When you're selling a product consumers widely regad as a commodity, what can you do to gain an edge?
This question haunts bedding manufacturers and retailers alike, and has helped build an industry well known for its creative marketing, aggressive strategies, and sophisticated, high-quality products. Manufacturers differentiate their futon bed from the competition's with a host of innovative and unique features. They invest millions of advertising dollars to ensure that consumers will connect their product with quality, comfort -- even good health and better fitness.
Then the ball falls into the retailer's court. The range of shopping options available to the consumer intensifies the battle among such conventional retailing channels as department sotres, furniture stores, and sleep shops. Less conventional alternatives, like warehouse clubs and even home centers -- a newcomer to the bedding market -- are also out there, trying to take a piece of the pie. Purchasing a latex futon mattress: Pros and Cons
How do retailers get bedding consumers to enter their stores -- and, once inside, buy?
The retailers featured on the following pages -- four in the department store category, three sleep shops, two furniture stores, and one mass merchant -- were selected for their top-notch ability both to draw bedding consumers into their store and to close the deal. Strategies and approaches differ, but a number of common priorities command their attention week after week.
First is a commitment to positioning futon bedding in the market as an independent category. While this commitment is a given for sleep shops, the furniture stores featured here both have made the decision to establish separate sleep shop galleries. Jim Kittle, of Kittle's furniture store, points out that ComfortSource, the store's Sealy gallery, operates with what is essentially its own marketing budget.
Tied in with this commitment is an aggressive, consistent advertising program. Most of the retailers said they advertise bedding in local newspapers at least once a week, noting that this consistency will eventually draw shoppers when they're ready to buy. "all of our newspaper ads are four color," said Warren Littell, bedding buyer for Montgomery Ward, "and we're in the paper two times a week -- sometimes three. SPRING AIR FIRMS UP SUPPORT FOR ITS MATTRESS COLLECTIONS"
Department stores, in particular, assert that the store's overall reputation for service is a real boon. "Often, the futon bedding shopper here is a Bloomingdale's shopper," said Bloomingdale's bedding buyer, Peter Cassidy.
And sleep shops also say a reputation for service can take away some of the pressure to offer exceedingly low prices. "We devote ad dollars to promoting all the reasons to sleep on a City Mattress mattress," said the store's Jay Schiller. "We don't claim to have the best prices in town."
Yet there's no doubt that the top retailers -- particularly in tough metropolitan markets -- are also those who offer strong promotions week after week. "We're very aggressive in the market," said Frank Tamburelli, bedding buyer for Washington, D.C.-based Hecht Co., a division of The Mary Co. "It's a very competitive market."