identified but the “plus-size” nature of the product shouldn’t be oversold. That’s because many consumers don’t see themselves as people of size, they may have a partner that isn’t plus-size, and the salesperson needs to keep the shopper’s experience real, but upbeat. That means the RSA should be armed with the right questions, such as ‘In searching for a good mattress, we offer a variety of beds from Comfort Solutions. Is there a particular issue for which we can help you find the right solution?’
“That type of leading question can result in a positive outcome if it’s delivered with the proper respect. Actually, Extended Life sells very well to people of all sizes.”
King Koil® is a global Comfort Solutions product and one of the most longstanding mattress names in America. What’s happening with the brand these days?
“In many parts of the world, King Koil is both the power brand and a luxury brand. Especially in countries of economic prosperity, our licensees successfully position the brand as the ultimate in comfort and support. In the US we’ve always focused on the value of King Koil at popular prices, but times are changing. We’re planning a renaissance of sorts for what really is one of the best ‘brand institutions’ in the mattress industry.”
You licensed the Laura Ashley brand long before many mattress companies began using designer or celebrity names. How have your Laura Ashley products evolved over the years and how do they resonate with today’s consumers?
“This brand continues to bring to the market a unique style, color and flair. The recent introduction of the Laura Ashley ‘Beautiful and Smart’ theme and product collection has been extremely well received. We believe that while many women appreciate beauty, they also want ‘smart’ features that make sense and meet their needs. We will continue down the path of embracing women’s desire for both.”
The industry has been overwhelmingly “one-sided” for more than a decade, but recently Comfort Solutions introduced a two-sided line called Advantage™. What was your rationale and how have retailers responded?
“When one-sided bedding arrived in 2000, RSAs worked hard to sell the merits of the design. But by 2005, single-sided mattresses were the industry norm and sales associates weren’t talking much—if at all—about that aspect of the product.
“Online reading, our own surveys plus lots of anecdotal evidence suggested that pre-2000 consumers re-entering the mattress market were not aware that today’s beds typically have only one useable side. We saw that as an opportunity to provide what might be viewed as a ‘traditional’ mattress that offers the value of two sleeping sides, along with quality and comfort.
“Advantage was introduced in the fall of 2010, and retailers are telling us that the line’s Dual Seasons™ covers—Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter—are an appealing and effective selling story.”
What attributes or performance criteria will be critical to mattress products in the future?
“In the not-so-distant future, mattress shopping will be done online, consumers will receive their orders direct from the source, and the bed of their choice will be nearly perfect in meeting their expectations…most of the time. The mattress will resist bed bugs, dust mites and many forms of bacteria. It will also be capable—at the customer’s option—of things like anticipating wake-up times and gently nudging the sleeper toward the coffee brewing nearby. All signs point to this type of technology in the future.
“Looking at the process of sleep itself, we believe that science eventually will uncover the means to re-engineer sleep cycles and patterns so that illness, weight gain, stress and the often catastrophic effects of sleep deprivation, are mitigated.
“As a sleep products producer, we’re committed to helping in any way we can. Our sense is that stress is the single biggest factor in poor sleep quality. Doing more to reduce stress is going to be a big part of our own future.”