From the outside, the mattress industry seems to be enjoying a profitable period, experiencing some of its greatest gains in a generation in the last ten years. In 2014 alone, the three largest public mattress companies saw sales surge 21 percent and profits increase 11 percent. However, all these gains are masking some ugly trends.
Prices Are High
First, a number of small direct-to-consumer players have emerged as consumers have responded with sticker shock at some retailers to sky-high prices for top-end products. High-end mattresses can command prices of $3,000 or more in some retail outlets. This is reaffirmed on review sites like PillowPancake.com.
Products Can Be Misleading
Adding to the resentment is the finding by some consumer agencies and advocates that mattress companies routinely mislabel mattresses and sell identical products under different names at different price points in different retail environments. In addition, there is often no way to tell from a label what exactly is inside one mattress versus another.
Profit Margins Are Huge
Add to that findings that profit margins in the industry are obscenely high (it has been shown that the materials in a $3,000 mattress can cost no more than $350), and you have a recipe for upheaval in the industry.
By looking at the top five manufacturers of mattresses, there are various lessons we can learn. Overall, it may be said that consumer satisfaction is slightly higher with foam-based products than with coil products, but among units from the largest manufacturers, many consumers have found fault with both.
This company was formed when memory foam mattress maker Tempur-Pedic acquired manufacturer Sealy in 2012. The Tempur-Pedic company was built around mattresses originally made from a Swedish technical foam. The brand was brought to the U.S. in 1992 and went public in 2003.
Sealy was founded in 1881 by cotton gin maker Daniel Haynes. He started selling home-built mattresses to his neighbors and friends and eventually patented them. An advertising executive named Earl Edwards bought the patents and took the company national.
Eventually, the brand was licensed to different manufacturers under a franchise arrangement. All of the licensees were supposed to make the mattresses the same way (this started a trend in the mattress industry). Eventually, what Sealy became was the core of what was formerly its biggest licensee, along with the remnants of other licensees who tried to sue the larger company for franchise violations (and lost). Today, Sealy is the largest manufacturer of mattresses worldwide. Tempur-Sealy also owns the brand name Stearns & Foster.
Like some other mattress manufacturers, Tempur-Sealy puts out very little real useful information, and its website appears very marketing-heavy. For its part, Tempur-pedic claims that the foam in its products was researched by NASA, but some consumers have said that NASA rejected the foam for use in its vehicles due to durability issues and chemical vapors. Sealy has gotten mixed reviews of its mattresses due to longevity issues.
- Serta Simmons
Serta was founded as a consortium of companies that had been producing mattresses under the licensed Serta name in 1931. Serta is the biggest mattress brand in the U.S. and is still formed from a consortium of licensees. The company offers memory foam, latex and inner-spring mattresses. Both Wyndham and Hilton hotels use Serta products extensively.
Simmons Bedding Company was founded in 1870 by Zalman G. Simmons. He started by selling woven wire bedsprings and eventually went into the business of making whole woven wire mattresses, an innovation in the industry for that time.
As opposed to early competitor Sealy, Simmons manufactured all its own mattresses and stored them in its own warehouses until a customer placed an order at a retailer. At that point, the mattress was delivered directly to the customer. This enabled the retailer to save space for inventory and, in theory, lower prices. The flagship Beautyrest name was given to a variety of mattress the company introduced using pocketed coils.
Simmons mattresses were endorsed by celebrities of the time including Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi and George Bernard Shaw. The Beautyrest brand was even mentioned by name in the lyrics to Cole Porter’s song “Anything Goes.” Simmons was the inventor of the king- and queen-size mattress.
In 2012, both Serta and Simmons were acquired by investment firm Advent International. Although the companies are owned by the same entity, they operate as separate companies and fully compete with each other in the marketplace.
Out of all the mattress companies in the top five manufacturers, Simmons appears to have the greatest investment in research and development (“the science of sleep”). Serta, like Tempur-Sealy, appears to be more composed of “marketing hype.” However, both Serta and Simmons have mixed reviews from consumers due to sagging issues.
- Select Comfort
Sleep Comfort was founded by a husband-and-wife team in 1987 and holds 23 U.S. patents for its unique air mattresses. Sleep Comfort makes “Sleep Number” mattresses that have a dial setting allowing you to select the firmness of the mattress by adjusting the compression of the air inside. You can also adjust the firmness for each side of the mattress, as there are air compartments for each side.
The company’s products have been endorsed by celebrities Lindsay Wagner (who appeared in the company’s television commercials), Glenn Beck, Paul Harvey and Laura Ingraham.
The Sleep Number mattresses have gotten mixed reviews from consumers. A number of them have stated that the model they tried in stores felt significantly more improved than what they received. This is a huge complaint regarding mattress retailers in general and likely one of the reasons for new direct-to-consumer brands emerging.
- Corsicana Bedding
A family business founded in 1971, Corsicana focuses heavily on the under-$500 mattress market. Most of its sales are cash-on-delivery. Until recently, the company delivered all its products using its own fleet of trucks.
In 2014, the company sold a majority stake to private equity firm Fenway Partners, a firm which had made previous investments in other mattress companies (they owned Simmons for about five years) and mattress retailers. The original owners still have a minority share of the company.
Corsicana appears to have a well-defined niche market cut out for itself. But its products have drawn as many, if not more, complaints as those from the higher-end manufacturers.
- Comfort Solutions
Comfort Solutions was formerly known as King Koil, whose brand of mattresses comprise the majority of the company’s sales. King Koil was founded by Samuel Bronstein in 1898 as United States Bedding. The company made refinements to bedsprings in the 1930s, from which the new name of the company was born. The company grew and had licensees, who later combined and own what is the company entity today.
King Koil makes mattresses in 80 companies, making it one of the largest international mattress companies in the world. Today, King Koil mattresses are developed in conjunction with the International Chiropractors Association.
In 2005, the company changed its corporate name to Comfort Solutions to better reflect the incorporation of noncoil products, which were selling much faster than its traditional King Koil mattresses. King Coil coil mattresses have gotten fairly negative reviews from consumers, many of whom have complained of uneven sagging over time.
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