100-year-old bed frame specialist evolves to meet changing industry needs
With 100 years of success under its belt, it would be tempting for Knickerbocker Bed Frame Co. to kick back and relax. After all, the company enjoys a leading position in its core niche of quality steel bed frames, with a who’s who of manufacturers and retailers among its loyal customer base — and the demand for its products continues to grow steadily.
But as Knickerbocker celebrates a centennial in business, the company is not resting. At the Winter Las Vegas Market Jan. 27-31 at the World Market Center, as has been true in most recent years, Knickerbocker plans to launch a number of bed support systems designed to meet customer needs and strengthen its market position. Introductions will include a series of innovative products designed for the fast-growing e-commerce segment, as well as new models created for adjustable bed use. Other products are on the drawing board for unveiling later in 2019.
“In Vegas, we’ll feature some unique new products that respond to key changes we see reshaping the mattress industry,” says Richard Polevoy, president, chief executive officer and the third-generation family member to lead the Carlstadt, New Jersey-based company. “We see a tremendous opportunity in brand extensions for the boxed-bed segment, since many of these new beds are being sold without the proper level of support, and adjustables are another area with big potential. We never want to just sit back — our goal is always to keep our line fresh and relevant.”
Founded in 1919, Knickerbocker began with Richard Polevoy’s grandparents, Sophie and Louis Polevoy, selling bed springs in a horse-drawn carriage in the New York metro area. In the 1950s, the couple’s children expanded the line to include folding beds, headboards and metal bed frames. During that period, the company also helped pioneer a new category — bed frames and bed support systems.
In the 1960s, Knickerbocker expanded its distribution up and down the East Coast, then into the Midwest and West as it opened additional warehouses. As the bed frame and support category took off and then matured in the 1970s, a number of smaller producers fell by the wayside and Knickerbocker emerged as one of the top remaining producers. The company eventually narrowed its line to focus on bed frames. And, in the 1990s, recognizing the changes that a growing tide of imports were bringing to the marketplace, Knickerbocker established a robust internal research-and-development program to identify ways to make its bed frames an attractive profit center for retailers rather than a commodity.
“In the late 1990s, people were either giving bed frames away as part of the sale or selling them at low retail price points,” Polevoy says. “With our research, we were looking for ways to expand the category by creating a more stylish and functional product that retailers could sell at higher price points.”
The result was Eventide, a support system that brought a higher level of fashion to the category. Designed to retail for $199, Eventide featured a steel core made from recycled railroad steel combined with composite resin materials, creating a durable bed frame with an upscale appearance that integrated into a variety of bedroom décors. Other features included a patented caster design, which allowed beds to roll easily in any direction over a range of floor types. In addition, the frames could be assembled in minutes without tools, making the setup process easier for consumers.
“Eventide was developed to improve the support, assembly and mobility of the traditional steel bed frame, while providing more visual appeal and protection for people and linens from sharp edges,” Polevoy says. The price point was a big step up for retailers, he adds, so it took a while for the market to develop, “but Eventide had a very successful run.”
Raising the bar on fashion
In 2011, Knickerbocker advanced the category once again with the introduction of emBrace. A designer bed frame with contoured side rails and stylish tapered legs, emBrace features a proprietary heavy-duty rail steel construction encased in an advanced polymer resin. The frame is capable of supporting as much as 5,000 pounds.
“During this period, much of the industry was moving to one-sided mattresses,” Polevoy recalls. “We could see a need for a frame that provided more support, since mattresses were getting heavier and plusher while foundations and box springs needed added structural support.”
To create emBrace, Knickerbocker started from scratch to determine the best way to support the new generation of one-sided mattresses, as well as the fast-growing memory foam and latex segments of the industry. The company tapped the talents of its in-house R&D department, as well as the expertise of Brownlie Design, a product development and engineering firm based in Skaneateles, New York.
“We took a series of mattresses and foundations apart to see how they were constructed, then went to the drawing board to figure out the best way to support them,” Polevoy says. “Our goal was to understand what the three key groups — manufacturers, retailers and consumers — each needed in a bed frame.”
According to Polevoy, one-third of all consumer complaints about bedding are a direct result of improper support, which over time can result in sagging mattresses and squeaky foundations. In addition, an inadequate frame is unable to contain the energy from motion transfer, accelerating internal wear on a mattress, he says.
To address these issues, Knickerbocker developed patented T-shaped rails for emBrace that provide substantially more strength than traditional bed frames, according to the company. The side rails also enhance the frame structure to reduce deflection to zero along the side edges of a bed. In addition, the emBrace provides lateral structure and support, complementing today’s sleep-to-the-edge mattress designs.
Knickerbocker determined that fashion, along with function and performance, needed to be an important element in the emBrace line. Available in black, brown, gray or white finishes, emBrace “enhances the appearance of any bedroom and provides an especially stunning platform for luxury mattress sets,” says Joe Hunt, vice president of sales and marketing. Hunt joined Knickerbocker in 2013 after a 25-year career with Dormeo Octaspring, Pure LatexBliss, Ashley and Simmons.
Retail priced from $299 to $399, emBrace is positioned at the top end of the Knickerbocker line. The company added emBrace 360, a step-up model priced from $349 to $499, in 2018.
“emBrace 360 takes the emBrace line to the next level with a more complete furniture look and a few structural enhancements,” Hunt says, pointing out that the step-up model envelopes a bed, covering all four corners. It works well with a wide range of applications, including platform beds, low-profile beds and traditional foundations, he says. Like the original emBrace, the 360 model is offered in a variety of colors.
A full assortment
Knickerbocker offers a complete range of bed supports. The line starts with several models of basic, traditional bed frames in heavy-duty steel constructions with floor glides or casters, retail priced from $49 to $99. Next in the line are the Lazarbeam and Bedbeam wood bed support systems, priced at $119 and $179, respectively. Designed for use with existing headboards and footboards, Lazarbeam and Bedbeam feature steel components and easy-to-install drop-and-lock technology with variable width adjustments. Not only do they reduce sagging and mattress warranty issues, they also feature an industry-leading ability to support 1,500 pounds, Hunt says.
The Monster and the Ultimate round out the traditional frame segment of Knickerbocker’s line. Priced from $129 to $149, these models feature hardened steel side rails and twin-beam steel center support. All sections are double riveted for extra strength.
Positioned in the midrange of the Knickerbocker line is the enGauge, a designer frame capable of holding more than 2,500 pounds with zero motion transfer, according to the company. Introduced in 2017, enGauge quickly became a best-seller with its $149 to $249 price points and sophisticated styling. Features include sturdy tapered legs crafted from fiberglass-infused resin. Like other Knickerbocker products, the entire support system can be assembled quickly without tools.
Together with the premium emBrace models, enGauge forms the Bed Architecture portion of the Knickerbocker line. “Like the best architecture, these products combine beauty with strength to meet the demands of today’s luxury bedding,” Hunt says. “They showcase our unique capabilities in understanding how to blend resin with steel for the best value proposition and performance.”
To keep its line at the forefront, Knickerbocker continues to invest heavily in R&D. The company has an in-house team of product designers and engineers.
In addition, the company makes sure it applies for patent protection on new products, creating “barriers to entry” for any competitors looking to copy its original designs with cheaper materials and lower price points, Polevoy says. Knickerbocker currently holds nearly 20 patents and trademarks.
Knickerbocker produces its line at two facilities located near its headquarters in New Jersey. One plant is dedicated to steel-
related manufacturing; the other specializes in resin applications. The company has a total of 100,000 square feet of manufacturing capacity, as well as a national warehousing network.
The angle iron at the core of Knickerbocker’s frames is fabricated in the United States by Jersey Shore Steel Co., based in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Produced from recycled railroad track, the high carbon content of the angle iron makes it very tough, and the recycling process makes the finished steel even stronger, according to the steel company. This high strength-to-weight ratio delivers the same performance with less material than heavier-gauge steel products, reducing material costs, as well as shipping and handling expenses.
“We believe that manufacturing in the U.S. is the best way to keep our country strong and provide our customers with reliable products,” says Bill Evashevski, an industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience with Sealy and Serta who rounds out the Knickerbocker sales team. “We refuse to compromise on quality by importing inferior materials or components.”
In addition to its production and warehouse facilities in New Jersey, Knickerbocker has five regional distribution centers — three on the West Coast, one in Texas and one in Minnesota. In the first quarter of 2019, the company plans to open distribution facilities in Florida to serve the company’s growing base of business in that state.
Knickerbocker maintains a stock of all its products and ships most orders anywhere in the United States within 24 to 48 hours. The company also ships products directly to consumers, fulfilling orders for its retail customers, as well as those placed on its own e-commerce website.
Identifying emerging needs
Knickerbocker sees the boxed-bed segment securing a permanent position in the bedding arena, but the company also expects brick-and-mortar stores to continue to play a key role as they evolve to meet changing consumer needs with omnichannel operations.
“Younger consumers don’t want a hard sell,” Hunt says. “They want ideas and information. To be successful in the future, retailers and mattress producers at all price points will need to offer a better branding and shopping experience.”
Displaying mattresses on attractive bed frames is an important first step in enhancing in-store shopping, Hunt adds. “It’s a wow effect that adds to the overall look and feel of the bed,” he says. “The consumer gets an immediate sense for how a new bed would look in their home, and they also get a good feel for the improved support a quality support system provides.”
To make selecting support systems easier for consumers, Knickerbocker has created a number of customized point-of-purchase tools for in-store use. They include the Showcase Display, a kiosklike unit designed to merchandise a variety of the company’s bed supports and bed frames in a compact space.
Knickerbocker works hard to back its retailers by offering high-quality POP materials and ongoing training, Hunt says. “Our display tools help retailers properly present our line to consumers,” he says. “We want our products to be seen as a category in its own right that enhances the sleep experience rather than as a giveaway or afterthought.”
Knickerbocker’s efforts to shine a spotlight on its products have paid off, Polevoy says. For many years, the company’s sales have been on a steady growth trajectory, as has its distribution base. The company serves a broad spectrum of the industry — major bed producers, sleep shop chains, furniture retailers and department stores, as well as smaller independents and up-and-coming e-commerce outlets.
In addition, new opportunities have arisen in international markets. “It used to be that the market for bed frames was limited to the U.S., Canada and Mexico,” Polevoy says. “But in recent years, we’ve begun selling emBrace in markets throughout the world.”
Knickerbocker now has a strong presence in South America and the Far East, as well as Europe and the Middle East. “emBrace offers a visual look and structure that hadn’t been available before, and with our ability to tailor the product to different metric sizes, this line works with a wide range of bed sizes and styles,” Polevoy says.
Going forward, Knickerbocker’s leaders see “tremendous opportunities” for brand extensions and market expansion in its core category of bed frames, particularly with higher-end products. In the past few years, the company’s average retail selling price has more than doubled to $249 and continues to rise, Polevoy says.
“Demand across the board is growing and the future is bright,” says Polevoy, whose two sons, Lazar and Jacob, are poised to one day become the fourth generation of the family to run the company. Lazar Polevoy oversees operations at the headquarters office, and Jacob Polevoy directs the company’s West Coast expansion initiatives. The two brothers also are deeply involved in the company’s growing digital and online strategy.
“We’ve shown that retailers don’t have to be afraid of charging $299 or $399 for a quality frame,” Hunt says. “Consumers can go with a much cheaper traditional frame, but the difference will be apparent soon enough as their bed starts to sag and they call to complain.”
Still, many retailers and retail sales associates remain
under-informed about the critical role bed support systems play in mattress performance and sleep, Polevoy says. A recent study that a research team at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina, conducted for the Specialty Sleep Association found that 79% of the RSAs surveyed know very little about mattress support systems. The research concluded that there is a strong need to educate both RSAs and consumers about the role mattress frames and foundations play in sleep quality.
“We’ll continue to look for creative ways to get the word out,” Hunt says. “Our website is a very good source of information on this subject, and we’re looking at new ways to expand our reach online.”
Recently, he adds, the company created several YouTube videos that highlight the features and benefits of its products.