About one year ago, I was on the way to get my kids off of the school bus, and I heard an interview by Terry Gross on NPR. It has stuck with me ever since I heard it, and I wanted to share some of it with you today.
I find the mattress world to be…elusive. That would be the perfect word. And if you are shopping for a new mattress, it can be pretty overwhelming. The first time I ever went to world market, I was going around everywhere to find out everything I could about new companies. We happened to go by a mattress store, (one of the big ones, but I really can’t remember which one) and decided to go look, even though I probably wouldn’t need to use mattresses specifically in my line of work. A lady greeted us at the door, we told her who we were, (interior designer) and she told me she needed to get approval from someone else to be able to let us in. She came back a few minutes later, and said politely that we were not allowed in their store.
That was fine…I didn’t know if that was standard practice for them. Maybe you have to be a direct dealer with them to see their wholesale prices (which I wasn’t), so on we went. I didn’t think much of it, until recently. And I started reading comments and articles about peoples’ mattress shopping experiences. Consumer Reports says they get more inquiries about mattresses than any other product, except cars. And one of the comments by a customer said something to the effect, “A salesman mentioned once that mattresses in furniture stores are the big money makers.” That being said, I would like to share with you what the NPR interview said about the mattress industry.
Terry Gross was interviewing a man named Joshua Kosman, author of the “Buyout of America: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis.” In this interview on November 16, 2009, he was explaining his predictions of another credit crisis coming to America, via private equity firms. What is a private equity firm? They are groups of people who raise money to buy other companies, similar to the way you or I get a mortgage. They put 20% down, and borrow 80%. But there is a major difference. The private equity firms put 20% down, then the company which they are buying borrows the other 80%. So the company that is being bought takes on the risk, not the private equity firm. Sound crazy? It does! So why do companies do this? To make a long story short, the company can deduct the interest they pay from their taxes, and when that frees up money, they hope to pay off the debt quickly. It’s a theory that works on paper, but doesn’t always work out in the real world.
Well, the interview talks about that more in depth, but I wanted to focus on what happened in the mattrass industry. I just needed to explain who they were, because I had never heard of them. Anyway, these firms bought Sealy and Simmons about 20 years ago. Sealy and Simmons were number one by a huge margin, and the buyout made them stop competing against each other. They were bought and sold a few times, and the sellers made a lot of money (kind of like flipping houses). The buyers felt that there was no competition, and raised the prices, making mattresses that the middle-income level people could no longer afford. They made short term profits, but then inflation set in, and it got to where they couldn’t raise their prices anymore. So what was the next step? Cutting the beds in half to cut manufacturing costs.
For years, the mattress companies have been marketing the no-flip mattress. You won’t actually hear them say, ever, that it is a better product, but they have spun it to where we think “Oh! I don’t have to flip it! It must be a better product.” That just isn’t the case.
I’m not against people trying to make money…we all have to. But I am against tricking consumers into a product just to get a sale. The truth about no-flip mattresses is that they won’t last as long. Period. You need to be able to turn and flip a mattress to redistribute where your weight compresses the filling and springs. I haven’t had to actually shop for a mattress. We have had people give us hand-me-downs, and we gratefully accepted them. But from what I’ve read, it is getting harder and harder to find double sided mattresses. So if you are in the market for a new mattress, just go in with your head up. Consumer Reports gives these tips when you are out shopping:
Make sure you know what size you need before you go.
Consider an innerspring first: they are the least expensive. If you want a memory foam mattress, make sure you go and try it out. It can take time to get use to.
Decide where to shop. Companies make the same mattress in a dizzying array of options and put them under different names. Comparison shopping is almost impossible, so get information from websites first, then go to the stores prepared with what interests you. Department stores may have more brands; but smaller, less crowded stores might offer more knowing salespeople.
Never shop online-you need to be able to actually lay down on a mattress and feel it.
Look for a comfort guarantee, where you can return it if you don’t like it within a couple of weeks.
Don’t count on warranties…they only cover manufacturer defects, not normal wear-and-tear. It will be highly unlikely to get a warranty claim. You won’t be able to get it if the sag is less than 1 1/2 inches, you have removed the “do not remove tag”, if it is soiled, or your box springs give uneven support, which causes sagging.
Be willing to shop elsewhere…if you say you will buy it from the website vs. the store, a salesman might be willing to knock a little more off the price, so he can sell it. And wait for the sales. They will always come around.
And make sure you leave that tag on!
There is one instance where you might want a no-flip mattress. If you are alone, or have back problems, flipping a mattress can be very hard to do. So, still knowing it won’t last as long, go ahead and get that no-flip mattress.
This is a really fast way of explaining a very complicated and confusing industry, but I hope it helps a little the next time you are shopping for a mattress!