A Different Drummer

Mark Schulman, left, takes time to pose with Helen Sullivan and Michael Crowell, both of CertiPUR-US, after his keynote address.

Bedding industry welcomes interaction at ISPA EXPO as upbeat mood sets stage for strong year

One of my many highlights from the recent ISPA EXPO was a drum solo. It was, remarkably, one that I produced. In all my life I have not been known to display the slightest glimmer of musical ability. Ask my fifth-grade piano teacher about that dreadful recital piece, which, mercifully, brought an end to my lessons.

But there I was, sitting at a big, fancy drum set played moments earlier by world-class drummer Mark Schulman, who has spent more than 30 years performing with Stevie Nicks, Billy Idol, Cher, Foreigner, Sheryl Crow and P!nk.

Let’s set the scene. I was on the stage in a meeting room at the Orlando Convention Center, where Schulman had just delivered a high-energy keynote address, filled with actionable insights. “Helping is the new selling” was one of his excellent points. This was not your typical rock star drummer; this was a rock star drummer with business insights. 

What really impressed me happened when Schulman finished his address: He invited audience members to sit at his drums for a photo with him. In my many years of working with keynote speakers, I can’t recall any of them engaging in this kind of interaction. Most of the time those speakers hurry off to their next appointment.

But Schulman was in no hurry. And when I sat down, I was suddenly seized with the desire to try my hand on the drums. I tapped out a quick riff, ended with a flourish and exchanged a high five with Schulman. He announced to everyone who witnessed my performance that I was a “rock star.” Who knew?

The participatory experience that Schulman brought to his appearance set the tone for a highly interactive EXPO, one that the International Sleep Products Association promoted as offering “Innovation. Interaction. Inspiration.”

I’ve been to almost 20 ISPA EXPOs in my bedding career and this one was certainly one of the strongest I can recall. Attendance was solid, the show floor was expansive and the mood upbeat, signaling good business to come. The bedding industry had been waiting for this chance to renew relationships and friendships face to face. Enough with Zoom calls already.

There has always been a special camaraderie in the mattress industry, one that comes to the fore at EXPO. In part it’s because these events are held only once every two years and thus stand apart from the more frequent cadence of home furnishings markets. But it’s also because those who make the materials and machines for those who make and market mattresses are partners in a noble crusade to bring better sleep to the world. In many cases, friendships and partnerships go back decades.

As I made my way around the show floor, I saw several things that impressed me. I liked the lab that Leggett & Platt set up to demonstrate the cooling properties of its foams. An infrared camera display vividly highlighted the heat buildup and release in various foams. I also liked the lounger at Mountain Top Foam, where latex toppers practically invited attendees to lie down. And as the encased coil recycling machine at Atlanta Attachment Company went about its work, I saw the promise of a new day in recycling.

All of those displays came to life in real-time demonstrations on the show floor, giving attendees a first-hand look at new products and technologies. It was a memorable show. •

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