Lessons Learned and Opportunities Awaiting

Industry leaders reflect on a year that saw the industry return to a more normal footing and say innovation will be important to drive business in 2023.

The bedding industry is poised to hit the reset button as a new year looms on the horizon. And that will be a good thing, executives say.

The year that is drawing to a close was a challenging one. In some respects, as one leader noted, it marked a return to reality. And, given the headaches and heartaches that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the bedding industry and to the world, that return was welcome. But, on the other side of the ledger, the loss of Covid-boosted sales and a number of other negatives, including rising inflation, skittish consumers and a shaky economy, produced a disappointing business environment in the year’s waning months.

The new year will begin with some challenging business conditions, but leaders are hoping for a pickup later in the year. They say that consumers will respond to innovative, sustainable products and to health and wellness messages. Now is the time to prepare for better business days to come.

BedTimes surveyed a group of bedding producers and suppliers to get their thoughts on the lessons of 2022 and their outlooks for business in 2023. They are planning for a busy new year.

Number 1

What lessons did you learn about the bedding business in 2022?

In 2022, we saw a “return to reality.” The uncertainty of late 2020 and 2021 has returned to a more traditional marketplace. We are still performing ahead of 2019, which is the barometer we are planning against. We are seeing strong performance in all of our company-owned plants — New Jersey, Chicago and California — and our licensee network has been growing both in terms of new factories and sales. 

— Stuart Carlitz, chief executive officer of Bedding Industries of America, a bedding producer based in North Brunswick, New Jersey 

Maintaining or even increasing budgetary spending on advertising efforts during challenging times is key to staying at the forefront of consumers’ minds. While other retailers are letting their foot off the gas, those who continue to advertise can take advantage of less competition and perhaps lower ad rates.  

— Bill Hammer, president of Shifman Mattress Co., an independent bedding producer based in Newark, New Jersey

The post-pandemic impacts remain hard to predict but continue to have influence on our economy and industry. Expect the unexpected. Stay flexible and communicate both internally and externally. 

— Cody Messner, group vice president of Leggett & Platt, a diversified supplier to the bedding industry based in Carthage, Missouri

We learned to react to the ever-changing landscape of the bedding industry. The challenges we encountered both internally and externally have driven us to be much more responsive to our customers’ requirements. Despite raw material pricing issues, logistics disruptions and labor shortages, we were able to stay the course, leveraging our manufacturing strengths while becoming more agile and adaptable to existing business conditions and new opportunities. 

—Dennis St. Louis, senior vice president of sales for bedding and furniture for the Jones Family
of Companies, a provider of engineered fiber solutions based in Humboldt, Tennessee

The United States consumer, who is typically optimistic and almost unflappable, has finally reached a choking point. The Covid bubble that the industry experienced in 2021 has popped and the entire home furnishings sector is feeling the effects of that pop. Oddly enough, it seems no one really saw this coming. Looking back at the optimism and enthusiasm that was evident at the ISPA EXPO earlier this year, I think the close of this year has been a disappointing surprise for everyone. 

— Don Wright, chair and chief strategy officer for Wright Global Graphics, a provider of printing and marketing solutions based in Thomasville, North Carolina

What kind of year will the bedding industry experience in 2023?

Industry experts seem to believe there will be challenges in 2023. However, retailers who position themselves to succeed are those who maintain their advertising efforts, focus on products that offer true health and wellness benefits to their consumers, and are not afraid to sell luxury price points. 

— Hammer, Shifman 

I think we are going to see more of the same for at least the next six to eight months. The overall economy is down, and consumer confidence is low. There are so many external issues weighing on the psyche of the consumer. A lot of the challenges the economy is facing are beyond our control. So, I believe it is going to take some time to get the economy back on an upward track and even longer to get the consumer to respond. 

— Wright, Wright Global Graphics

We’ll continue to deal with the uncertainty of macro-economic conditions but should experience the return of a more normalized business cycle driven by seasonality and promotional periods. 

— Messner, Leggett & Platt

We are forecasting modest growth for 2023. The economy will likely slow in the early part of the year, but we see that as temporary and short-lived, with a pickup in activity in the second half of the year. To counter that softness, we will continue to invest in our portfolio of products. 

— Carlitz, BIA

I believe 2023 will continue to be volatile. While we remain optimistic, 2023 looks to be challenging. Inflation will not subside anytime soon, and interest rate escalation will continue to decrease disposable income. Since 2020 and 2021 were banner years for the industry, it would stand to reason that 2022 and 2023 will serve as rebuilding years to get back to those type of levels. 

— St. Louis, Jones Family of Companies

What is the biggest opportunity you see for the bedding industry in the new year? What will your company do to capitalize on that opportunity? 

Disruption in the labor market has given renewed purpose to focus on how we can innovate products to help our customers improve throughput by offsetting the hurdle of a constrained workforce. 

— Messner, Leggett & Platt

Providing value-added, innovative sustainable products to mattress manufacturers. Health and wellness are of high importance to consumers. Eco-friendly mattress lines are becoming a staple in a retail lineup. Natural fiber offerings such as soft cotton, wool, wool blends and jute, are becoming widely accepted in this arena. 

— St. Louis, Jones Family of Companies

It’s a great time to review everything: product mix, brand messaging, aesthetics and advertising. Focus on the quality of your product, not the price.  Focus on providing great sleep because people are not sleeping during these turbulent times. I am also a firm believer in the American manufacturing story. The bedding industry is a great example of what American manufacturing is all about. We provide thousands of jobs in all 50 states. We should promote that. It’s a great story. 

— Wright, Wright Global Graphics

The biggest opportunity for the industry will be to offer a broad selection of product to meet the needs of every consumer. In addition, we have been investing in digital commerce to reach consumers who want to purchase online. But we are taking a different approach there. We are working closely with our brick-and-mortar retailers to partner with them, so we are collaborating and not taking sales from them. Our Harvest program is a good example of this. We will continue to expand our digital work into other areas, as well, in the coming year. 

— Carlitz, BIA

The biggest opportunity for the bedding industry in the new year is to listen to the retail community, which has a finger on the pulse of their consumers’ needs, and to remain committed to their success by offering products that they know will help drive revenue. 

— Hammer, Shifman 

What is the biggest challenge you see for the bedding industry in the new year? How can that challenge best be addressed?

The lack of consumer confidence is the biggest challenge facing the industry. All the factors driving that sentiment are real issues. It would be nice to blame one thing — raw material prices, transportation costs, inflation, the war in Ukraine, relations with China — but it is the collective sense of disruption that has destroyed consumers’ sense of stability. 

— Wright, Wright Global Graphics 

The market has been through wild ups and downs over the last few years. This has caused a lot of uncertainty and difficulties in managing supply chains and inventory. Providing quality products, compelling innovation and excellent just-in-time service will help sustain volume. Back to the basics. 

— Messner, Leggett & Platt

As we transition into 2023, there are continued economic factors that are concerning. The unknown direction of inflation, interest rates and labor shortages loom as key factors. In a fluctuating market, there will be peaks and valleys regarding business levels. We will remain focused as a supplier/partner on our operational efficiencies, inventory, product offerings, reduction in lead times and exceptional customer care. 

— St. Louis, Jones Family of Companies

The biggest challenge in the bedding industry for the new year is trying to cut through the noise of marketing gimmicks. There is a lot of competition within the marketplace as many companies both new and old try to capitalize on a high-turn commodity. Just because a company has a luxury price point does not make it a luxury product; the law tags tell the real story. The companies that offer real value are the ones that will persevere. 

— Hammer, Shifman 

The challenge for all bedding manufacturers is going to be how to manage the transition of the boom of the last two years back to a more traditional marketplace. Our approach is focused on product selection, value, customer service and enhancing the digital experience for our retailers and consumers. We believe this approach will lead to strong performance in the coming year, even with a softening economy. 

— Carlitz, BIA

We all know the challenges, starting with employee issues, the economy, inflation and lack of retail sales. We are traveling to get in front of our customers. We are pushing ways to help customers revamp their lines in the most economical ways. We are working with customers to evaluate how we can partner more closely with them and meet their needs in a timely manner. We are also looking for ways to work leaner in our plant for any cost savings we can apply. And we are adjusting work hours to better utilize utilities in the plant.

— Amy Stennett, vice president of sales and marketing for Lava USA, a ticking supplier based in York, South Carolina

What economic indicators will you be watching most closely in 2023?

Construction of new housing, existing housing sales and the job market. These have always been fairly accurate barometers for the mattress industry. If these indicators are positive — when the population moves to new housing or to a new location for new employment — sales usually move in an upward trend. 

— St. Louis, Jones Family of Companies

The Consumer Price Index, interest rates, oil and gas prices, and container costs.

 — Wright, Wright Global Graphics

I will be watching inflation data. As we (come to the) anniversary of the extreme monthly inflation figures of mid-2021 to mid-2022, the monthly rate increases should decline, which will have a positive effect on the economy. Lower inflation numbers will allow people to feel better about the economy, take pressure off the federal government, and allow the stock market and economy to flourish again. 

— Hammer, Shifman 

We will continue to watch the unemployment rate closely as wages appear to be the stickiest part of the current inflationary environment and the focus of the Fed. We will also continue to monitor housing starts, which is always a decent indicator of demand in our industry. We’ll share our findings with our licensees and dealers and listen closely to their changing needs in order to respond with the right product in the right place at just the right moment. 

— Carlitz, BIA

Inflation and consumer sentiment. 

— Messner, Leggett & Platt

What is at the top of your to-do list for the new year?

Design and innovation remain at the forefront of our goals at Lava. We pride ourselves in continuing our top-notch quality and service. Lava’s facilities remain extremely supportive and reactive to all of our customers’ needs.

 — Stennett, Lava USA

Continue to innovate with product at all price points to reach the broadest number of consumers. Our goal is to be the dominant source for our dealers, where they can get all their needs from one truck (preferably more than one, by the way). By having the broadest selection of product and innovating at every price point, we will maintain our competitive edge in the industry. 

— Carlitz, BIA 

Be present and appreciative for family and friends. Be thankful that I live in an amazing country and work in a fantastic industry that still manufactures products in the United States. 

— Wright, Wright Global Graphics

Continue face-to-face engagement with our employees and customers. 

— Messner, Leggett & Platt

Our primary focus is being in a position to support and be responsive to our customers. 

— St. Louis, Jones Family of Companies

I will be traveling more to spend quality time with our existing and prospective customers. We will continue to hand-pick retailers in the United States and global markets that share in our vision of offering mattresses to improve the sleeping comfort, overall health and well-being for their customers. It is invaluable to me to meet with business owners, buyers and retail store associates to ensure we maintain great relationships and to listen to their needs. 

— Hammer, Shifman

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