By David Gill
HIGH POINT, N.C.–As expected, the High Point Market in early April produced some tepid results for the dwindling number of mattress manufacturers who exhibited products here.
Part of this stemmed from the mood among retailers who attended the market, the vendors said. Business has been spotty at best for stores that offer mattresses (as it has been for stores in all product categories) since the beginning of the year. Prior to the market, a number of mattress exhibitors had predicted that the mood here would be muted at best, with industry sales off to a less-than-energetic start for the year, according to numbers from the International Sleep Products Association.
Judging from the exhibitors’ comments, muted was exactly what they got.
“The mood at retail is cautious,” said Gerry Borreggine, president of Therapedic. “Retailers know, first hand, that business is tough. And they read what we read, and see what we see in the news about the economy on the verge of a substantial slowdown. It scares them as much as it does us.”
Borreggine, almost alone among the nation’s top mattress manufacturers, has been a consistent supporter of the High Point Market; Therapedic is the only remaining manufacturer among the top 10 (from HFN’s research into mattress-company sales figures) that still exhibits here. But even he acknowledged that it was a slow market for this product category.
“Traffic is down from what it used to be at High Point, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “But it seems that the falloff is from the ‘casual’ traffic, not the legitimate buying traffic. The casual traffic has gone to Las Vegas, which is a more suitable or compatible destination for that type of visitor.” Still, he added, Therapedic scored a success with two promotionally priced introductions—the open-coil A Café line and the all-foam J du J collection, both of which were added to the company’s Kathy Ireland program. Borreggine said the dealers found them “refreshing,” and “were pleased to see a manufacturer go after velocity price points with designer products.”
A promotion from Bemco Associates also found a willing audience. The company introduced three products under its licensed program with the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, which retailers can tie in to this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. “It looks like about 60 to 70 percent of the dealers who saw it bought it,” said Daryl Tarbutton, Bemco’s president.
Promotions have become essential because “business is not great with the dealers,” Tarbutton said. “We’re getting a lot of local press in Chicago (near Bemco’s headquarters in Des Plaines, Ill.) about retailers having trouble in different industries, and local banks having problems because of the housing crunch. But if 60 percent of the dealers we saw are going to put the gymnastics team licensed product on the floor, it’s an indication that they want to improve their business, and we take a little bit of optimism from this fact.”
This was the first High Point show for Five Star Mattress, and promotion was the way to go for the new company—which was launched in December by AOT Holdings, the parent company of Serta, to establish a foothold in the promotional-mattress sector. The new vendor introduced itself to the market with a full line of mattresses that are slated to retail from $299 to $999.
“At our first appearance at High Point, we were moderately pleased with the activity,” said Donna Zett, president of Five Star. “The retailers shopping in the bedding center were quite positive given the economic conditions. The true retail veterans realize that you are measured by how well you weather the storm.”
Lower-priced products could be found even with manufacturers linked more closely to the high end of the business. Magniflex, which distinguished itself earlier this year by unveiling what it said is the world’s most expensive mattress, at $75,000, launched the Riposo and Buongiorno collections at High Point priced at somewhat fewer digits, $999 as a starting point. These introductions are designed “to broaden the appeal of our products so that younger consumers can begin to enjoy the benefits of the brand,” said Irwin Pearl, Magniflex’s national sales director.
Broadening the vendors’ offerings was a major focus of the show as both retailers and manufacturers explored ways to lift the industry out of the doldrums. The dealers “realize that during these times you adjust your merchandising and optimize your opportunities,” Zett said. “The dealers we spent time with were working on just that. We simply needed to see more of them.”