A prescription to improve the sleep and health of consumers

Innovation: Just what the doctor ordered

By Scott Smalling

Editor’s note: As part of our ongoing effort to publish occasional articles written by industry leaders, BedTimes is pleased to offer the following piece by Scott Smalling, chief of specialty innovations at Simmons Bedding Co. and creator of the ComforPedic brand at Simmons. We welcome other industry leaders to provide their input on similar bedding-sector issues.

paint brushesAs a passionate student of the sleep products industry, I feel we create one of the most important consumer products in the world. Sleep is now widely recognized as a fundamental component of good health, next to food, water and shelter. Further, how many consumer products do people interact with for eight to 10 hours per day, other than their mobile devices, and we know those do not promote good health!

As an industry, it is our responsibility to push for innovation, as far as we can, to not only provide consumers with the best quality of sleep and a healthier life, but also to attract and entice consumers to invest in a new bed. By doing so, we can improve our industry’s reputation and banish the “grudge purchase” mindset. In preparing to write this piece, I read a few blogs recounting mattress-shopping experiences and, if I were to sum up the enthusiasm for shopping for a bed, I would say it falls somewhere between buying underwear and going to the dentist.

Learning from electronics

While the mattress industry does not innovate at the sheer magnitude, speed or “pomp and circumstance” of the electronics industry, there are lessons to be learned there. Frenzied electronics consumers will camp out in front of stores prior to new introductions from Apple or Microsoft. Even car makers are enjoying similar popularity. For instance, Tesla Motors’ market cap jumped by billions of dollars when a tweet from the chief executive hinted at a forthcoming electric car.

Ultimately, it isn’t just one thing that holds bedding back from rising to the top of the product-purchase “food chain” in the minds of consumers. And it’s not just about adding glamour. To change consumers’ mindsets about mattress buying, we need to accelerate mindful and inclusive innovation from cradle to grave—moving up the ladder from suppliers to manufacturers to retailers, and culminating in a sustainable, national recycling program.

What can we learn from those titans of innovation in the electronics arena? A few things come to mind:

1. Take more chances by making bigger and bolder leaps in innovation.

2. Get outside the rectangle. Industry shows are a must and provide continuing education, as well as the latest product news. But, we also should seek out advancements from other industries to inspire new creations. 

3. Innovation does not have to mean “new” or “unique.” Innovation also can be defined as being able to cost-optimize an important component, so it can be enjoyed by the masses.

History of change

Please don’t misunderstand my position—our industry is not new to innovation. In the 1800s, we slept on cotton, horsehair and maybe a few springs. Since then, Simmons and other manufacturers have created many new sleep technologies from the Pocketed Coil® springs, introduced early in the 20th century, to waterbeds in the 1960s and airbeds. At the turn of the 21st century, memory foam became a key component in mattresses. More recently, creative combinations of these technologies, or hybrids, may use springs with memory foam or other game-changing technologies, such as Simmons’ use of chambers filled with foam that “self-adjust” to the sleeper, without the need for power. Not surprisingly, consumers are voting with their dollars; they like these advancements.

Even with these positive changes, I believe we can do more.

If we speed up innovation and create more inspiring, engaging and affordable products, we will grow our industry by just reducing the purchase cycle alone. The proof? When was the last time you replaced your TV or cell phone because it was old or broken? Never! You replace it when updated products are available that will enhance your life or the device’s user experience. 

Retail at the forefront

Historically, retail showrooms have been a sea of white rectangles that confuse and frustrate the consumer. Thank goodness this is changing. Retailers have been at the forefront of innovation in our industry. Some furniture stores are segregating or creating entirely different sleep shops solely focused on sleep. Many specialty-sleep stores use multimedia to educate the consumer while they are in store. Other retailers help prequalify a shopper’s desired comfort/firmness by having them try preselected mattresses in different firmness levels to further reduce confusion and streamline their shopping experience.

Retailers can continue along the path to innovation by learning a few lessons from the Apple Store:

1. Continue to refine your in-store experience and make your store a destination that is welcoming, educational and fun.

2. Be unique in your approach to the consumer; set yourself apart from your competition. Become that trusted adviser. For instance, consider hosting better-sleep seminars to address all aspects of sleep.

3. Create a website that is easy to navigate and helps educate the consumer about mattress shopping—and makes them want to venture into your store.

By creating a welcoming and aspirational atmosphere, you will invite the consumer to relax and take her time with this critically important purchase while removing the stigma and confusion typically associated with mattress shopping.

End game

Younger consumers especially are considering a product’s sustainability and life cycle when making purchase decisions. They are drawn to goods and services that tell an environmentally responsible story. While the idea of recycling may not seem innovative, it is, especially if it’s on a national scale. And that is the direction the bedding industry is headed, with three states (California, Connecticut and Rhode Island) now having mattress-recycling laws, and more expected in the future. Few other industries can say the same. Hence, to create and operate a nationally run mattress-recycling program would be groundbreaking news that consumers need to hear about.

A nationally managed mattress-recycling program would give the consumer peace of mind that her mattress is being dealt with responsibly. And it would get those 10-to-20-year-old mattresses out of use permanently. This will accelerate our industry’s growth—something that cannot be achieved when used beds take second or third tours of duty at cousin Steve’s house!

As you can see, I am excited about the future of sleep. People spend a minimum of one-third of their lives in bed, and we must aspire to a time when all consumers consider a new bed as a worthy, life- and health-improving purchase.

Scott Smalling headshot

Scott Smalling

To quote a highly respected physician—Dr. Seuss: “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so … get on your way!”

As chief of specialty innovations at Simmons Bedding Co., Scott Smalling has a long history of breakthroughs that have benefited the sleep industry, including the creation of the ComforPedic brand. His latest major development, ComforPedic iQ, has been used by thousands of hospitals over the past decade. He continues to focus on discovering and introducing new innovations. Smalling lives with his wife and two children on a ranch near Tacoma, Washington.

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