Bemco marks 50 years with new focus

By Alan Breznick

Though firmly based in the heartland of the United States, Bemco Associates, a bedding maker and regional licensing group headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., is setting its sights abroad.

The group was founded a half–century ago as Bedding Manufacturing Associates, a partnership of several small bedding firms based in Philadelphia. Today Bemco consists of five mattress manufacturers serving the eastern half of the United States and three producers in Asia—one each in Taiwan, South Korea and Indonesia. As it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, company plans call for a doubling in size by signing as many as eight more international companies to make beds under its name.

“We’re looking worldwide,” says Bemco President Daryl Tarbutton, who’s led the company for 20 years. “It’s easier to go international. The U.S. is pretty structured.”

Bemco primarily is eyeing Canada and countries in Asia as potential markets for its Posture Collection, Sleep Dimensions Collection, USA Gymnast Collection and other branded bed sets. It’s currently negotiating with several Canadian bedding firms and seeking candidates across Asia.

“There are probably more interested people in Asia,” Tarbutton says. “They’re able to market American–type products well in their region.”

But the privately owned Bemco hasn’t ruled out other parts of the world for expansion.

“You also look at who comes to you,” Tarbutton says. “Part of licensing is word–of–mouth.”

Bemco’s global push comes after the company spent the past few decades developing what it hopes is a reputation for bedding quality and sleeping comfort. In one early milestone the company patented the first pillow–top mattress in 1961. Bemco, which holds more than 30 U.S. trademarks and patents, also lays claim to introducing one of industry’s first health–oriented bedding products in 1977. Ten years later, the company created its first mattress designed specifically for athletes.

Bemco also has made a name for itself by working with the Good Housekeeping Institute to gain that organization’s influential endorsement of its mattresses. Since the early 1980s, the company has seen more than 20 of its beds earn the sought–after Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

“We’ve stayed with that program for a long period of time for our premium products,” Tarbutton says. “We’ve kept our programs stable and consistent.”

Under Tarbutton’s leadership, Bemco also has boosted its marketing profile. In particular, the company has aligned itself with the Olympics and, more specifically, the U.S. Gymnastics Team, relying on partnerships with the sports organizations to promote sleep’s importance to good health and persuade customers to tumble into its beds.

For example, Bemco uses Hall of Fame gymnast Shannon Miller, who is touted as “the most decorated gymnast in American history,” to plug its flagship Posture sleep set. In the company’s print and Web marketing materials, Miller says that she regularly sleeps on a Bemco mattress because “a good night’s sleep helps me be alert in the gym and prepare for training. It helps me stay healthy and have more energy throughout the day.”

In addition to its involvement with Miller, Bemco sponsors the U.S. Gymnastics Team and its national programs for young amateur gymnasts. As a result, the company proudly boasts that it’s the gymnastics teams’ official mattress.

“We use that program to tie sleep and health and fitness together,” Tarbutton says. “We try and sell a program around healthy sleep.”

Despite its small size, Bemco has made selective use of national TV advertising to promote its products. For more than 20 years, for instance, the company has aired commercials during “The Price Is Right,” the long–running CBS game show.

More recently, Bemco has stepped up its marketing promotions for its furniture stores, sleep shops and other dealers. The company started sending out sample monthly ads five years ago to help retailers promote Bemco products. It then began mailing out seasonal ad kits, as well.

“We’ve had to become more consumer– and market–reactive,” Tarbutton says. “We’re trying to give the dealers plenty of reasons to advertise and plenty of tools to advertise with.”

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Bemco is running a fresh set of monthly promotions. The campaign includes special newspaper ad kits, newspaper inserts, mattress labels, radio jingles, posters, sales incentive contests, sales coupons and more.

Bemco also is rolling out new beds to mark the big 5–0. In late April, it unveiled the new Bemco Posture Anniversary sleep set during the High Point, N.C., furniture market. The company will likely follow up with the introduction of another new mattress during the High Point show in October.

“We plan to do more,” Tarbutton says. “It’s a combination of products and promotions.”

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