Display and branding specialist Colonial LLC helps dress beds to sell
In this age when consumers’ shopping preferences and behaviors are growing more difficult to predict and influence, and the stakes for mistakes are rising higher, Colonial LLC employs a simple yet highly effective tool to stay ahead of the curve: the opinion survey.
For many years, the High Point, North Carolina-based display and branding specialist has conducted regular surveys of consumers, as well as retail sales associates, to identify emerging trends, barriers to purchase, key drivers for decision-making and other factors that influence bedding shopping and buying. Armed with this information, the company sits down with its customers to develop new programs and tools to better inform, engage and inspire consumers.
Highlights of its latest survey will be released at the Las Vegas Market Jan. 26-30. This new survey focuses on boxed beds and examines the key factors that motivate a shopper to buy a bed in a traditional store rather than online.
“We confirmed that there is still a big group of people that want the opportunity to go into a store and lie on a bed before purchasing it,” says Wes Keever, president of Colonial. “The online guys have done a fantastic job of minimizing this with their marketing and their liberal return policies, but the bottom line is if you buy the wrong bed, you’re not getting the good night’s sleep that you’re seeking.”
Colonial’s last major survey, conducted by America’s Research Group in 2017, also revealed valuable insights about the mattress shopping experience. That study found that 36% of consumers who researched or shopped for a new mattress in the previous 12 months did not buy anywhere — a six-fold increase over a previous survey. The top reasons cited for postponing purchases included consumers’ worries about spending too much money on a new bed, fear of discovering their new bed feels different at home than it did in the store and concerns about buying the wrong product.
AT A GLANCE
High Point, North Carolina
Produces pillows, bolsters, pillow shams, foot protectors and other display materials customized to showcase individual bedding brands. In addition, the company offers a line of customized apparel, as well as high-end, FR-compliant tape-edge for mattresses.
Roots trace back to 1974 when Jim Keever Sr. founded N.C. Garment, a producer of embroidered baseball caps and screen-printed promotional products. In 1995, the company expanded into the bedding industry as Colonial LLC.
Jim Keever Sr. and family
“Our new research takes a deeper look into what’s holding these consumers back,” Keever says. “The goal was to identify what type of information and assistance consumers need that they aren’t getting either online or in a store that will help them make a more informed, confident purchase.”
Having this information will help Colonial and its customers develop new display and branding materials that increase brand awareness, improve perceived value and generate more sales.
“Because of the huge amount of information and reviews that are now available online about sleep products, consumers are coming into stores more educated than ever before,” Keever says. “But, despite that, they are very worried about making a mistake. We work with manufacturers and retailers to address this concern so that consumers realize that going to a store is still the best way to buy a bed.”
“A whole new business”
Colonial has been developing creative point-of-purchase displays for the bedding industry since 1995. That’s when Jim Keever Sr., Wes Keever’s father, received a call from an employee at Sealy’s corporate office, asking if his company could make pillow shams incorporating the company’s tickings and logo for store displays. Until then, Keever’s company, N.C. Garment, specialized mostly in embroidered baseball caps and screen-printed promotional products. N.C. Garment was a cut-and-sew manufacturer he founded in 1974 after graduating from Pfeiffer University and working several years for Pellon Corp.
“The Sealy job, which involved working with hundreds of ticking SKUs, led us into a whole new business, which has been our main focus ever since,” says Wes Keever, who was promoted to president of Colonial in September 2019 after 18 years of service. He replaced Derek Ritzel, who recently left the company to lead manufacturer Blue Bell Mattress. Jim Keever Sr. continues to serve as chief executive officer, and Wes Keever’s brother, Jimmy Keever, is chief operating officer. Rounding out the leadership team is Jim Dunlap, senior vice president of operations; Larry Ausley, senior vice president of finance; and Tim Lawson, director of sales.
Today, Colonial offers a wide assortment of pillows, bolsters, pillow shams, foot protectors and other display materials customized with embroidery, sublimation printing and other embellishments to showcase individual bedding brands. The company works with a broad cross section of bedding makers, including Corsicana, Kingsdown, King Koil, Purple, Resident, Sierra Sleep by Ashley and Tempur Sealy International Inc., as well as leading retailers, such as Jordan’s Furniture, Macy’s, Mattress Firm and Rooms To Go.
In addition, the company offers a line of customized apparel, as well as high-end, FR-compliant mattress tape-edge.
The company manufactures at four facilities in and around High Point and also maintains two warehouses in the area. Colonial employs more than 200. In addition, Colonial has partnerships with several offshore companies that provide display materials for bed makers doing business in other countries. These partners also supplement Colonial’s production in the U.S. market.
“We employ this hybrid production model so that our customers don’t have a lot of unused inventory at the end of a program that they have to write off,” Wes Keever says, adding that most mattress models have a defined life on a store floor and eventually will be replaced by a fresh model that typically requires a new set of display materials. “With our approach, we try to avoid any wild swings in inventory since we only produce what’s needed,” he says. “If all your display materials are coming from an offshore source, managing that process is much harder and can be very expensive if not managed efficiently.”
This production model also enables Colonial to respond quickly to customers’ demands so that “displays arrive when they’re needed and where they’re needed,” Keever says. “Manufacturers and retailers can’t afford to have any materials arrive late when they’re conducting a store opening or a big sale. There is too much lost opportunity cost if items aren’t displayed properly.”
From the foundation up
In his new role as president, Keever plans to build on the solid foundation put in place by his father and Colonial’s two most recent presidents — Ritzel and, prior to that, Mark Hobson.
“I have had the privilege to work with and learn from two outstanding mentors, as well as my father, who I continue to learn from every day,” Keever says. “Derek and Mark were both seasoned mattress veterans who brought a vast knowledge and understanding of the industry’s key issues to Colonial. Having learned so much from both, it is a natural progression for me to step in and build on that great foundation as we strengthen and expand the services we offer.”
Going forward, Keever says he plans to continue to strengthen Colonial’s customer-centric sales approach, leveraging consumer research, state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and its in-house design talent “to help our partners succeed.”
“We do all of our design in-house, which enables us to be much more responsive to our customers’ needs,” Keever says. “Our team has been with us quite a while, and it’s always fun to give them a new challenge to tackle for our customers and see them put their creative talents to use.” Design team leaders include Betsy Upton, lead designer; Megan Williams, art director for printing; and Amy Pierce, art director for embroidery.
To execute the ideas its team comes up with, Colonial invests regularly in new machinery and software systems. Recent investments include laser and automated cutting machines, as well as enhancements in its embroidery and sublimation printing operations. “Advances in printing are taking place at a very rapid pace,” Keever says. “We work hard to keep up with that so we can offer our customers the latest technologies and applications.”
For the past several years, Colonial’s business has been “on a nice growth track,” Keever adds, “and I look forward to adding new elements to our portfolio that make fiscal sense while continuing to build a team that supports the best brands in the business. Our goal has always been to help our clients sell more and better mattresses, and that mission will not change.”
In his new role, Keever expects to lead the company in new directions that emerge from current strengths. For example, in 2020, Colonial plans to launch its new K5 Solutions program, led by 30-year UPS veteran Tim Lawson. A new division of the company, K5 will offer inventory management and fulfillment services to a broad range of businesses, including mattress manufacturers, suppliers and retailers.
“We ship store kits to our customers every day and this ability to get parts out quickly and accurately has always been one of our core competencies,” Keever says. “With our base in High Point, we can reach approximately 60% of the U.S. with any ground or truck shipment within two days.”
K5 will provide Colonial’s customers with additional warehousing and shipping capacity during periods when “business spikes and they need some extra space,” Keever says, or on an ongoing basis when a company has outgrown its own facilities or prefers to have a partner handle certain aspects of fulfillment, such as direct-to-consumer shipments of boxed beds or products that have to be inventoried from overseas suppliers. To accommodate this new business, Colonial is updating and expanding its two existing warehouses.
Also expected to receive more attention in 2020 is Colonial’s apparel and promotions business. From T-shirts to caps to jackets, Colonial offers a wide array of products with customized embroidery and screen printing to promote brands to consumers — or to create camaraderie among employees. The promotions and apparel division is led by Bobby Jones, a longtime area sales manager.
“We see opportunities for new growth in promotions and apparel within the mattress industry, as companies look for new ways to strengthen and create more visibility for their brands,” Keever says. “It’s all about building brand awareness.”
New ways of shopping
As more consumers begin their mattress shopping journey online, gathering detailed information about specific brands and models from websites and social media, their expectations for the in-store shopping experience are changing, Keever says. That transition requires new approaches to selling, as well as new tools.
“Consumers have more information than ever at their fingertips, but they often are confused about which bed is the best choice for them,” he says. “They see the store as the place to go after they do their initial research. It’s where they can test a few different models, talk to a knowledgeable RSA about specific questions they may have and get comfortable with the decision to buy a new bed.”
While some online shoppers will choose to buy their new bed without any in-store testing, there’s still a large number of consumers who would prefer to visit a store if given the opportunity, Keever says, “and that’s why a growing number of the online specialists are now moving into traditional brick-and-mortar locations.”
Boxed bed specialists are expanding their reach with consumers both online and in-store and “have a nice selling proposition,” Keever says. At the same time, he says, brick-and-mortar retailers have “a great opportunity to increase their brand presence online and tell an equally compelling story to get more people into their stores.”
For both types of companies, “it’s critical that the message you have in-store matches what’s online,” Keever adds.
In-store displays must be well-thought-out and organized so shoppers can easily identify the brands, models and constructions being offered, he says. Finally, RSAs have to make the most of every opportunity “by providing additional insights and information to reinforce a consumer’s buying decision,” Keever says.
Displays with a purpose
As a specialist in display and branding, Colonial helps mattress manufacturers and retailers plan, execute and launch new product lines. The process of developing a program to support a new bed at retail starts with a simple conversation with the customer about key goals, Keever says.
“For some clients, it is all about communicating value. For others, it is all about standing out from the rest of the products and brands on the retail sales floor,” he says. “Some clients may be frustrated that the extra effort and cost they put into building their beds isn’t translating into more unit sales. And others have multiple brands in their line but are bothered that consumers, and even some RSAs, can’t differentiate them on the floor.”
After working with customers to identify their goals for in-store branding, Colonial designs top-of-bed displays that identify step-up features and differentiate collections using a combination of colors, fabrics, logos and other methods. The company utilizes all available space — from foot protectors and siderails to pillows and headboards — to help RSAs understand and communicate the most important benefits of each mattress. The displays contain visual cues that enable RSAs to quickly identify bullet points about each model “since even the best salesperson can’t remember everything,” Keever says.
In many cases, slots, flaps or pockets are built into top-of-bed dressings to hold price cards and information sheets, allowing RSAs to easily communicate the features and benefits of a mattress to customers. Such features also minimize clutter to create cleaner presentations.
With all of its top-of-bed materials, Colonial aims to deliver coordinated solutions that work on behalf of the entire brand, not just a single mattress model. Sometimes that means limiting the amount of splash on a promotional bed so it doesn’t compete with higher-priced models.
“Our studies have found that how a mattress is dressed can actually influence how much a consumer thinks it should cost,” Keever says. In a 2015 survey conducted by Colonial, seven out of 10 consumers surveyed said they were more inclined to lie on a mattress with a more elaborate display than one with a less elaborate display, and three out of four consumers said they expected top-quality bedding brands to have better looking displays than lesser-known brands. In addition, two out of three consumers in that survey said mattress displays with nice fabrics and embroidered messaging made them want to touch the beds more than beds without those features.
A similar survey conducted by Colonial in 2013 found that a bed dressed with three pillows and a foot protector was perceived to be worth 27% more than the same bed without those appointments, and the appeal rating for the dressed bed rose 25%.
As the sleep products industry begins a new year, Colonial will continue to come up with new ways to help customers creatively promote their brands in-store. One recent innovation Keever is excited about is silicone-edge graphics, in which a flexible silicone gasket is sewn to the four sides of a fabric graphic. The silicone edge makes the graphic easy to install and replace when a store is ready for a message change. The graphics can be lit from behind, creating additional impact and dimension.
Colonial also is investing in new tools, such as internet-
enabled kiosks and video loops, to help brick-and-mortar retailers better compete with online-only specialists. “We want to make it easier for consumers to access product reviews and model information in-store,” Keever says. “This is a big deal in online shopping, and we’re looking at how this information can be more easily accessed in-store, as well.”
Through all of its work, Colonial emphasizes a credo made popular during Hobson’s period as president: “You only have one chance to make a first impression,” Keever says, adding that the saying is one of a dozen “Colonial Rules” that help guide the company.
“Our products always have to look their very best,” Keever says. “Anything short of that is a problem. If a display doesn’t look professional and attractive that reflects poorly, not only on the product, but also the brand it represents.”