Whether your high end bed is 4,000 or 40,000 dollars, here are strategies to help you better present and sell your top of the line.
Editor's Note: This issue includes a series of articles and sidebars from industry experts, David Benbow, Kurt Ling, Jeff Giagnocavo and Pam Danziger; each has a unique perspective on the factors that drive higher-end and luxury bedding purchases.
What exactly is luxury bedding? If you’ve been held hostage in a third world dictatorship for a few months, the advertised $199 queen set would probably seem heaven sent. I’ve been in the business for more than a few years now, and the definition of luxury bedding has gone through quite an evolution since I first set foot in a mattress store showroom.
"If you don't start at the top, you can often step the customer up. Many people come into your store completely unaware of how much mattresses cost."
There was a time not too long ago, when anything over $1,000 was considered luxury. But, is that luxury, by today’s definition?
To find out, I Googled a recent article from Money Inc., written by Maria McCutchen and entitled “The Most Expensive Mattresses in the Entire World.” Ms. McCutchen starts by giving some sound advice on why everybody needs a good mattress. She also, interestingly, suggests that “for some, it can mean paying $1,000 or more…” She then goes on to list seven sets in numerical price sequence, starting on the low end at about $3,000. We all know that there are dozens of SKUs on the market priced higher than $3K but she’s giving an illustration of the ladder upon which mattress prices ascend. As we go from $3,000 on up, we run into some familiar names at $13K, $20K, $30K, with number two being at $67,000. But, to get to Number One, we make a supersonic leap to $1,600,000 for the “Floating Bed.” It actually does float, sort of, being held in mid-air by a “magnet system that allows it to hover approximately 16 inches off the ground.” It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway; the market for this product is limited. But, what about those sets from $67,000 on down?
Race To The Bottom & Race To The Top
Before we start talking about the future of higher-end bedding sales, let’s recount the recent past. The majority of the innerspring mattress business slumbered along for many years until early in the 2000s, when Tempur-Pedic arrived on the scene. This company did nearly everything different. First, they only offered premium, luxury sets. Some of their offerings were $3000 or more for a queen set. They had a limited line-up of products, somewhere between six and a dozen models at any given time. None of their beds were of the innerspring variety. They introduced a new, “revolutionary” viscoelastic foam, which was the main selling point. They rigidly enforced MAP (minimum advertised price) pricing. No name or model differentiation was allowed; every retailer had the exact same beds. They spent a fortune on advertising. Their advertising was aimed at an intelligent, upscale audience. It proved to be effective. Before you knew it, they were the most demanded mattress set in the United States. Little children, coming into my store with their parents, would immediately recognize and excitedly identify the Tempur-Pedic models. This was a new experience for a very mature bedding business.
After a while, the rest of the industry woke up and began to produce competitive visco models. These industry giants also ramped up their innerspring sets, inventing a new category of “hybrid” bed. All of this change and innovation was accompanied by MUCH higher prices. Of course, there was a race to the bottom on cheaper visco by manufacturers specializing in promotional bedding, but the premium category flourished.
"As we go from $3,000 on up, we run into some familiar names at $13K, $20K and $30K, with number two being at $67,000. But, to get to Number One, we make a supersonic leap to $1,600,000."
Needless to say, Average Unit Selling Price (AUSP) went up along with the increased sale of higher-priced mattresses.
Counter-Trend... The Millennial Shift
Then something happened. Maybe it was a cultural shift or related to the Millennial generation and their seeming preference for adventure, experience, technological toys and “tiny houses” rather than traditional upscale consumer products such as $5000 mattress sets and rambling suburban four bedroom houses with three car garages and a riding lawnmower.
Whatever happened, some smart people realized that there were consumers out there who would actually buy the promise of a good night’s sleep without even trying out the mattress first. It didn’t hurt that these marketing geniuses developed some extremely effective advertising. Now, all of a sudden, bed-in-a-box is the hottest thing going. And, where are the prices? Way down from where they were. Now, that doesn’t mean that the market for very expensive luxury beds has gone away.
I suspect that overall, higher prices for luxury bedding since about 2005 facilitated the market for mattresses sold online for $800 to $1,000. Bed shoppers became accustomed to the notion that it wasn’t unreasonable to expect to spend at least $2,000 for a luxury set. Then along came the internet offerings, promoted
by effervescent, exciting advertising that promised a premium mattresses experience for only $800 or $900. And better yet, buyers could try it for 100 days and send it back if they didn’t like it! Their ads also implied, insidiously, that mattress stores were “out to get you” with those high prices. When the idea took root, sales took off. Some industry experts now estimate that online purchases represent as much as 15 percent of all retail mattress sales in the United States, and, they are growing. That is a very large bite out of the bedding pie.
“How you start at-the-top is often the difference between success and failure."
Of course now the rest of the industry, meaning the old line companies, are trying to get in on the bed-in-the-box phenomenon. The downside to this strategy (for the major manufacturers) is that average unit selling price (AUSP) is taking a smart punch in the nose.
This trend, however, is likely to be a short-term phenomenon. Although online mattress sales are likely to continue a fast-growth trajectory, fast-growth bed-in-a-box companies are likely to introduce more premium priced models.
So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The online operators want to get into the brick and mortar stores and raise prices, (and AUSP).
Future Of The Luxury Bedding Market
This will be a very short section, because I have no idea where the luxury bedding market is going. As long as the country remains prosperous and grows even more prosperous, I suspect the luxury bedding market will flourish. Not everybody is a Millennial, and it won’t be long before the Millennials will evolve. Sooner or later, every generation, to a certain degree, slips into the habits of their forebears.
Promoting Luxury Bedding
I will leave it to the other contributers in this issue to give advice on how to advertise and promote any new advances in luxury bedding. If you think you have a really hot new luxury bedding item, and if you have the money, hire a really sharp advertising agency who can give your product the positive exposure it needs to catch on, or catch fire.
I feel like I’m on a little firmer ground talking about selling bedding, luxury or promotional, on the showroom floor. That, of course, is what my book, "How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual" is all about.
So, how do the Retail Sales Associates sell luxury bedding? “Start at the Top” is what all the reps tell you.
Starting At The Top
What does it mean to “start at the top?” The theory behind this marketing and sales strategy subscribes to the notion that if a shopper is shown the most expensive bed (often called the “umbrella bed”), then when shown a less expensive bed, the price of that bed will seem like a bargain. For example, doesn’t $67K sound like a bargain after hearing about a $1.6 million dollar bed? Another pillar of wisdom in this sales strategy is, if you don’t show the most expensive bed, they will never buy the most expensive bed. As self-evident as these concepts are, I genuinely believe that most RSAs violate these principles, and as a result, regularly fail to sell the customer the best bed possible. And, every RSA, store and manufacturer wants to sell customers the best beds possible.
Now, this all sounds great on paper, but should the RSA just greet every “up” and then frog-march them directly to the umbrella bed? Believe it or not, a lot of sales trainers believe this is the right way.
"By the time the RSA has gone through the first three steps of the sale, she should have a pretty good idea of why the customer came in the store."
You might ask; “But, what about the qualifying step, and the selection step? What if the up came in for a twin mattress only for a pop-up trundle?” Well, now it becomes quickly clear that some qualifying still needs to be done. Now, the hard-core “start at the top” trainers will say, “I don’t care if they came in for modi plates, you still need to show them the umbrella bed, and the umbrella bed should be sitting on your top of the line adjustable base!” (If modi plates is a new term for you, Google it.)
I don’t disagree with this idea, either. However, HOW you Start-At-The-Top is often the difference between success and failure.
Steps Of The Sale (And Getting Permission)
There are very few occasions when the RSAS should break with the Steps of the Sale protocol. That includes:
- Close with the same discipline and rigor, even if you start at the top.
Most buyers have a budget. For many, that budget is inflexible. John F. Lawhon, in Selling Retail, says the RSA should ask questions to determine the buyer’s budget goals and then respect that budget. The problem with this seemingly honorable approach is the RSA can never be sure if the buyer is being honest about his budget. He may tell you $499 when he is perfectly able to buy that $10,000 king that reigns in a glorified corner of the store.
So, how do you get your up over to the umbrella bed? By the time the RSA has gone through the first three steps of the sale, she should have a pretty good idea of why her customer came in the store. She should also have generated some rapport with the customer. This rapport should be strong enough then to bring up the subject of the “top of the line bed”, For example, she might say, “I know you came in for a twin set for your son, but while you’re in here, I want to show you something I think you’ll really like. Would you like to see it?”
The RSA introduced the umbrella bed and then requested permission to show it. This removes the pushiness that some RSAs are correctly accused of. Asking permission in this way will usually yield the desired response.
Perils Of Starting At The Top
What about qualifying? Let’s say the fledgling RSA heard the sales manager say, “Always start them at the top.” He goes on the floor, gets a mattress up, and just like that, walks the up over to the $10,000 king set and in his best authoritative voice, says; “Lay down on that bed.” The up’s response to this ungrammatical command may range anywhere from anger to amusement. But, either way, it is unlikely to be a successful sales approach. So, right away the RSA may have made a bad first impression.
Okay, the RSA has learned a hard lesson. On his next bedding up, he remembers what he read in this article (up to this point) and then more tactfully persuades the more willing customer to take a look at the umbrella bed. Sure enough, the up lies down on the bed. Of course, he is going to like the bed, but he’s probably not going to buy it. There’s no way he’s spending that kind of money. So, the RSA begins to regale the up with all the spectacular specifications found in the bed. I mean, it has everything, (except floating on thin air, of course). I’ve watched too many of them make this mistake. What mistake, you might ask? The mistake is “pitching” a bed when the customer has not shown any buying signals for that particular bed.
This happened to me several years ago when I mystery shopped a major chain store. The RSA greeted me and my wife. Then after a brief introduction in which I told him that I was looking for a plush queen set and I didn’t want to spend more than about $900, the RSA immediately led me over to a $2500 queen set and asked me to try it out. Then he began to pour on the impressive specifications that were built into this bed. I told him, yes, it’s very nice, but it’s too much. So, we went to the $1700 queen, also very nice. But all the RSA could talk about was how inferior this $1700 bed was to the $2500 bed. Again, no sale. Finally, I was getting tired of this, so I asked; “Can you just show me your plush $900 bed?” He finally led me to it, but you would have thought it was the $199 Gentle Firm ADV promo bed from the way he talked about it. It fell short of the $2500 bed in so many ways. All he could talk about was what it DIDN’T have.
“This all sounds great on paper, but should the RSA just greet every 'up' and then frog-march them directly to the umbrella bed?"
Let me stop this story to suggest this is NOT the right way to start at the top. When the RSA invariably must “step down” to less expensive beds, he must make positive comparisons to the umbrella bed, not negative comparisons. There is one exception to this advice. If the RSA perceives there might be a chance that the prospect might pop for the top of the line bed, one or two beneficial features might be saved in reserve to use to close the deal on the better bed. Here’s a possible RSA monologue; “This $1700 queen is a great bed, and I know you like it. But, I notice you keep looking back at that $2500 set. You know, it does have the added feature of gel structures embedded in the four inches of plush latex, which will help you sleep cooler at night. I think I heard you say that you tend to throw off covers at night because you sleep a little too warm. Let me point out that $800 price difference is really only 22 cents per night over the ten year life of the mattress. Does that seem like something worth considering?”
But, if the up insists on his $900 budget, he’s still getting a great bed. Make sure he knows it.
If you don’t start at the top, you can often step the customer up to a better bed. Many people come into your store completely unaware of how much mattresses cost. They see the ads; “$299 Luxury firm queen set! On Sale Today Only!” The customer thinks, “That sounds just like what we are looking for. I’m tired of sleeping on Grandma’s 40 year old full set. Let’s go look at that.”
So, they come in the store, ad in hand, and say “Show us this one.” It is my opinion, that if customers point to an ad, and ask to see a bed, then the RSA should take them straightaway to that bed and ask them to try it out. But, you say, “The sales manager said start at the top every time.” Let me say this, if you insist on showing the umbrella bed when the customer has asked to see the $299 queen, you may get accused of “bait and switch” by an irate customer. This is when the strategy of stepping up might be considered as an alternative approach.
Stepping up is similar to stepping the customer down from a top-of-the-line bed. When a customer is shown a $299 queen, it is possible he won’t like it, and may also feel as if he's been deceived by false advertising. The next move by the RSA requires great skill. The RSA must step the customer up gracefully, tactfully and believably or he will leave and never come back. I have seen customers stepped up from a $299 ADV queen to the top of the line. It can be done.
Every manufacturer, every store and every RSA wants to sell expensive luxury bedding. Why not? You make more money, the customer is more satisfied. Everybody wins all the way around. Yet, many RSAs are afraid to show high priced beds to their prospective buyers. It’s the same motto that we use for selling adjustable bases. “If you don’t show ‘em; you won’t sell ‘em.”
Sidebar 1: Luxury Mattress Psychographics
by Kurt Ling
The beautiful part of the luxury mattress market is that it serves two different consumer segments; those with a lot of disposable income and those who believe their bedroom is the most important room in the house. I think it is intuitive to everyone reading this article that consumers with a lot of income will spend more on their mattresses. However, one of the greatest opportunities in the luxury mattress business is recognizing that consumers love their master bedrooms and use them as a place of refuge.
The luxury mattress business is as much about a psychographic consumer segment that prioritizes their bedroom as it is about disposable income. The luxury mattress consumer buys based on "feel" and details. Ultimately, one of the single most defining characteristics of today's luxury mattress buyer is that he or she wants to experience the mattress in a retail store. They have to feel it, they have to touch it, they have to see the details.
Luxury mattress customers also want to customize their mattresses. This desire is similar to buying bespoke, tailor made or tailored clothing versus a dress or suit off the rack. The ability to "make the mattress exactly as I like it" enhances and differentiates the buying experience, the sleeping experience, and ultimately the retail ticket. It is a win-win-win for all involved. Custom layering inside mattresses or even offering detachable pillow tops has long been the standard across Europe in luxury bedding for a very good reason.
The luxury mattress business has changed over the last couple decades. Natural materials have become more important as a key differentiator in luxury bedding. These materials are valued because they are long- lasting and authentic. Additionally, they have great story value in setting apart luxurious mattresses from those mass produced. Natural materials not only outlast man-made materials but offer true temperature regulation, moisture management, and a healthier place to sleep. The value of wool and cotton in a luxury mattress has become where luxury "begins." Leonardo DaVinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication," and the luxury mattress customer agrees. There was a day when a really tall, hand tufted mattress with fancy corner guards was the pinnacle of luxury in mattresses in America, but that is no longer the case. Todays luxury consumers are looking for extraordinary design, a unique and credible story, natural materials, and mattresses that are beautiful to the hand and to the body. Less is more in terms of profile and decorating.
Above all, luxury mattress displays need space. In all types of retail, mass produced, mainstream priced merchandise is typically displayed close together, while luxurious products are given more space in stores. Luxury mattresses need to always be shown in king, and be allotted twice as much room between models. This is more important than the POP on the beds or on the walls.
About Kurt Ling: Kurt is the co-founder of Posh+Lavish, maker of mattresses he describes as "The ultimate expression of caring for both our bodies and minds while we sleep." Kurt spent the first half of his career working for Maytag Appliances. He entered the mattress business in 1999 as VP of Beautyrest at Simmons where he lead the brand to its non-flip design which ultimately changed the industry.
Kurt founded Pure LatexBLISS in 2009. After selling the compay, he founded Posh+Lavish. Questions and comments can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sidebar 2: Luxury Mattress Perspectives
By Pam Danziger
Innovation is challenging luxury brands from below with new lower priced entrants into the marketplace. Companies in luxury market, no matter what the specific product category, can’t afford to overlook competition that’s coming from below or new technologies being introduced into the market.
The most positive factor for the luxury mattress segment is the rich are getting much richer. If you look at the data for U.S. households, the percentage of people with annual incomes over a hundred thousand dollars has grown over 20 percent in the past several years. Households with incomes of 250,000 dollars and above, have grown even faster (see chart). So, what might have been defined as an expensive mattress five years ago for higher earners, might be considered today to be affordable or average.
How much a mattress costs is less important to the affluent than the experience it delivers.
Another positive factor for the bedding industry is the huge amount of research and media attention regarding the importance of sleep for proper health and quality of life. It’s money in the bank for retailers who carry higher-end mattresses that can be positioned to deliver a better quality of sleep.
My recent research and consulting for luxury brands has focused on the concept of presenting authentic luxury. One bedding company that does a good job in this regard is Hästens, a company that uses the same manufacturing methods and quality of materials they started with in 1852. But what’s old can be new again when a bedding brand differentiates itself with an updated look and a brand promise that resonates with what consumers want today.
For luxury bedding a brand promise might be simply, "The best sleep money can buy". For Hastens it’s also about creating a look that stands out from a sea of white boxes on sales floors with a distinctive trademarked blue-and-white check cover. Hästens brands its beds on the outside as well as the inside.
On the retail side, Chicago luxury beds, with two showrooms in the Chicago area has done well by developing a clientele that has the means to buy the best for their multiple large homes.
These are clients who can afford to fly to Chicago to shop for mattresses and have them shipped to their houses in Aspen, Palm Beach or wherever.
At the high end there’s also room to think out of the box to reach high-end consumers. Consider, for example untethering luxury mattress sales form local markets by showing them in airports or other destinations where well heeled consumers are headed. Other luxury brands already do this successfully. Why not reach this jet-lagged demographic when they most need an amazing sleep experience?
About Pamela Danziger: Pamela N. Danziger is an internationally recognized expert specializing in consumer insights for marketers targeting the affluent consumer segment. She is president of Unity Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting firm she founded in 1992 where she leads with research to provide brands with actionable insights into the minds of their most profitable customers.Questions and comments can be directed to Pam at email@example.com.