Bedding Makers Ready to Hit the Show Floor

Manufacturers talk shopping lists with BedTimes and explain how exhibiting
suppliers can earn their business as the in-person event returns

For the previous ISPA EXPO in 2018, the industry met in Charlotte, North Carolina. This year manufacturers and suppliers will reconnect in Orlando, Florida.

ISPA EXPO 2022 is two months away and bedding manufacturers already know what they want to accomplish while attending the event. 

Machinery tops many of their shopping lists, but they also are looking for components to differentiate their products, giving retailers a reason to carry them and consumers a reason to buy them. 

“If the show is successful, most of our CapEx budget for the year will be spent at ISPA,” says Jon Stowe, managing director of E.S. Kluft & Co., a luxury bedding producer based in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

ISPA EXPO is the only trade fair devoted to the bedding industry, and this year’s event, March 8-10 in Orlando, Florida, will be the first ISPA EXPO held in four years. The start of the Covid-19 pandemic scuttled the 2020 fair, along with other industry events.

So, this year’s show will be the first time in a while that many industry producers will see new machinery and equipment in action and meet with suppliers face to face. It is shaping up to be a strong market, according to the International Sleep Products Association with some 183 companies exhibiting across 147,000 square feet of space as of Dec. 1, 2021.

Carter Gronbach, president of Pleasant Mattress, an independent manufacturer in Fresno, California, is attending the show “to connect one on one with potential suppliers to help build relationships, enhance product knowledge and solve manufacturing challenges.”

“Having physical interaction with vendors provokes more questions and imparts more knowledge about manufacturing processes, which, in turn, helps us determine how parts and equipment will affect turnaround, cost and quality,” Gronbach says. “This leads to better decision-making when choosing a supplier.”

BedTimes spoke with Gronbach, Stowe and other bedding makers to learn what they hope to buy and experience at the show. We also asked what the exhibiting suppliers can do to meet their manufacturing challenges and earn their business.

Eager to see hundreds of suppliers all together, they expect to pack a lot into the three-day show.

“We keep an open mind while navigating the floor and visit every single vendor so we can learn more about them and what they have to offer to see if there is an application for use in our operation,” says Bob Naboicheck, president of Gold Bond Mattress, an independent producer in Hartford, Connecticut.

Making a list and checking it twice

In 2020 and 2021, many bedding makers enjoyed strong demand for their products, which kept plants busy and accelerated expansion plans. Labor shortages, supply chain bottlenecks and rising raw material costs were less welcome. As they prepare for ISPA EXPO, producers are looking for solutions to some of those problems and also want to meet a perennial goal — finding the components they need to make enticing sleep products. 

Gold Bond has a long shopping list. “(We) are in the process of researching and making decisions on roll-pack equipment and we want to see the equipment in action, so that will be one of our first priorities,” Naboicheck says. “In the new product arena, we want to look at innovative and unique components across the entire spectrum of mattress construction, from spring technology to the latest latex foam with enhanced properties.” Gold Bond also is in the market for mattress fabrics (particularly natural and organic materials and those with cooling properties), and cushioning and insulating components.

Therapedic International’s list is shorter. “We will be looking for innovative spring and upholstery products,” says Gerry Borreggine, president and chief executive officer of the licensing group in Princeton, New Jersey.

E.S. Kluft & Co. is focused on finding labor-saving machinery, specifically automated material handling systems, suction lifts and robotic arms, Stowe says. He and his team also will be looking for foam suppliers that have the “robust polyurethane and chemical supply to increase production capacity and meet current customer demands.”  

Along with a plant manager, Stuart Carlitz is taking his two sons, Jared and Philip, who are now part of the business, to ISPA EXPO for the first time. The team from North Brunswick, New Jersey-based Bedding Industries of America and the Eclipse International licensing group will be focused on making manufacturing operations more efficient through automation, particularly for material handling, says Carlitz, president and CEO.

“We’re also becoming more vertically integrated,” he says. “We’re cutting our own foam now and one facility is making springs.” So, Carlitz has put equipment for those operations on his shopping list, along with tufting equipment and tufting materials for higher end mattresses.

And, Carlitz adds, “We’re always looking for new trading partners overseas that can offer savings on certain materials.”

(As a licensing group, Carltiz’s company also has a booth at the show and will hold meetings with international licensees the day before ISPA EXPO opens. The company also will host discussions with vendors and efficiency experts for licensees. Russ Bowman, formerly president of machinery supplier Global Systems Group, will lead a session on BIA’s national standards for its operating procedures.)

Executives with Pleasant Mattress also will be spending time in the machinery booths, seeking “innovative equipment that will spark new ideas and provide new opportunities that will give us a competitive advantage,” Gronbach says. They will be shopping specifically for specialty sewing equipment, coiling equipment and innersprings.

If they find what they need, Gronbach hopes machinery and equipment suppliers will be able to ship to his company “within a few months from the show.”

Englander’s focus will be on core components, particularly latex and innersprings, says Mark Kinsley, president and CEO of the Chicago-based licensing group, noting that his company was a latex pioneer, bringing the component to the U.S. bedding market in the 1950s. “Considering our history, we are always interested in advancements in latex,” Kinsley says, “and we keep our eyes on game-changing innerspring technology, like our Englander Edge system.” 

Like many mattress manufacturers who have enjoyed a strong 2020 and 2021, King Koil is in a growth mode and expects to double the size of its manufacturing facility at its headquarters in Avondale, Arizona, add a second facility “or do both,” says David Binke, King Koil’s CEO. “So, we’ll be looking at machinery and equipment for 2023,” he says.

Broadly, Spring Air International will be shopping for components that will be attractive to consumers, as well as machinery, equipment and services that are cost-effective, says Nick Bates, president of the licensing group with headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts. 

“The types of products and services we will be looking for will be innovative ways to help generate door clicks for our retailers,” Bates says. “We hope to find ways to create efficiencies in our product offerings that will allow us to hold price levels for our retailers so they know they can rely on Spring Air to help them maintain healthy margins.”

Be of service

Bedding manufacturers often see their suppliers as partners, and the ones BedTimes spoke with suggest several ways ISPA EXPO exhibitors can help them during — and after — the show.

Machinery tops the shopping list of many bedding makers. They also are looking for eye-catching and feature-laden components that retailers and consumers will appreciate.

For Englander, suppliers can start by being “clear about what’s new, why it matters and how retailers can sell the product.”

“Check those boxes and you’ll have my attention,” Kinsley says. “Sometimes we see products that don’t resonate with the end consumer. If mattress shoppers don’t care, retailers won’t be interested. At Englander, we work to ensure our products deliver a real benefit that can easily be communicated to consumers, who are often confused. If we’re not solving problems for consumers, we’re failing.”

With their large booths, machinery suppliers command attention at the show. “It is helpful for us to see equipment that is up and running so we can experience it firsthand as it is operating,” Gronbach says. “It is also important for us to know how quickly the equipment will be available to ship.” 

Other bedding makers shared Gronbach’s concern about shipping dates. With recent supply chain woes in mind, Bryan Smith, CEO of independent mattress maker Southerland Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee, expects show exhibitors “to be prepared to provide accurate lead times for the delivery of new products and machinery within a reasonable time frame from the date of the show.”

Borreggine will use delivery dates, in part, to judge the success of the show. “If the supply chain will allow them to deliver what they show us, we will be happy,” he says.

Supply chain disruptions also are influencing how Binke is approaching the trade fair. He is planning to use the event to “reposition our supply chain” and “form stronger alliances” with supplier partners.

Bedding producers have other practical suggestions for exhibitors. “It would be helpful,” Bates says, “if exhibitors could set up one-on-one appointments with us so we know what they intend to show us and how it will help us grow our business.”

“Having the ability to talk to vendors about their products and gain a thorough understanding of how they could potentially enhance operations for Spring Air is important for us as we continue to expand our business to support our retailers,” Bates says.

At a time when suppliers provide vast online product catalogs, Carlitz makes a plea for print versions and price lists manufacturers can pick up from exhibitors.

“I know they can’t show everything they have, but if they have catalogs of everything they offer — with general price lists — that’s helpful,” Carlitz says. “They’ll tell you to go to the website but I’m old school. I like to get as much information as I can at the show, and I like to thumb through a catalog. Later, I can go to the website for a video or more information.”

And, Carlitz adds, “a lot of the vendors are not the best at following up.” In the past, he explains, “I’ve talked to them at the show, they’ve said they’ll get information out to me and then nothing — I never heard from them. Others will overnight it and get me everything I need.”

“The market is a way to shake a hand and get together eye to eye,” he says. “But a lot of what happens at the show happens afterward — it’s in the follow-up.” 

And Binke has an off-beat request he says would make it easy for manufacturers like him to shop the Orange County Convention Center. “If they want to drive me around in a golf cart, that’d be great,” he says, with a laugh. “But I’ll have my running shoes on.”

Gauging success

Manufacturers of sleep products say they are eager for ISPA EXPO 2022 and are looking forward to a successful show.

“The success of our experience at ISPA EXPO will be measured by what we can take away from the show that will enhance the production of our key products,” Smith says. “If we walk away with ideas, products and strategic opportunities that we can put into practice for the betterment of our dealers, ISPA EXPO will be viewed as a success.” 

Naboicheck has been attending the show since he was 16 years old. “During every show, I have found either machinery, components, fabrics or services that made it a worthwhile trip,” he says. “In some cases, we found items we did not even know existed.” •

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