Sleep Retailer eNews | March 26, 2020

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How The Bedding Industry Is Responding To The Global Pandemic

Sorry we are closed sign board hanging on door of store

As the efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic are ramping up across the country and the globe, people are starting to feel the impact in every aspect of daily life. And the bedding industry is no exception. With stores being ordered to close and people taking the necessary precautions to stay home, bedding companies are preparing for difficulties ahead. With so much uncertainty surrounding this issue, we wanted to take a careful look at the pandemic’s impact—how it has already begun to affect our industry and predictions for how it may continue to play out in the months ahead. While the current outlook may seem bleak, there are still bright spots—from new innovative solutions that will hopefully alleviate some of the disruption to instances of manufacturers stepping up to lend a hand where they are needed. As the crisis continues, we hope to continue to serve as a valuable resource for bedding retailers and manufacturers as they forge ahead and plan for their future. 

The Initial Response

Last week, Nationwide Marketing Group conducted a quick initial survey of its members to get a snapshot of how the independent retail industry was reacting to the crisis—and then today released the findings from a follow-up survey. With more than 460 retailers responding to the first survey and 633 to the second, the group found a somewhat varied range of insights that have evolved over the past week.

Unsurprisingly, in-store retail has been most affected: 52% of survey respondents reported a significant decrease in foot traffic. And yet, more than half of respondents were also reporting that their year-over-year comparable sales had still met or exceeded last year. Many stores have already begun making major operational changes to accommodate government directives and ensure the safety of their customers and employees. This included enhancing the cleaning and sanitization processes in-store and adopting social distancing practices during internal meetings and interactions with customers. Others were working on implementing new precautionary measures around deliveries, including wearing gloves and shoe covers, mandatory hand sanitizer use and calling customers to ensure no one at home is sick.”

As the situation continues to grow more serious and widespread, more of these changes are inevitable. At the time of the first Nationwide survey, two-thirds of respondents planned to maintain normal operating hours and only 5% had completely shut down their stores. The second survey showed that now 42% of respondents have reduced store hours, with 13% voluntarily closing their stores with no government order to do so and another 8% saying they plan to do so soon. Of course, the realities of the pandemic have evolved drastically in the days since this survey was issued—prompting more businesses to close their doors, whether voluntarily or as a result of newly implemented directives.

Is Your Store Essential?

As a number of states have issued “shelter-in-place” rules, there has been some discrepancies as to whether or not mattress stores are classified as an “essential business.” This generated a dispute between one Illinois Mattress Firm location and the local government. Last weekend, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District issued the retailer a cease-and-desist order after the store remained open despite the new stay-at-home orders going into effect. The confusion came from a discrepancy over what constitutes a “household consumer good,” as businesses that sell those products have been deemed essential and are allowed to remain open.

“The order specifically names businesses that sell household consumer products, as well as products that are essential to the operation of a residence, as essential retail,” said Mattress Firm CEO John Eck. “We feel confident that sleep is an essential function of a home, especially during times of high stress and anxiety.” The local health district administrator Julie Pryde disagreed—saying that the store location was allowed just “one employee in for online orders.”

Eck argued that the low-volume nature of their locations allowed them to more easily sanitize and enforce social distancing rules, but other mattress shops have taken a different viewpoint. Tom Bender, owner of nearby Bender Mattress Factory, has already closed up shop and plans to stay that way for the duration of the stay-at-home order. “People can lay down and leave the virus on the mattress,” he explained. “It’s an intimate thing when you lay down on a mattress and put your head on a pillow.”

While many in our industry see mattresses and bedding a clearly essential household items, the nature of the in-store shopping experience poses clear difficulties in the face of these orders. More retailers should prepare for the reality that their physical stores may have to shutter in the coming weeks.

How This Will Affect Sales

Rather than put employees and customers at risk, many retail stores are closing their doors and hoping that their cash on hand is enough to ride out the duration of this shut-down. Mattress retailers in particular are already anticipating that the crisis is going to negatively impact sales in the coming months. According to Piper Sandler, a financial services company that conducts a nationwide mattress retailer survey each month, mattress retail sales are expected to drop by up to 20% in March. This comes at the heels of a strong February, a month in which survey respondents reported a 13.9% mean increase in total dollar sales.

Bedding retailers are in good company, at least. Over the last week, more than 47,000 chain stores have shut their doors—and that number does not even take into account the number of small retail businesses that have also been closed. Many of these retailers have pledged to stay shuttered for at least two weeks, but it’s possible that this could go on for much longer than that.

The Rent Problem

To weather their sales losses, many retailers are now trying to figure out a way to withhold or pay only reduced rent in April. While many states have issued freezes on mortgage payments, none have yet to address the issue of rent—leaving both retail tenants and landlords in the lurch as they try to figure out how to cover this cost with little to no revenue coming in.

Mattress Firm is one of these chains looking to halt rent payments. After initially asking landlords to cut its rent in exchange for longer leases, the retailer issued a more urgent plea this week and requested a temporary suspension of rent. The decline in revenue and forced store closures across the nation are more drastic, compressed and immediate than we originally anticipated,” the company wrote in a letter to Bloomberg—noting that its “need is now more severe” and categorizing the pandemic as a “force majeure” event that will prevent or prohibit it from paying rent.

According to this Bloomberg article, the “force majeure” declaration may be the answer for many retailers struggling to make rent. This contract clause covers “highly unusual events”—and could also, in turn, be issued by landlords in talks with their insurance companies. But it is still unclear whether or not this is a feasible solution—and experts are predicting an uptick in legal disputes between landlords and tenants if the government doesn’t step in.

New Solutions For How To Move Forward

Although initially expected to last just a few weeks, it is now looking like the widespread disruption caused by the pandemic could last at least through May. And the ramifications will likely continue well into the future.

The chances of everything simply going back to normal are slim. It is inevitable that the realities of life and business are going to be altered even after the virus is finally contained. While in some ways this is a stressful reality, it’s also highly likely that many will emerge from this crisis more aware of public health issues, perhaps a little scrappier and armed with innovative ideas for doing stronger and more resilient business. Rather than sitting back and hoping that all of this will just eventually go away, now is the time to start envisioning and preparing for a new normal.

Enhanced Virtual Tools

Already, there are companies that are introducing new tools and technologies to help companies adapt to this current moment. With furniture markets being canceled or postponed throughout the country, manufacturers are scrambling to find new ways to showcase their products for retailers—who, regardless of the uncertainties, still need to prepare for the year ahead.

Live Furnish is offering a valuable solution to this issue. Through rapid prototyping, 3D image production technology, the company is able to deliver high-quality, life-like photo renderings of products within a range of dressed room settings. This technology would allow companies to generate images without a physical product or in-person photoshoot. This provides manufacturers with a new way to showcase their products and engage with their clients via digital or printed platforms—which not only helps them safely continue their business efforts during this moment, but may offer continued value in the future as well.

“A digital furniture experience can help support market growth and retention while standard shopping and shipping are challenged, as they are now,” said Live Furnish Co-Founder, Preet Singh. With minimal production time and low cost per image, this technology is an efficient solution for companies who need to tighten their purse strings right now. As we eventually transition back to in-person sales, it could also help retailers introduce more product customization into their showrooms.

Invest In Ecommerce

While much of in-person retail has come to a stand-still, online shopping is still possible. According to the Nationwide Marketing Group survey, 76% of respondents said that their online traffic had either increased or remained steady in recent weeks.

If you are a retailer with a steady online presence, that should be where your energy is focused right now. Many manufacturers are doubling down on their ecommerce efforts and enhancing the digital resources they offer their retail partners.

And if you are a retailer that doesn’t have very robust ecommerce capabilities, now is the time to explore how you can expand into the category. Having an online sales presence, even if it’s a small selection of options, allows you to be nimble in times like these. And while the delivery logistics can make mattress orders difficult right now, smaller accessory items are easier to ship. Thoughtfully diversifying your business is a way to protect yourself from unforeseen difficulties such as this one.

How The Industry Is Switching Gears To Lend A Hand

Of course, in a moment like this, sometimes there are bigger things to think about than sales. It’s been heartening to see a number of industry players step up to offer their services where they are needed. Many bedding companies have the facilities and capabilities to manufacture in-need supplies such as protective face masks, hospital beds and ventilators.

Serta Simmons Bedding just announced that it will be donating 10,000 mattresses to New York City hospitals and medical facilities. Facilitated in partnership with Relief Bed International, the donation hopes to address the significant shortage of hospital beds the city is experiencing in the wake of the pandemic. The company is also pledging additional assistance as needed—noting that its factories and distribution network are capable of producing up to 20,000 beds per day.

Brooklyn Bedding is also offering up its manufacturing capacity to support healthcare facilities. The company has signaled to hospital and government officials that it is prepared to repurpose its innovative bedding technology in order to produce hospital beds. Originally developed for the trucking industry, the mattresses’ proprietary vinyl cover is made with creased corner seals to resist liquid permeability—ensuring the extreme waterproofing features needed by hospitals. Additionally, Brooklyn Bedding’s roll-pack processing allows for easy bed-in-a-box delivery direct to the hospitals and agencies in need, while on-demand production will help alleviate excess inventory.

Other companies are expanding beyond their normal manufacturing output to focus on other in-demand products. TDI Worldwide is spearheading an initiative to help other industry manufacturers to start producing masks as well—with many leading brands already committing to cause. With support and guidance from North Carolina Senator Tom Tillis, the group is currently navigating the approval processes for the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration (which require approval on both facilities and materials in order to certify the masks as medical-grade).

Eclipse International has also shifted its production to medical masks. Using some of the very same materials it uses in its mattresses, the company will produce an initial batch of 38,000 masks to provide to health care professionals. Eclipse has also shared the mask pattern, specifications and source information for the elastic with its network of 17 licensees throughout the country.   

What’s Next?

This is an unprecedented moment in our country’s history - and there are many questions that still remain about how this will continue to impact our daily lives. In times like these, it’s important to conserve your energy and focus it on tangible solutions.

Focus on what you can do to help. That includes doing what you can to stop the spread of the disease by washing your hands, closing up shop and staying home as much as possible. That also means looking for ways that you can help others, whether through financial assistance or product donations.

Start thinking about ways to innovate in the future. There is so much that’s still unknown, and even more that is out of our control. This makes it easy to feel helpless or fatalistic. Rather than succumbing to doom and gloom, try to accept that there will be questions with no answers for a while - and use this moment to think boldly about the future. When business as usual is disrupted so drastically, it can open the mind up to new, previously unimaginable opportunities. If you allow yourself to entertain those possibilities now, you just may be able to build towards them in the future.

Read more here, here, here, here, here and here.

Revamping Your Approach To Content Marketing

Light Bulb Ideas Creative Diagram Concept

In this current moment, your digital presence and the content you distribute can be your company’s life line. It can help you stay connected to consumers and hopefully keep the sales coming in. Now is a great time to hunker down and re-evaluate or, if you haven’t already, develop some sort of a content marketing strategy to support your website. It’s also a great time to get creative. As more people are staying in, many are looking for new forms of entertainment and information—which means some content marketing approaches may be even more successful now than in the past. 

In marketing, content—which includes any medium for delivering communication, from podcasts to blog posts to videos—is a useful tool for developing a brand voice. It can also be a way to support and inform customers and prospects throughout the year. By sharing meaningful content that offers real value to consumers, you can really engage people and clearly show them what your products can do to help improve their lives.

So how exactly do you go about developing content that resonates?

We have some tips on the fine art of content marketing. Although this form of marketing has been in vogue for several years now, it is continually evolving based on the needs of whatever audience you’re seeking to reach. Which brings us to our first point:

Form Follows Audience

In 2017, we wrote an article that similarly addressed content marketing strategy. At the time, eNewsletters, blogs, print and digital magazines were very prevalent in the sleep products market—and many of these formats still exist and are still popular. But with new generations rising into the consumer spending arena, there are emerging channels to explore. Of course, those new media avenues won’t work for everyone. Finding the right platforms and topics for different audiences will be essential to the success of your content campaign.

For the purposes of this article, we will use Gen-Z as an example target audience. Content marketing remains very popular among millennials and Gen-Zers, two demographics that are both looking for more authenticity from brands. Because Gen-Z encompasses such a wide age range—they are considered to be anyone born between 1997 and 2012—they make up roughly 40% of US consumers. According to this article from INC, “Selling to Gen Z doesn't work. Instead, you've got to give them something of value and prove that your brand is worth their time.” Part of that can be insightful content, while others can be giving back, sourcing products sustainably and other social good initiatives. The purpose of the content you share can be to promote this work and get others involved.

As the most tech-savvy consumer buying group in the market today, Gen-Z also loves customization and feeling like an individual—so you’ve got to up your game with segmentation and targeted media.

This generation is also using different forms of social media and is pulled in by video, more than some of the other generational demographics. This is where form gets more specific—this generation spends time on TikTok, Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat—favoring dynamic media and video formats over more static media like blogs and pictures on Facebook. So, when targeting this group, channels and mediums should be pretty modern—funny YouTube videos and memorable TikToks are key.

Remember that no matter what audience(s) you are trying to reach, you don’t actually have to be all things to all people. Designate two to three target demographic groups and use three to four channels (or the number of channels that you know you can manage well), to develop and deploy content. Research the demographics and understand what types of media and topics are most important to them. Then start creating!

Get Creative With Technology & Be Aware Of What’s Out There

Obviously there are new channels coming into the fore daily and attracting new audiences, but you shouldn't count out older content channels either. In this section, we’ve shared some updates on what’s new, what’s trending and some ways of using old-hat platforms you may not have considered before.

Virtual Events

Outside of the bedding industry, we are starting to see more virtual events popping up as more in-person events are cancelled and brick-and-mortar locations are closed. And, while it may seem like a stretch for the bedding and mattress business, there are some content marketing opportunities that have to do with video content or even live events and webinars to be had here.

Does your brand or a brand you partner with have a Sleep Doctor? See if you can get that person to do a video conference and invite everyone on your mailing list. Think about what would make you tune in. Ensure you focus the video on a topic that feels pertinent and useful to viewers. Do you have an RSA who has particularly in-depth knowledge about sleep and great presentation skills? Enlist their help! At the end, you can highlight products in your store to address issues that participants are having. Ultimately, a webinar or panel video could offer viewers valuable information and drive them to your website to evaluate online purchases to solve their sleep woes.

General Video

If you have a YouTube channel, don’t just throw commercials and branded videos on there. Think about the character of your store, what do you do better than the others in your area? What is your specialty? And, what kind persona do you want to convey? Create animated or even silly in-store videos that represent your style—just be careful not to verge on camp, make sure that even if your video is meant to be humorous it has a clear purpose.

Look at the way publications use their YouTube channels. Typically they have themed videos that fit different styles and formulas—i.e. a Q&A or before and after. Think about templates and categories you can use on your own channel to create compelling videos on a regular schedule. Unboxings are huge on YouTube, same with hauls: these are videos of consumers showing an audience all the things they’ve bought recently and why. Try using an approach like this to talk about new items featured in your store—have your buyer talk authentically about why they selected your latest collection. Think about hot topics—CBD in sleep products, aromatherapy or weighted blankets—and hone in on those.

Voice Search Optimization

Make sure that your content can be found if someone is Googling using Alexa and not by typing into a browser. This Entrepreneur article explains it well, “Content marketers need to focus on anticipating the questions their audience would ask in a conversational manner and create content based on those conversational questions and longtail keywords.”

There are many, many other new technological avenues out there—and many new ways to approach existing technologies. It’s all about how you use them. Don't spread yourself too thin by trying to be all things to all people; select a vibrant mix of content channels that work for your goals.

Be Authentic

Are your RSA’s funny? Is your store stocked with mostly organic and naturally made products? Do you consider yourselves sleep educators rather than sales associates? No matter what format you choose, be sure to express the authentic and consistent values of your brand and store. Think about why you offer what you offer and why a consumer might care. Use the strengths and focus of your particular product mix to help you stand out with themed content.

Provide Concrete Advice And Usable Information

Finally, make sure that those who engage with your content walk away with concrete advice, new sleep knowledge or even a funny story. Marketing can and should be more than fluffy ads or smoke and mirrors. Content marketing in particular is a chance to go deeper and impact readers in a lasting way.

Read more here, here, here and here.

Sleep Wellness While Under Stress

Depressed woman awake in the night, she is exhausted and suffering from insomnia

While some people deal with insomnia all the time, many especially struggle with being able to fall asleep when they are going through an especially stressful period. Whether you have a documented anxiety disorder or simply a lot on your mind, it can be endlessly challenging to relax and power down your brain. According to Michael Grandner, Ph.D., director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, “People who don’t sleep well are more likely to become depressed or anxious if they weren’t before. If they have a recurrent depression or anxiety disorder it will not only make it worse, it will make it more likely to come back if it’s in remission.”

At the present moment, we are collectively experiencing stress, anxiety and uncertainty unlike anything most of us have ever experienced before. Our normal routines and ways of being may be completely different as a result of the pandemic and state-based decisions to close businesses. Both on a practical and logistical level as well as a personal level, this is a trying time. Which is why taking care of yourself and being in-tune with your needs without judgment is paramount right now.

We’ve rounded up some techniques for getting good rest, even when it feels like everything else is tumultuous—because any conflict is hard to handle if you aren’t sleeping well.

What You Do During The Day Matters

We often talk about how important routine is when it comes to going to sleep at night and it definitely is. But it’s also important to structure your day and make it feel full—basically wearing yourself out during the day with a sense of purpose, list of tasks and exercise can help you sleep better at night. In this article for Apartment Therapy, Grandner is also quoted explaining that, “Sleep is very rhythmic...The body loves predictability.” And, when you can’t control what’s going on around you, creating a consistent routine that you can control—even if it’s temporary—can help you better organize your sleep.

Don’t Engage With Heavy Media Before Bed

Reading and watching TV before bed are ways that most of us chill out in the evening. But when you are in a state of heightened stress, sometimes staying away from serious content right before bed can be helpful. Try cutting out news, intense TV shows, movies or literary plots and instead try to read a soothing poem, watch a funny sitcom—keep it light and give your brain a pre-sleep break.

You Already Know This One…Put Your Phone Away

Yup, put it away. Place it on charge, set it to do not disturb or power it down and leave it. That’s it, that’s the tip!

Make Getting Ready For Bed An Event

If you don’t already, establish a routine before bed that isn’t a chore but a treat. Wash your face with a luxurious scrub, exfoliate, moisturize. Spritz a scent you like over your bed. Light a candle, make some tea, wear real pajamas. Make it an event like eating a special meal, but do it each night. Go to bed feeling like your best self every night of the week, regardless of how the day went. We wrote an even more detailed guide to developing a healthy routine that you can find here. Make your decadent nighttime routine extra fun by sharing with a friend or loved one—celebrate doing nice things for yourself!

If you’ve found yourself working from home or out of a job and sheltering in place these days, the separation between the day time and sleep time is even more crucial. Your evening routine—when you stop working for the night, when you stop drinking coffee, what room you spend time in if you aren’t leaving your house and when you exercise are all the more important in clueing your brain into going to sleep.

Use Some Specific Techniques To Stop Stress In Its Tracks

5-4-3-2-1 Method

If you find yourself trying to nod off to sleep but feel your brain thinking through something weeks away or catastrophizing something you saw on the news, it’s a good time to bring yourself back to the present with this technique (it’s good for any time really, not just going to bed). You can say these aloud or in your head, whatever works best for you, but sometimes the act of slowly saying them out loud can help ground you and interrupt any anxious or panicky physical and mental feelings you may experience.

5. Name 5 things you can see.

4. Name 4 things around you that you can touch.

3. Name 3 things around you that you can hear.

2. Name 2 things that you can smell (you can also think about and imagine two scents you like)

1. Name 1 thing that you can taste—maybe it’s your toothpaste. In this case, you can also imagine something you like the taste of if you don’t have any taste in your mouth.

The point of this exercise is to slow down and tune-in to the present moment you occupy. Observe it thoughtfully and by the time you get to one, whatever loop your brain was running in should be broken.

Breathing Techniques

Practice mindful breathing and slow your anxious self down by lying on your back with one hand on the top of your stomach and the other on your heart. Let your shoulders be heavy. Open and relax your hips as you inhale deeply through your nose while you count to five, let the air fill up your belly, then ribcage, then upper chest. Once you feel like you’ve gotten a full breath, hold it – then exhale through your nose in a long, smooth motion. Doing this for five to ten minutes before bed can help you put anxious thoughts away.

Some other ways to power down at the end of the day is to do some gentle yoga stretches, and as you do try to really feel the stretch. Avoid engaging in any more strenuous exercises before bed and cool it with the caffeine by 1 pm. If you are feeling especially anxious, remember that caffeine and alcohol can both exacerbate those feelings. While quitting caffeine cold turkey could cause other forms of stress, being mindful of your daily intake and not consuming anything caffeinated after the middle of the day can also help you get better rest.

In the times we are living in, it can be hard to stick to any sort of routine—it can even be hard to get out of bed in the morning. It’s essential that when you are experiencing higher stress levels than normal that you don’t repudiate yourself if you don’t stick to the schedule you planned or if you sleep in late or stay up too late. Keep reminding yourself that tomorrow is another day and every day is an opportunity to get into a healthy habit.

Read more here, here, here, here and here.

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