The Union Leader
New Hampshire's Number 1 Newspaper
Headline Article on January 13, 2008
In The 'Sunday Business' Section
"The Selling of a Good Night's Sleep"
Featuring Trotter Distribution
The Selling of a Good Night's Sleep
BYLINE: JIM KOZUBEK Sunday News Correspondent
DATE: January 13, 2008
PUBLICATION: New Hampshire Sunday News (Manchester, NH)
MERRIMACK -- Jeffrey Trotter was driving a box truck of mattresses down to a retailer on Cape Cod this winter and talking about how the story of a mattress has contributed to expanding the sleep industry into a $20 billion-a-year business.
"It's about selling the story," Trotter, 48, said. "If a mattress doesn't have a story, then you don't have a sale, and everyone is looking for the next great story."
Spinning stories of a good night's sleep is something Trotter is very good at. Tall and loquacious with a charismatic personality, he sells a 153-foot box truck of 100 to 140 mattresses a week to retailers and direct customers in the six New England states.
"Oh … I slept so good last night," he said, back at his warehouse on Columbia Circle, where he sometimes naps in the afternoon (rarely). "It was a deep sleep. I remember looking at my alarm at 9:11 p.m. and the next thing it was 6:30 a.m. But I sleep on a Magnet Therapy 4000 LXV, and that is a bit more expensive."
Indeed, the 4000 LXV wholesales for $1,236, and that is before a rep like Trotter would add a 3 to 20 percent cut, and a retailer would hike the sales price 40 to 100 percent on the showroom floor.
Mattresses have become sexy, packed with NASA-inspired technology, and have come a long way from the days in the not-so-distant past when the industry was dominated by a group of mattress kings like Innerspring, Serta and Sealy with mattresses that reached a top price of a few thousand dollars.
The market now holds scores of highly competitive brands, each with its own special story such as Tempurpedic with its memory foam, Select Comfort with its air-pressurized Sleep Number Bed and Craftmatic with its adjustable bed, with prices that can easily reach into the thousands.
Most of those leaders, such as the 4000 LXV that has strips of magnets sewn into its bedding on the premise that it improves the body's circulation and communication systems while a person sleeps, have a concept or story of some sort that enables it to take hold in the imagination of customers.
Those highly publicized mattresses reaching into the thousands, along with loss-leaders that go for $200 to $300, are the products driving the industry and bringing people into stores to purchase mattresses.
Trotter says that once people decide on buying a mattress they do it quickly, going to 1.8 stores before making their purchase, so if a customer doesn't buy at your store, "number two is going to get them." That makes the shopping experience for a generic thing like a mattress all the more competitive, and wholesalers and retailers know that a customer may want something more than a bargain-basement mattress, but may not be able to shell out for a top-of-the-line model, and that leaves alternatives.
"Furniture Today" reports that 45 percent of customers are paying less than $400 for a mattress, a price that doesn't exactly excite distributors, but 23 percent are paying more than $1,000 for mattresses, leaving a number of knockoff models to sell to the remaining customer base at a slightly cheaper price.
Trotter gets his mattresses from manufacturer Park Place, a Greenville, S.C., company that makes mattresses such as Comfortaire, that closely resemble Select Comfort except with "sleep numbers" that increase by ones instead of fives, and the Orthopedic 10 with its own memory foam. "Air sleep systems are a driving force and everybody else is knocking it off," Trotter said. "The mattress companies will each buy a competitor's mattress, rip it apart, duplicate it and make it better." The duplication of technology is widely practiced in an industry with many manufacturers that make very close to the same thing.
Lorie Silva, general manager for Sleep Labs at Jordan's Furniture, said knockoffs do not always provide exactly the same surface response for sleepers as the name brands, such as Simmons, Tempurpedic and Spring Air that her company sells.
"If a mattress was $2,400 a week before and is now $800, it was never a $2,400 mattress,"
Silva said. Silva said Jordan's opened its Sleep Lab about 17 years ago, when words like "laboratory" and "therapy" began to enter into the domain of the sleep industry, and her furniture company began to partner with the Boston Pain Care Center and Harvard Sleep Disorders Center.
Jordan's Sleep Lab is now monitored by white-coat "sleep technicians," and customers can lie down on a computerized bed that "pressure-maps" their bodies and gives a spectral map of the points that incur the most pressure during a nightly slumber.
Mattresses are sold based on pressure mapping, a person's weight or condition such as restless leg syndrome, and differences in mattress prices are largely due to the quality of materials and ability of a mattress to retain its spring -- a good mattress should last about a decade, she said.
Brookstone Inc. in Merrimack recently introduced the Sona Pillow, a $129 pillow that is anatomically designed for a sideways sleeping neck.
But not everyone buys into the sleep industry including A. Roger Ekrich, who wrote in his 2005 book, "At Day's Close," that a good night's sleep is something of a myth that people have never really achieved.
Ekrich describes how restless a night was in preindustrial times: People slept in poorly insulated buildings with drafts and noise, livestock huffed and stank just outside, beds were ridden with mites and bedbugs, and nights were divided by hobbled trips to an unsteady chamber pot or a nearby fire.
For most of early modern history, he wrote, nighttimes were actually divided into a "first sleep" and a "second sleep" with a curious intermission of several hours that would find people huddling by a fire, chatting with bedfellows, rising for a shot of whiskey or having a pipe.
Dr. Brett Lund, a sleep scientist at the sleep lab at Concord Hospital, says while sleep conditions may have kept people from a sound slumber in early modern history, today sleep disturbances largely result because sleep is no longer an activity and has become something to simply black out on a schedule.
"I think we discount sleep way too much," Lund said. "We are not interested in anything that doesn't have to do with productivity. But sleep can make a huge difference in relationships and health."
Lund says his sleep clinic sees 700 to 800 patients a year and is now one of multiple sleep clinics in the state that in the last decade have benefited from insurers who pay for patients to get sleep counseling.
"It's a big business right now," he said. "People rely on over-the-counter medicines too much, but I think that changing your sleep environment or mattress can actually matter. Patients often say they have never slept better when they stay overnight at a hotel, and that tells me something."
Copyright 2008 Union Leader Corp.
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1506 Columbia Circle, Merrimack, NH 03054