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DEPARTMENT STORES; AWAKENING BEDDING GIANTS? SOME STORES ARE RISING TO THE TASK AND TAKING STEPS TO STEM THE LOSS OF SALES TO OTHER CHANNELS.

Byline: Karl Kunkel

HIGH POINT, N.C.-Some department stores have arisen from their slumber and taken steps to keep their mattress departments vibrant.

They are hoping to stem a gradual slide in which other channels have eaten into their business.

HFN estimated that in 2005, department stores represented 7 percent of sales of the $8 billion mattress business, losing a full percentage point since 2004, as sleep shops and mass merchants make significant strides.

Industry analyst Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group, noted that in the past 18 years, the percentage of consumers viewing department stores as their preferred place to buy mattresses has been cut in half to 13 percent.

"The question now is how does the department store get that customer back?" Beemer asked.

Steve Dinkins thinks he knows. As senior mattress buyer for J.C. Penney, Dinkins will give his departments a facelift later this summer that he feels will make it more female-friendly and competitive.

"We are transitioning our look to be more comfortable," Dinkins said. "Even in our mattresses, we are looking for fabrics that have a softer hand. On our walls, we are doing very friendly lifestyle graphics that show individuals, as well as couples. We are trying to connect personally."

Replacing plastic foot protectors with fabric foot protectors that match the pillow shams will provide a softer presence, Dinkins added.

In the next two months in its larger stores, Penney will roll out a complete specialty sleep gallery within the bedding department-a category that has been lacking.

"It enhances our innerspring offering by giving the customer choices with foam-both visco and latex-and air," Dinkins said. "We want this to be a one-stop shop so they don't have to look elsewhere for new technology. We are shifting more into trying to connect to their lifestyle needs, as opposed to just selling them a flat surface."

The airbed, a new category for J.C. Penney, will be supplied by Comfortaire. Also new is Sealy adjustable beds with massage features for couples wanting to read, watch television or work on a laptop computer.

While designer Chris Madden isn't represented in the mattress department, "She represents style at affordable pricing. Our mattresses certainly complement what is being done with that type of environment or personality," Dinkins said.

Dinkins added that the mattress department's proximity to furniture and top-of-bed items, such as sheets and comforters, make him more competitive against companies like Kohl's.

"It is another differentiator that allows that customer to buy everything at once," Dinkins said.

Sears Canada has put forth its own full-press effort in its mattress department, under the direction of Rick Palmer, the company's bedding buyer.

In the past six months, Palmer has worked closely with the chain's inaugural "Call, Click or Come In" marketing program to ensure that consumers know of the catalog, Internet or in-store options for ordering mattresses.

"As a department store, we like to think that we are a multichannel retailer," Palmer said. "This is for Sears Canada, but we are starting to work with Sears Roebuck as well. We just launched a major new marketing program for our Web site," he told HFN. The online shopper will see the entire lineup at sears.ca.

"And we've updated the signage and look of our Home stores inside the bedding aisle," Palmer said. "It conveys that Sears is the place to come for the largest assortment of sleep sets in Canada."

While traditional, high-recognition mattress names, Sealy, Serta, Spring Air and Simmons, occupy most of the floor space in department stores, alternative-bedding sources, including Aero Products, a vendor of packable airbeds, are attracting attention.

"In the past, we really didn't have a home in department stores, being somewhere between small electric or mattresses," said Corey Lewison, Aero's product manager. "But if you go to a Sears now, you'll find us right in the mattress section. And in Target, years ago, you would have found air mattresses in the sporting goods section. You'll now find an entire shelf, 16 feet, of strictly airbeds. They have recognized that this is a growing category."

Beemer recommended that department stores use discrete print ad campaigns to make the mattress department stand out, have salespeople readily available and offer more choices of the top brands on the floor. Department store shoppers are the most brand-driven customers out there, Beemer added.

Bloomingdale's in Manhattan has found its own formula capitalizing on the department store's fashion allure. Here, its Bed Studio is in a cloistered area on an upper floor, graced with top brands, including Sealy and Stearns & Foster. The section, with muted lighting, is decorated in blue: a blue ceiling with star lights, navy blue carpeting and mirrored walls to give a soothing, restful ambience.

Caption(s): Look for J.C. Penney to revamp its mattress departments this summer. / Sears sticks with the tried-and-true basics.
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Comment:DEPARTMENT STORES; AWAKENING BEDDING GIANTS? SOME STORES ARE RISING TO THE TASK AND TAKING STEPS TO STEM THE LOSS OF SALES TO OTHER CHANNELS.
Author:Kunkel, Karl
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 19, 2006
Words:811
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