BY JULIE A. PALM
Changing business formulas afford manufacturers of protectors and sheets growth opportunities for production, marketing and sales
With new players emerging and long-time producers changing their strategies or business models, there’s nothing sleepy about the accessories category that includes mattress protectors and sheets.
Culp Inc., a mattress fabric and sewn cover supplier based in High Point, North Carolina, has entered the accessories segment through a new division and new partnership. Both endeavors take advantage of Culp’s global manufacturing capabilities, supply chains and design acumen, says Iv Culp, president of Culp Home Fashions.
“Culp is a strong player in the mattress fabric business, and the next step for our innovation is finding new ways to get our fabrics to market,” Culp says. “We expanded into mattress covers, where we’ve been successful, and now we’re entering the accessories category with some finished products.”
Earlier this year, the company launched Comfort Supply Company by Culp, which offers an array of a half-dozen entry-level and step-up “high-design” mattress pads and protectors that are “aggressively priced” from $49 to $169, says Kyle Borreggine, director of the new division.
“We’re a fabric and cover company with access to talented designers,” he says. “While other companies are sourcing fabrics, we own the process and can offer high-quality fabrics and fashion-forward designs.”
Culp also made an investment earlier this year in eLuxury, an e-commerce retailer of a wide variety of bedding and bath products. eLuxury manufactures its own line of mattress pads in its headquarters city of Evansville, Indiana. Through the partnership with Culp, eLuxury will begin incorporating Culp’s performance and fashion fabrics into its pad line, says Paul Saunders, eLuxury chief executive officer.
“We’re excited about Culp’s supply chain, experience in manufacturing and its robust design team,” Saunders says.
Danican has offered a range of mattresses and sleep accessories since 2000 and, building on its strong private-label business, concentrates on custom products for retailers and manufacturers rather than on Danican-branded products, says Jonathan Weingarten, sales manager for the company, which has headquarters in Atascadero, California.
The company makes a full range of “turnkey, ready-to-go” sleep accessories that can be branded by mattress retailers and manufacturers. Danican also can customize everything from fabrics to packaging to care labels and more for its customers.
“For us, the main thing is for retailers and other buyers to come and talk to us. Explain your needs and we’ll see if we can help you out. We want to be a welcoming company,” Weingarten says. Danican’s private-label protector and linens program is ideal for retailers of all sizes, as well as mattress manufacturers who want to offer a branded line, he adds.
Danican is able to serve a wider variety of customers with its private-label sleep accessories because it has introduced a new program that allows for a lower minimum order quantity. A full 20-foot container typically holds about 4,500 queen-size pieces — sometimes “tough for even a good-size retailer” to warehouse and sell, Weingarten says. But with less-than-containerload shipments from Danican, retailers can order as few as 500 items or as many as 1,000 or 2,000 pieces. “The less-than-containerload per piece price is still pretty close to the full container price per piece and that makes it more feasible for retailers to have their own branded product,” he says.
Reverie has narrowed its focus when it comes to protectors and sheets. The company, based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is concentrating its entire sleep products line on power bases and adjustable-friendly mattresses. That shift includes offering a well-edited selection of generously sized and sufficiently elasticized accessories that work well with Reverie’s motion bed sets, says Lisa Tan, Reverie chief marketing officer.
“An articulating bed requires a fitted sheet that stays put or the sleeper will have discomfort,” Tan says. “Our fitted sheets have BedTite ruched elastic that provides give and take in the foot and the head of the bed. Sheets can expand and contract as needed and still stay in place.”
Reverie also offers split sheets and protectors specifically for tricky-to-fit split king and split California king mattresses. The sheet sets come with specially made fitted bottom sheets and oversize top sheets, plus two king-size pillowcases. They are available in two sheet collections, organic cotton and Eco Tencel. Sets retail for $190 in queen and $280 in split king. Reverie’s Cool Down mattress protector has a temperature-regulating Rev-Cool top fabric and water-resistant backing on the top panel ($190 queen; $250 split king).
“We’re keeping it simple for retailers and consumers,” Tan says. “We give them the well-fitting, breathable sheets and protectors they need for adjustables. They complement our mattresses, and it’s made a good selling story for us.”
E-commerce impacts in-store sales
E-commerce is a growing sales arena for makers of protectors and sheets, and its ever-expanding role in how consumers research and buy products is changing the segment in other ways, too.
The opportunity “to participate in the rapidly growing
e-commerce direct-to-consumer space” was part of what made the partnership with eLuxury attractive to Culp, Iv Culp says.
Just as with mattresses, there are a host of new online players that specialize in selling sleep accessories. Like their e-commerce mattress counterparts, they often sell highly edited lines, promise lower prices than traditional retailers and have quirky online personalities.
For instance, Bedface, a Vancouver-based e-tailer that specializes in Facetech 100% long-staple cotton sheets, was founded in 2015 by entrepreneurs Brad Westerop and Fraser Hall. The company’s website emphasizes the cost savings of the company’s direct-to-consumer model. Denver-based Sheets & Giggles, which sells bed linens with fibers derived from eucalyptus, features CEO Colin McIntosh’s dog, Harvey, prominently on its website and lists among its core values “Above all else, have fun” and “Actively make others happy.” Lime & Leaf, a bed linen and home textiles e-tailer, was launched by sisters Lori Morris and Kari LePage in 2017. The company promises products “inspired by the brilliance of nature, proudly handcrafted in the USA.” More than a dozen other online sleep accessories merchants have emerged in the past few years.
ViscoSoft Inc., a maker of sleep accessories and foam mattresses with headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, sells to traditional retailers ranging from stalwarts like Jerome’s Furniture in Southern California and Cardi’s Furniture & Mattresses in New England to Primark, a Dublin-based fast-fashion retailer with locations across Europe (and new stores also popping up in the United States).
But the company also does a brisk business online, including through Amazon, says Gabriel Dungan, CEO of ViscoSoft and boxed-bed brand Muse Sleep.
“We’ve been selling on Amazon for about three years,” he says. “The success we’ve seen on our site, MuseSleep.com, and on Amazon in 2018 is pretty incredible.” Dungan believes that in addition to offering retailers more traditional sales support, such as in-store training and video explainers, his company can use the richly detailed analytical information it gains via online sales to help its retailers better understand their customers, as well as boost sales by funneling online shoppers into stores.
Mike Douglas, vice president of sales for Malouf, a sleep accessories manufacturer based in Logan, Utah, says accessories vendors that sell to both brick-and-mortar and
e-commerce retailers (and that may sell products via their own websites, too) must balance offering good values and easy-shop options to online buyers with supporting valued retail partners that have established brick-and-mortar locations.
“Retailers can use online as an asset instead of an enemy,” Douglas says. “We manage our online appearance and reputation with making our retailers successful in mind.” In fact, the company has a team that monitors online pricing and responds to negative reviews.
Malouf encourages brick-and-mortar retailers to put the vast amount of information available online — from product specifications to reviews to competitors’ pricing — to use in their own sales presentations. For example, Douglas says, when talking about protectors or sheets, retail sales associates can pull up online reviews on their phones to show how other consumers have rated a particular product, providing outside support for an RSA’s presentation.
Whether they purchase online or not, today’s consumers are likely to start their buying process for protectors and accessories online, whether that means researching available options or checking out pricing and sales, vendors say.
“We find people research online but buy offline,” says Jake Neeley, Malouf communications director. “It’s not a category that people love to buy online. We’ve seen a trend where consumer satisfaction goes up when you buy offline and know exactly what you’re getting.”
Dungan agrees that today’s shoppers start online but says retailers can offer the expertise and sales assistance to draw shoppers into the store for a final purchase.
“Many retailers haven’t figured out that most shopping starts on Amazon. They don’t always finish there, but they start there, so there’s still room for retailers to provide an outstanding customer experience in-store,” he says.
Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer for Phoenix-based accessories maker PureCare, says one way accessories companies are evening the playing field between brick-and-mortar retailers and e-commerce sellers is by offering drop-shipping to retailers’ in-store customers, just as PureCare does.
“It’s a successful program and so easy to execute,” Bergman says. “Retailers can reduce their inventory and offer an ‘endless aisle’ of product options.” Through drop-shipping programs, PureCare can have products to retailers’ customers in just a few days.
“Customers love it,” he adds. “They don’t have to go anywhere else for their sheets or pillows and can finance the purchase along with their mattress.”
Mattress Pads Have Their Place, Too
One benefit of a mattress protector, manufacturers say, is that it typically doesn’t change the feel of a mattress. But what if a consumer wants to, say, soften up a firm bed? A mattress pad can do that and typically is a lower cost alternative to foam or down toppers.
“Mattress pads are becoming increasingly popular as a comfort layer,” says Paul Saunders, chief executive officer of eLuxury, an e-commerce retailer of a variety of bedding and bath products that manufactures its own line of mattress pads in Evansville, Indiana. “Our manufacturing process is very similar to the process that creates a pillow-top panel.” That allows many of the company’s pads to function as “removable pillow-tops,” he adds.
The surge in sales of boxed beds, which typically are all-foam constructions, has helped boost mattress pad sales, Saunders says. “Many people often err on the side of buying a firmer mattress because a high-quality mattress pad is an easy and cost-effective way to make a firm mattress softer after purchase,” he says.
eLuxury offers pads with many of the same features — hypoallergenic, cooling, sustainable, waterproof — found in protectors. Culp Inc., a mattress fabric supplier based in High Point, North Carolina, recently invested in eLuxury. Through that partnership, Saunders says eLuxury will begin incorporating Culp’s performance and fashion-forward fabrics into its pad line.
Fresh and Fashionable
Protectors are multifunctional and more stylish than ever
The name gives it away. Protectors, along with their cousin the encasement, play a vital role in the bedding ensemble — protecting the mattress inside from tears, spills, secretions, mold, mildew, dust mites and, in the case of encasements, bedbugs. By doing that, they keep the mattress fresh and clean and help preserve warranty protections, which typically are voided if a mattress is stained or ripped.
But today’s protectors go beyond safeguarding to provide everything from a cooling sleep environment to a fashionable flair.
“We’re seeing a push for higher-end, nicer protectors that give customers more of a reason to buy them, whether that’s a cooling feature or a soft, luxury fiber like Tencel,” says Jonathan Weingarten, sales manager for Danican, a sleep products company based in Atascadero, California.
Before we get deeper into trends, a few definitions: Protectors range from one-sided protectors, which look like a fitted sheet and provide protection features in the top panel only, to five-sided protectors, which extend the protection to the sides of the mattress. Six-sided encasements completely enclose the mattress, offering additional protection against bedbugs. Pillow protectors and encasements serve similar functions for pillows.
Five-sided protectors are increasingly popular because consumers like the added protection they provide, says Mike Douglas, vice president of sales for accessories manufacturer Malouf, which has headquarters in Logan, Utah. In areas where humidity, allergies or bedbugs are problems, encasements are a more popular option.
Maintaining their cool
Although the safeguarding features inherent in mattress protectors and encasements often are enough to convince consumers of their value, manufacturers are creating more value-added products made with everything from sustainable materials to luxury fabrics. One of Danican’s protectors, the Nature Protect, incorporates both. It is made with cotton and rayon from bamboo for a soft feel and a sustainability story ($69). It also provides thermal regulation, a big trend across all categories of bedding products.
ViscoSoft Inc., a maker of sleep accessories and foam mattresses with headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, is among the companies looking for new and better ways to add breathability and cooling properties to sleep products and has added a yarn called Cold Wire to its protectors. Gabriel Dungan, chief executive officer of ViscoSoft and boxed-bed brand Muse Sleep, describes it as a “best-in-class technology” that “absorbs the ambient cool air” and wicks away moisture to keep the sleeping environment cool, dry and comfortable. Two versions of the Cold Wire protector are priced at $199 and $229.
John Rachid, Protect-A-Bed president, agrees that cooling is “one of the biggest trends” in the protection category. The Chicago-based company offers a wide range of protectors and encasements under the Protect-A-Bed and REM-Fit brands, starting with one-sided versions featuring velour, jersey knit or terrycloth top panels. One of Protect-A-Bed’s newest items is the Crystal mattress protector with Tencel for softness and moisture management and a Nordic Chill fiber specifically for cooling ($199 to $299).
PureCare, a sleep accessories maker based in Phoenix, says Frio, a protector with “rapid-chill” cooling fibers ($119) is a strong seller. The company also recently added the ReversaTemp protector, which has Frio cooling on one side and Heatstar fibers on the other side for a warmer sleep surface ($149).
Malouf’s protectors and encasements are part of its SleepTite line, which includes a number of items with cooling technologies. Its Five 5ided IceTech protector has a breathable waterproof barrier and IceTech cooling fabric ($279). The company’s Encase Omniphase encasement includes moisture-wicking Tencel and cooling Omniphase fibers, plus a bedbug-proof Micro-Tite zipper ($223).
Given their role in keeping a mattress clean, it’s a natural fit for protectors to incorporate materials that provide a host of reported wellness benefits. Danican makes the SilverTECH Ag4X with anti-bacterial silver ($59), PureCare’s protector array includes Celliant, with Celliant fibers that the company says have been shown “to promote a temporary increase in blood flow” to improve recovery time from physical activity ($119), and Soft-Tex offers a DreamSmart Microban Performance protector with anti-odor and anti-microbial properties.
Eric Hasper, lead designer and showroom manager for Soft-Tex International’s showrooms in New York and Las Vegas, says other technological advancements have led to “silent” protectors that aren’t plagued by the crinkling, crackling noises from waterproof plastics that once turned off some consumers. Soft-Tex’s protectors have “whisper-quiet” thermoplastic polyurethane laminated backing, he says. Soft-Tex, which has headquarters in Waterford, New York, offers mattresses and other sleep products under a variety of brand names, including BioPEDIC, DreamSmart, SensorGel, SensorPEDIC and SwissLUX. Soft-Tex also is the licensee that makes Therapedic- and Restonic-branded sleep accessories.
Moving fashion forward
Most protectors and encasements are available in pure white shades, a nod to their hygienic properties, but some companies are adding stronger design elements. ViscoSoft’s Cold Wire and Cold Wire Plus protectors feature geometric patterns in soft gray and white on the top panel with complementary gray borders. Its Active Dry protector has a white-and-blue diamond design on the panel; its sides echo the blue.
“We try to integrate a little design into our products. They are utilitarian, but we don’t want them to be bland,” Dungan says.
Culp Inc., a mattress fabric and sewn cover supplier based in High Point, North Carolina, recently entered the protector and pad segment with the launch of its Comfort Supply Company by Culp division and an investment in eLuxury, an e-commerce retailer of sleep and bath accessories based in Evansville, Indiana. Through both ventures, the company plans to elevate the look of typically staid products.
“We’re taking a speed-to-market, high-design approach to this category,” says Kyle Borreggine, director of Comfort Supply. “With our access to high-quality fabric and talented designers, we can cover the market with a new aesthetic that retailers and consumers will appreciate.”
Sheets showcase technical textiles, sophisticated hues and sumptuous feels
For shoppers assembling a well-dressed bed, the next layer after the protector is sheets. Not surprisingly, many of the trends seen in protectors — and mattresses themselves — appear in sheets, too, allowing consumers to create a sleep ensemble of products with reinforcing benefits for a perfect night’s sleep.
To extend the cooling features of many mattresses, accessories vendors are making cooling sheets — almost every company includes such product in its lineup. For instance, Danican offers the Cool Pointe fitted sheet with a satinlike Cool Pointe fabric ($149 for fitted sheet only).
“The big thing for any bedding product is cooling or moisture wicking. For a long time, cotton was so important to consumers,” Soft-Tex’s Hasper says. “Now they are more open to other fabrics as long as they have a cooling story.”
Cotton and cotton-poly blends — long consumers’ preference in sheets — have made way for new fabrics, particularly blends of new technological fibers.
“I see a movement toward experimenting with different blends,” ViscoSoft’s Dungan says. “For years, 100% cotton kind of ruled the roost and still is going strong, but higher-end sheets are blending advanced synthetic fibers and natural fibers for durability and enhanced comfort.”
PureCare has built its sleep accessories lineup, including its sheets, around technical textiles that offer a host of feels and benefits. “We use technical textiles to enhance the health and wellness of the sleep environment,” Bergman says.
The company’s sheet collections include Modal (blending fibers made from the pulp of European beechwood trees with long-staple cotton for a lightweight, luxurious feel) and Lumen Celliant (with Celliant fibers that “promote a temporary increase in blood flow” for recovery from the day’s activities and more restful sleep). Sets are $149 to $269.
Shoppers appreciate products made from botanic materials like Tencel fibers, which come from sustainably sourced woods and are produced in a zero-waste environment, Malouf’s Douglas says. “We’re seeing a lot of consumer demand for products with Tencel,” he says, noting the fiber is soft and silky, making it ideal for bedding.
Malouf also created its Supima sheets, part of its Woven collection, with a sustainability story in mind. The sheets are manufactured with 100% U.S.-grown extra-long staple Supima cotton made in a sateen weave ($249).
Protect-A-Bed has had success with its Crisp sheets, made with Tencel’s lyocell fibers. The company touts the fiber’s botanic origins, as well as the soft, smooth feel of the sheets and their moisture-wicking and hypoallergenic properties. Crisp is part of the Therm-A-Sleep collection ($119 to $194).
Hottest hues are subtle, sophisticated
Many vendors offer sheets in a rainbow of colors, so consumers can match their top linens and bedroom décor. However, most popular hues, especially in high-end sets, are earthy, sophisticated shades of brown, gray and blue, Soft-Tex’s Hasper says. White and ivory, of course, are perennial best-sellers at every price point.
Today’s sheets are primarily plain in style, without bold patterns and only simple embellishments. For instance, ViscoSoft offers its Eyelet sheets, a brushed microfiber with a feminine embroidered applique at the edge, and the Grace collection, also a brushed microfiber but with a tailored ladder stitch detail (both $19). eLuxury’s line includes the Cotton Rich set, a cotton-poly with a pintuck hem on pillowcase and sheet borders ($73).
A perfect fit
Makers of sheets know the importance of a good fit. Consumers, they say, need deep-pocketed sheets with sufficient elastic to fit the wide range of mattresses available today — from the thinner 8-inch or 10-inch boxed mattresses to thick, multilayered pillow-tops that can be 18 or 20 inches tall. For instance, Malouf’s sheets feature extra-deep pockets and the company’s Universal Fit on fitted sheets for secure placement.
PureCare sheets are made with Precision-Fit corners on fitted sheets for a “clean, crisp fit” and a 1-inch Precision-Fit cuff that keeps fitted sheets from slipping off, especially on adjustable mattresses. And PureCare’s enveloping pillowcases keep pillows neatly tucked inside — both during sleep and for a finished look when the bed is made, Bergman says.
“When we add the Precision-Fit corners and the 1-inch adjustable band, which is great for power bases, it makes a really beautiful, snug fit,” Bergman says. “It’s a package — the fit, the feel, the finish.”