Pillow talk: Consumer interest in foam pillows grows

by Barbara Nelles

As anyone who has yanked a favorite pillow from beneath a sleeping spouse’s head or awakened with a pounding headache from a rough night on a thin hotel pillow can tell you, a good pillow—in conjunction with a good mattress—is vital to restful sleep.

“Bedding consumers are focusing more on the therapeutic value of pillows than ever before,” says David Fogg, senior vice president and president of Tempur–Pedic’s North American retail division in Lexington, Ky.

A new generation of foam pillows, in particular, is making dollars and sense as a line extension for companies in the business of pouring, fabricating and selling foams. In addition, marketing today’s foam pillows aligns well with the price points and orthopedics of the sleep surfaces they are designed to complement.

Though polyester fiber pillows may retain the lion’s share of the pillow market, more and more specialty sleep shops, department stores, furniture stores and mass merchants are promoting foam pillows to consumers.

New benefits

Tempur–Pedic is so committed to its pillow business that in addition to prominently promoting pillows on its primary Web site, the company recently launched a pillows–only site at www.800pillows.com. There, the company markets its ComfortPillow, a conventionally shaped pillow filled with “thousands of microcushions,” a collection of neck pillows and a new Supreme Pillow with a “dual sensitivity cover” that sleeps “cooler and firmer” on one side and “warmer and softer” on the opposite. The company also has added the BodyPillow to its lineup to support the stomach, hips, back and shoulders.

Tempur–Pedic is not the only major bedding manufacturer with a pillow story. Serta introduced a complementary line of visco–elastic pillows when it announced its International Touch line of visco mattresses late last fall and is supporting the pillows with special point–of–purchase materials.

Laurie Reiners, senior vice president of Weil’s Sleep Products in Charleston, S.C., says Weil’s has marketed its Miracle Pillow alongside its Miracle Mattress from the very beginning, “but in the past 18 months, we’re seeing much greater consumer awareness and interest in pillows and their benefits.” Weil’s pillows have a solid Memortex core—a proprietary foam designed to mitigate heating sometimes associated with memory foams.

Meanwhile components supplier Leggett & Platt aggressively entered the visco–elastic foam pillow and topper category in October with the launch of its separate Sleep Comfort Systems Group.

“If you’re a bedding retailer and you’ve been successful with the (visco–elastic) story, it’s very easy to sell the consumer (on pillows),” says Joe Blazar, director of marketing at Leggett & Platt’s Urethane Division in Fort Worth, Texas. “These products are successful because the products meet their promise.”

Leggett & Platt Urethane markets a variety of contour and traditional memory foam and combination pillows through a broad range of retail channels. The company recently introduced a conventionally shaped “concept pillow” offering “a therapeutic advantage that uses patented visco foam, which addresses concerns about ‘cradling too deep’ and ‘sleeping too hot.’”

From floor sample to sales

The emphasis on deluxe foam pillows starts on the retail sales floor. Gone are the pillows that were just for show, says Todd Councilman, sales manager at Vitafoam in High Point, N.C. Vitafoam doesn’t market pillows directly to consumers, but it does provide mattress manufacturers with pillows for their floor–sample beds.

“These are comfortable contour pillows that help consumers get comfortable on the floor model and ultimately help sell the bed,” Councilman says.

Once that mattress sale is made, Dan Schecter wants to see consumers invest in a good pillow of their own.

“We believe if you buy a $5,000 mattress and a $4 bed pillow, you have a $4 mattress,” says Schecter, vice president of sales and marketing at Carpenter Co.’s Consumer Products Division in Russellville, Ky. Carpenter’s research, he says, “shows an ill–fitting pillow increases pressure points on shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.”

“When a customer comes into a mattress store and gets fitted for a mattress, that’s only half the story…the pillow and the sleep surface play together,” Schecter adds.

Carpenter markets a variety of “visco–elastic, bi–component and polyester pillows” to conventional retailers, as well as to mattress makers and recently introduced Snippits, a blended foam pillow line created using proprietary high–tech cutting machinery.

But not all consumers are ready to make a switch to the new pillows, Blazar says.

Foam pillows are a natural offshoot of the “alternative–sleep, luxury story but an expensive 4–pound–per–cubic–foot foam neck pillow is a big paradigm shift for a consumer used to light, airy (and inexpensive) fiber pillows,” Blazar says.

An old favorite bounces back

Readers of a certain age may remember the once–ubiquitous latex pillow. Some suppliers say that latex pillows are riding the coattails of visco–elastic pillows and are gaining popularity once again.

Roger Coffey, president of Sleep Comp in Buena Park, Calif., says sales of Talalay and Dunlop latex pillows have “grown phenomenally in the last three years.”

Sleep Comp offers a selection of contour, neck and classic latex pillows that Coffey says “offer a unique all–natural story with the desirable pressure–release features of latex.”

Latex International, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, started out as a pillow manufacturer and still promotes “pillows as key to the sleep experience,” says Kevin Stein, director of marketing for the Shelton, Conn.–based company.

The company, which Stein says is the largest producer of Talalay latex pillows, offers a variety of pillow cores and shapes, including combinations of visco–elastic and latex, its trademarked Comfort Puff “scrunchable” pillows and zoned latex pillows.

“Today,” Stein says, “consumers are willing to pay more for a pillow at a sleep shop because they just bought a $500 to $3,000 mattress.”


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