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IN BASIC BEDDING, BRANDS PUSH SALES; BIG-NAME MATTRESS BRANDS, DESIGNER NAMES AND PRIVATE LABELS ALL HAVE A NICHE.

The assortment of basic bedding brands offered by any single manufacturer is beginning to look like a Chinese restaurant menu: one from the mattress column; one from a designer; a specialty or two, and the rest from private labels.

Certainly a major mattress brand is an asset in the category. "The Sealy brand drives sales in basic bedding by getting consumers' attention and by legitimizing the products," said Fritz Kruger, marketing director at Pacific Coast Feather Co. "At 93 percent brand awareness, Sealy is a household name comparable to the biggest brands in America. "When consumers see Sealy's familiar logo, especially in a new context, it gets their attention. When applied to the low purchase frequency of basic bedding, that extra attention has a big impact.

David Stewart, vice president of marketing at Hollander Home Fashions, which makes Spring Air basic bedding, said, "Aligning with a company like Spring Air allows us to capitalize on their national brand, their reputation and consumer recognition."

Differentiation is key

Louisville Bedding introduced the first mattress- branded basic bedding 10 years ago with the Simmons Beautyrest label. David Roshberg, Louisville's director of merchandising, noted that the label dramatically increased sales at the time -- to double or triple those of a comparable, unbranded product. But, he added, today's market is different. `'I am very bullish on branding," said Roshberg. "Clearly, when you associate a well-known brand with a mattress pad or pillow, it gives customers a level of confidence in a typical commodity product that is difficult to shop." But with so many choices in the marketplace, he added, manufacturers must make various types of brands to appeal to different retailers. Louisville's Beautyrest line sells across all channels of distribution; its Croscill brand only to Croscill customers; and its Nautica label to department stores only.

Bill Gober, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Liebhardt Mills, a wholly owned subsidiary of WestPoint Stevens, agreed: "We need all four [categories]." Liebhardt's stable of brands includes Serta Perfect Fit, Beverly Hills Polo Club, Dr. Scholl's, Medibed, private labels -- including Martha Stewart -- and WestPoint's Joe Boxer, Star Wars, Martex, Lady Pepperell and Utica. Serta, selling in department, specialty and warehouse clubs, accounts for approximately 20 percent of Liebhardt's business, said Gober, but each of the other brands occupies a specific niche in the market.

Designer basics

Designer names also lend a high level of recognizability, cachet and credibility to a basic bedding product. "Consumers understand that the Ralph Lauren brand is a quality product. They have a level of expectancy in their minds," said Matt Moses, vice president of marketing for utility bedding at Pillowtex Corp., which makes the designer's pillows and pillow protectors, mattress pads, comforters, blankets and throws.

At United Feather & Down, which recently licensed the Joseph Abboud basics collection, Robert Hickman, vice president of marketing, said, "When consumers buy their apparel and like their product, it helps to bridge any questions the consumer may have. The consumer assumes the designers pick the best fabric, fill and construction and put their name on it." Hollander Home Fashion's designer lines include J.G. Hook, Guess and Hank Player. Pacific Coast Feather will be shipping Calvin Klein basic bedding in Spring 2000.

A brand of their own

Along with these other segments of branding, many manufacturers are building their own brands in basic bedding and marketing them aggressively. "The whole branding issue is directly related to the integrity of whatever that brand is. Because of the integrity of our product, we have built a presence in the marketplace through consumer recognition, appreciation and validation," said Hickman at United Feather & Down, whose own labels include Insuloft Down, Down Select Plus, Feather Select and Primaloft. The company's Insuloft down comforter was ranked "best value" among competitors in a recent Wall Street Journal article. At Hollander, whose internal brands include Hollander, Bedglove, HealthyHome, Cuddlebed and Warmth Seal, the Premier Hollander line is increasingly considered a separate brand, with major distribution in Belk, Luxury Linens, Strouds and May Co. stores, said Stewart. Pacific Coast Feather also makes and markets comforters, pillows, pads and feather beds under its own brands. The company bases product development and its "needs-based merchandising" strategy on extensive consumer research.

The building of any brand involves both intuition and education. Manufacturers must understand and meet the needs of their buyers and their consumers; retailers must understand the consumer and the product and relay data at the point of sale. And both must consider consumers' ultimate impression of their product. At DuPont Sleep Products, which makes Comforel pillows, pads and down alternative comforters and Dacron brand pillows, brand image research is incorporated in advertising, packaging, point of sale and promotional merchandising. "Consumers develop a brand image of how the brand relates to them. Identifying this image and presenting it to consumers reinforces this image and increases recognition and preference," said Wes Jones, marketing manager.

Marketing strategies for branded basic bedding products are as varied as their distribution. Most manufacturers agree that brands do not necessarily command higher prices. There are often several tiers of price points within a brand -- with typical ranges for a pillow from $6 to $30 -- determined by quality of fabrics, fill and retailers themselves. "All brands have a reason for being. It is up to retailers to sort that out, and put together a program that will be most meaningful to their customers," said Roshberg.

"For us, branding is important in basic bedding as part of our global marketing strategy. It helps tie basics into the rest of the textiles area," said Jim Whitehead, vice president of merchandising for textiles at Waccamaw's HomePlace. About 60 percent of the store's basic bedding is either vendor brands -- Wamsutta, Royal Velvet and Croscill -- or Simmons Beautyrest.

As for designer labels, Whitehead said he considered them on the same par -- and would sell them as part of an entire package. "If Calvin Klein, for instance, was an important name throughout the store, we would be interested in having it, as long as the product/price/value relationship is there."

Crossing over

While cross-merchandising seems a natural extension of any brand, it is used more often in designer, private label and specialty niches than in the mattress category. Many stores that carry basic bedding do not have a mattress department, and if they do, they do not automatically sell pads and pillows there. "The dollar volume in mattresses is very large," said Moses. "It's an item that a couple shop for together, where in basic bedding, 80 percent of purchases are made by women."

But manufacturers stressed that marketing the bedding basics along with -- and as a protection of their investment in -- a mattress is an opportunity for retailers. Perfect Fit's three-tiered approach in advertising its BedSack mattress pads, toppers, pillows and accessories includes cross-merchandising programs developed just for specialty mattress bedding stores. Specific packaging and point of sale displays encourage consumers to protect their new mattress investment. Retailer promotions emphasize that the brand's innovative design motivates customers to buy. Consumer ads stress comfort, protection, quality and value.

Retailers who do make the effort to cross-promote are reaping significant rewards. "It's a tremendous opportunity," said one specialty sleep shop retailer, who sells Pacific Coast Feather pillows, Louisville Bedding mattress pads and Custom Design sheets, and encourages sales associates to sell the bedding with mattress purchases. Average add-on sales are $100 to $150. He said he prefers to sell vendor brands in the category, because the store carries three different mattress lines. A single brand broadens his base, and offers customers who seem more interested in quality than specific designer or mattress brands -- a simple selection. "We're selling convenience," he said.

Springs Industries considers the basic-bedding category a major growth market. The company completed its acquisition of American Fiber Industries, a manufacturer of pillows, mattress pads, down comforters and accessories in January of this year. The company has already unveiled plans to expand its pillow manufacturing facilities and is aggressively extending its branded and private-label bedding lines into the niche.

"Combined with Springs' strong brand names, Springmaid and Wamsutta, AFI's pillows and related products represent a growing and profitable segment of our business," said company chairman and chief executive officer Crandall Bowles.

"It's definitely a growing business and a perfect complement to our existing bedding brands," said Ted Matthews, spokesman for the company.
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Comment:IN BASIC BEDDING, BRANDS PUSH SALES; BIG-NAME MATTRESS BRANDS, DESIGNER NAMES AND PRIVATE LABELS ALL HAVE A NICHE.
Author:Musselman, Faye
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 28, 1999
Words:1392
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