When Covid-19 hit, bedding makers and suppliers discovered new ways to introduce products without face-to-face meetings — including online
showrooms, virtual tours and digital marketing
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we’ve adjusted to a lot:wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart, using hand sanitizer by the gallon.
And the bedding industry has shifted in other ways: Frequent flier miles plummeted while the hours spent Zooming, well, zoomed as organizers scaled back, postponed or outright canceled their meetings, trade shows, conferences and other events.
Creative companies pivoted, finding new ways to stay in contact with customers, partners and vendors. We’ve seen the rise of virtual factory tours and online product introductions, plus the expansion of digital marketing tools, to replicate in-person events and showcase products and capabilities.
With vaccination rates up and the Delta variant waning, business travel is resuming and attendance at industry events is growing. (See article about the upcoming ISPA EXPO 2022 on page 30.) But many companies say they expect to continue offering alternative ways of meeting and sharing information.
“The pandemic has pushed us and our customers to move to a faster digital transformation: webinars, online product presentations, video meetings, virtual factory tours and even digital ‘fairs.’ And, many times, it has forced us out of our comfort zone. The … change was already initiated before the pandemic,” says Sonia Ortiz, sales adviser and project manager for machinery supplier Masias Maquinaria SL in Girona, Spain.
On (virtual) tour
Six months into the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, mattress licensing group Therapedic International began offering virtual showroom tours to retailers in lieu of attending the Summer Las Vegas Market and the Fall High Point Market. Early in 2021, Therapedic continued the practice, sending a video crew into its showroom in the World Market Center in Las Vegas to create a virtual presentation of new products ahead of the market there, which organizers moved from its typical time slot in early January to mid-April because of rising Covid-19 cases last winter.
In the early stages of the pandemic, when most large events were canceled or drew paltry crowds, the bedding industry had to find different ways to introduce products to customers.
At the time, Therapedic’s Gerry Borreggine said he believed retailers were eager for new products and didn’t want to wait until April to select items for their stores and e-commerce sites. Therapedic’s video tours featured narrated walkthroughs of the company’s new offerings and were promoted to retailers via licensed factories, marketing emails and social media. Retailers could access the videos directly through Therapedic or through their sales representative at the nearest plant.
The virtual showroom tours and product rollouts were born out of necessity, says Borreggine, president and chief executive officer of the company, which has headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey. “We wanted to bring our market to the retailers who couldn’t or wouldn’t be visiting the market in-person,” he says. And they were effective: “We had more virtual visitors than we would have had physical visitors,” he says.
The rescheduling of last winter’s Las Vegas Market prompted Restonic to create a video to introduce its new products in December 2020. “We had already created new Scott Living and Biltmore by Restonic product lines to launch, so we had to determine the best way to get the product in front of our retailers and prospects,” says Laurie Tokarz, president of the mattress licensing group based in Buffalo, New York. “Regional open houses were effective for some areas, but not all, so, we decided to create a video for each brand to introduce the product lines.”
“The videos were well-received,” Tokarz continues. “They gave an overview of our company and the brand, and a walkthrough of our showroom. Our sales managers and sales reps used the videos to select assortments with current customers and as a program overview for prospects.”
Rize, a Cleveland-based producer of a wide variety of bedding products, also turned to the virtual world when travel and events in the “real” world slowed. In summer 2020, the company began offering virtual visits to its headquarters called Rize Live. “We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly some of our customers requested Rize Live visits,” says Rick Sterzer, executive vice president of sales for the company, which is part of parent company Mantua Manufacturing Co.
Some retailers, he notes, were more comfortable talking via video calls than others. For customers who participated, Rize Live gave them a new perspective on the company they might not have gotten while touring its showroom in Las Vegas in person.
“Many customers were surprised to learn we had products they were not aware of, such as our new pillow and mattress protection program, or that we had a head-up-only adjustable base at very competitive pricing,” Sterzer says. “Customers found it very interesting taking a video tour through our factory seeing the raw steel turned into finely finished bed rails and boxed for shipping.”
New ways for new times
Industry suppliers and bedding manufacturers have found other new ways to interact with customers, such as expanding online catalogs and ramping up digital marketing efforts.
“The pandemic certainly accelerated the way we do business,” says Charlene Vaz, director of design and marketing in North America for BekaertDeslee, a fabric supplier based in Waregem, Belgium. “Our digital design tools have taken off to another dimension.” New tools at BekaertDeslee include “3D rendering presentations and platforms for a full, immersive customer experience,” she says.
“Whether by phone, video conference or online sharing platforms, BekaertDeslee continues its dedication to invest in, grow and be close to our customer,” Vaz says.
In summer 2020, Atlanta Attachment Co. began to significantly expand the resources available to customers on its website, AtlAtt.com. The machinery supplier, headquartered in Lawrenceville, Georgia, added narrated videos in English and Spanish and fresh photography for key pieces of new and updated machinery. The company plans to show at the upcoming ISPA EXPO 2022 but will continue to expand the information available to its customers on its website as an added benefit that makes machinery shopping simpler and convenient anytime.
Similarly, Rize used pandemic constraints on in-person meetings and events as an impetus to redesign its product catalog. The company streamlined its category merchandising, product specifications, pricing and service information to make it easier for retailers to shop and order products. The company made the catalog available in print or electronic form.
“The pandemic has created levels of complexity that nobody expected, so we thought we would redesign our new Rize catalog around simplification,” Sterzer says. “… We’ve seen a big improvement in comprehension of our products and programs, along with adoption (of the catalog as a resource) not only from our customers, but our sales reps, as well.”
To stay in closer touch with retailers, Rize created a more comprehensive marketing calendar and stepped up its digital outreach through Constant Contact. “Those touch points include everything from supply chain updates to new product introductions and promotions,” Sterzer says.
Going forward, Sterzer says, Rize “will continue with these marketing efforts and will also put a greater emphasis on social media as retailers and consumers have gravitated at an increasing rate to digital marketing during the pandemic.”
“Social media will become a far more important focus point in order to maintain our relationship and communication efforts with our customers,” Sterzer adds. “Though the pandemic created new challenges to business both internally and externally, it forced us to open our eyes to the innovations and opportunities surrounding digital media, new product asset development and tools for how we interact with customers. We certainly have adopted and will continue to utilize these successful approaches.”
As successful as the new efforts have been, none of these companies plans to rely solely on virtual showroom tours or digital marketing going forward.
“Having (online) tools and platforms at our reach, just a click away, has made it much easier to stay in touch with our customers, but in our way of doing business, face-to-face meetings are always preferable,” says Masias Maquinaria’s Ortiz. “From now on, both will be complementary.”
Restonic’s Tokarz agrees.
“I believe all trade shows and markets have been changed from the pandemic, and there may always need to be a virtual option,” she says. “A virtual showroom will probably need to be a staple to reach those who have decided travel is not necessary.”
But, Tokarz says, “in-person is still the optimum way to review a product line.”
Getting Back Together
ISPA EXPO 2022 will give the bedding industry an opportunity to reconnect in person. Register now for the event, which will be March 8-10, 2022, in Orlando, Florida, at ISPAEXPO.com. If you do so by Jan. 14, 2022, you can lock in early-bird rates. Book your hotel at the same time with flexible rebooking options at discounted rates at ISPAEXPO.com/Hotel-Travel.
“ISPA EXPO Is Always an Exciting Time”
Big bedding industry show returns in March 2022 after long pandemic pause
ISPA EXPO 2022 will be worth the wait, according to organizers and exhibitors.
For the first time in the show’s history, the biennial three-day event was canceled in 2020 because of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of travel and events worldwide. So, when the show opens, it will have been four years since bedding industry suppliers, manufacturers and manufacturer-retailers have gathered for the world’s largest trade show dedicated to sleep products.
The show will be March 8-10, 2022, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.
The industry has changed significantly since the last show. Online shopping has become even more popular, and so have boxed beds and foundations delivered directly to consumers’ homes. And, because of pandemic-related closures and wild swings in consumer demand, the bedding industry has seen firsthand how complicated and fragile the global supply chain has become.
For the upcoming show, exhibitors have reserved 20,000 square feet more space than they had for the canceled ISPA EXPO 2020, says Kerri Bellias, vice president of advertising sales and events for the International Sleep Products Association, which organizes the event. Registration for attendees recently opened.
“This strong demand for EXPO space demonstrates that exhibitors are eager to convene with the industry after four years, and many are increasing their booth size to show their products,” Bellias says. “Since we will not have had an in-person supplier show in our industry for four years, by the time the ISPA EXPO 2022 opens, there will be a big need for exhibitors to showcase new products and technologies. And manufacturers are looking for solutions.”
While digital technologies like Microsoft Teams and virtual showroom tours have allowed the industry to stay connected over the past 20 months, there is no substitute for in-person events, says Charlene Vaz, director of design and marketing in North America for BekaertDeslee, a textile specialist based in Waregem, Belgium, that has been an ISPA EXPO exhibitor since 1992.
“ISPA EXPO 2022 is a preview window into what the industry is bringing, what customers are in search of, and what the industry is investing in,” Vaz says. “At the BekaertDeslee booth, it will be an eye-opening experience as to what is coming for the industry’s future. ISPA EXPO is always an exciting time for BekaertDeslee to not only present (products), but also to develop (products) alongside a wide range of customers. We are most excited about being a part of a great market energy that continues to push innovation.”
Bedding components supplier Hickory Springs has shown at every ISPA EXPO since the show’s inception and is excited to be exhibiting at the upcoming event with machinery supplier Atlanta Attachment Co., which Hickory Springs’ parent company HSM purchased in 2016, says Tim Witherell, vice president and general manager of bedding for Hickory Springs, which has headquarters in Hickory, North Carolina.
“We feel strongly that the EXPO is a great way to see our customers in one forum. We will have some new products to show in 2022; in particular, our Flexecore spring unit. We’re also excited that for the first time, AAC and Hickory Springs will be showing in the same booth. We believe that our two companies will be able to service our customers better with this new layout,” Witherell says.
“We’re also looking to reconnect with the many friends we have in the industry,” Witherell continues. “If we’ve seen anything over the past 18 months, it’s that relationships do matter. We’re really looking forward to connecting with our customers, other vendors, and even our competitors at EXPO.”
Masias Maquinaria SL, a regular ISPA EXPO exhibitor since 1998, considers the show to be “a significant highlight in our calendar, allowing us to connect with the U.S. market in a much closer and personal way,” says Sonia Ortiz, sales adviser and project manager for the company, which produces machinery for the production, treatment and recycling of textiles and fibers. Masias Maquinaria is based in Girona, Spain.
Ortiz expects bedding producers who attend will be interested in natural and biodegradable components.
Future Foam, a foam producer based in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has exhibited at ISPA EXPO since 2016, according to Randy Lake, general manager for the West Coast. Unlike other companies, Future Foam has not made a major shift to online meetings or virtual factory tours since the pandemic began. The company is looking forward to ISPA EXPO as a way to do many of the things the show is known for: showcasing new products and services, introducing the company to new customers, writing orders, and networking with colleagues.
And, as BekaretDeslee’s Vaz notes, attendees and exhibitors can do all of that at the show in Orlando with no one having to “worry about being on mute.”