1991-2015 Mattress Industry Booms and Busts

The International Sleep Products Association’s first 100 years—Part I of the fourth and final installmentDNA sequence

Bedding manufacturers innovate despite political, economic roller coasters

BY JULIE A. PALM

The International Sleep Products Association serves as “the voice of the mattress industry”—both speaking on its behalf and advocating for its best interests. ISPA would speak loudly during this era, whether on flammability standards, recycling laws or media scares that threatened the industry’s reputation.

It was a challenging time, not just when it came to government regulation. The industry faced the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression and watched unprecedented changes in both corporate structures and the competitive landscape.

A terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, shook the world. But there were bright spots, too: New components and construction methods caught the fancy of consumers and price points overall rose; the Internet gave companies interesting new ways to communicate with consumers—and sell to them. Mattress and foundation sales enjoyed a steady upward climb in 2015, and ISPA prepared to enter its 101st
year optimistic about the future.

Open-flame standard

Even after the federal cigarette-ignition standard (now known as 16 CFR Part 1632) took effect in 1973, the industry knew the issue of flammability hadn’t been put to bed. At a meeting of bedding executives in May 1974, Constance Newman, then a commissioner on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fired a warning shot, telling the industry it should develop its own, more expansive flammability guidelines “in advance of government intrusion,” according to a June 1974 article in Bedding magazine (later renamed BedTimes).

BedTimes magazine Flammability coverThe trade association didn’t take the notice lightly and, in coming decades, was proactive on flammability matters, always working toward regulations that wouldn’t extinguish the industry. An important step was creating the Sleep Products Safety Council in 1986 to educate consumers about the risks associated with sleep products and finance fire safety research.

By the mid-1990s, federal regulators were considering an open-flame standard for upholstered furniture and, in general, “investigating open-flame fires to identify causes and solutions,” according to a February 1996 article in BedTimes.

The CPSC’s interest in an open-flame standard specifically for bed sets was spurred on by statistics that showed an increase in the percentage of mattress/bedding fires caused by open flames—from 32% in 1980 to 44% in 1994, according to a May 1997 BedTimes article.

The industry’s SPSC would work with the CPSC when it released the results of its investigation into open-flame fires but already was taking action on its own. Efforts included sponsoring research into flammability tests for institutional mattresses and studies of open-flame ignition sources in residential fires. Later, the SPSC partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop mattress-testing protocols.

In December 1997, Tony Wolf, then head of the ISPA board, sent a letter to association members: “The ISPA Board of Trustees has unanimously decided to direct ISPA staff to begin working with the CPSC to explore the possibility of modifying the existing (flammability) standard to also address the risk of mattress fires caused by open-flame ignition. Our understanding is that the CPSC inevitably will proceed on this issue; ISPA’s involvement in that process is critical to assuring the combustibility hazard is effectively addressed, while maintaining the level playing field which is so crucial to the health and welfare of our companies.”

Open Flame Mattress Testing DemonstrationIn 2001, the CPSC issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the first in a three-step rule-making process to establish a mandatory federal standard. “There will be a mattress flammability standard addressing the flammability of residential bed sets,” the editors of BedTimes wrote in December 2001. “The time to start preparing is now.”

(On another front, California and several other states undertook legislative efforts to set their own open-flame standards. California’s regulation, which was eventually known as Technical Bulletin 603 when it went into effect in January 2006, in some ways helped prepare the industry for the federal standard, though federal regulations later would pre-empt those of California.)

As the details of the federal open-flame standard were ironed out, ISPA worked closely with the CPSC on behalf of the industry and kept manufacturers and suppliers up to date on the rule-making process, timetables, standard details and testing protocols through SPSC-sponsored seminars and conferences and extensive articles in BedTimes.

At the same time, the impending open-flame rules sent suppliers into overdrive as they sought to develop reliable, cost-effective FR solutions that wouldn’t change the feel of mattresses.

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Many took on the additional role of serving as flammability advisers to mattress makers, helping with everything from setting up record-keeping systems to creating quality assurance programs. Testing labs across the country geared up to provide burn tests and took on the role of educator and adviser, as well.

In 2006, the CPSC set an implementation date for the standard (now known as 16 CFR Part 1633) of July 1, 2007. With Part 1633 in place for more than eight years, ISPA continues to caution mattress manufacturers not to become complacent in terms of product development processes, testing protocols, quality assurance procedures or record-keeping practices.

The CPSC certainly hasn’t forgotten its enforcement duties. The October 2015 issue of BedTimes reported on three companies, including a renovator and a producer of crib bedding, that recently issued recalls of mattresses that failed to meet the federal open-flame standard. The recall process is costly—both in terms of mitigation and damage to reputations—but, with vigilance can be avoided.

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