The European Bedding Industries’ Association and the International Sleep Products Association collaborate to strengthen the mattress industry on both sides of the Atlantic.
Similar to the International Sleep Products Association, the European Bedding Industries’ Association is a forum in which competitors can work together to address industrywide issues. Formed in 2000, EBIA is the trade group for the mattress industry in Europe.
EBIA and ISPA joined forces 20 years ago to work together on common interests and goals, and exchange information and ideas about relevant issues, such as best practices, sustainability and product safety.
In the following interviews, ISPA President Ryan Trainer and EBIA Managing Director Frederik Lauwaert, current President Geert Geerkens, past Managing Director Endre Varga, and past President Frank Verschuere discuss the strength of the relationship between the associations, the ways in which they work together and the similarities they share. Hank Little, chair of the ISPA board of trustees, also shares his thoughts on how the partnership will benefit ISPA members in the future.
What are the greatest strengths of the European Bedding Industries’ Association?
Frederik Lauwaert, managing director, and Geert Geerkens, current president: As a European trade association, EBIA’s purpose has been to promote the interests of its members and facilitate their respective aims and objectives solely through legitimate means and activities. EBIA proceeds with caution in carrying out this role and its related activities to ensure the non-violation of European antitrust laws.
For more than 20 years, EBIA has succeeded in establishing long-lasting relations with relevant European institutions, such as the EU Commission, European Parliament and European Council. EBIA is a valued partner for the EU Commission to provide input from an industrial perspective. Next to excellent relations with EU authorities, EBIA also fosters cooperation across companies. Many topics, like recycling and sustainability, are of relevance to all members and a joint effort is needed.
In recent years, EBIA has carried out different studies related to recycling initiatives, such as Extended Producer Responsibility. (According to the Organization for Economic and Co-Operation Development, EPR is “a policy approach under which producers are given financial and physical responsibility for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.”) It is through this perspective that EBIA has developed a blueprint for an EPR scheme to assist mattress companies to work with their national governments.
Global research studies on consumer expectations, e-commerce and life-cycle assessment studies of mattresses have been initiated and financed for the benefit of the entire industry over the past years.
Endre Varga, past managing director: Over the past 20 years, EBIA has developed into a recognized, respected and influential industry federation. It represents mattress manufacturers and suppliers in our industry from most European countries and the United Kingdom, with the sole objective of defending their interests at various relevant levels to the best of its abilities.
Frank Verschuere, past president: The main objective of EBIA is to represent and to be the primary voice of the European bedding industry to EU authorities in legal, technical and trade matters.
This is not as obvious as it may seem because the European market is fragmented, and differences between countries are still quite important. Only a few companies are successful in various European countries, and, therefore, a lot of companies are still thinking primarily in terms of national/local markets, and so do a lot of national governments. The EU still is very much a project under construction.
Against this background, EBIA is trying to overcome these national views, ensure national companies and federations can learn from each other, and, when possible, come to a more common view on a number of issues and challenges that our business is being confronted with. Where European legislation is to be conceived, we want to ensure that it corresponds with the converging views of the various bedding players in Europe. One European legislation that makes sense to business is preferred above various and often conflicting national regulations. By being proactive in these matters, EBIA can add the most value.
How do ISPA and EBIA work together?
Ryan Trainer, ISPA president: ISPA and EBIA work together both formally and informally. Our two organizations have jointly funded consumer research. We also share information and views on a broad range of industry issues, including mattress recycling, sustainability and product safety. To strengthen our relationship, each organization regularly participates in each other’s events.
Varga: From the beginning of the cooperation between our two associations, it was clear to both that success can only be achieved through trust and understanding: trust in the sense of an open and trustworthy partnership, and an understanding that working together is necessary to advance the mattress industry’s interest on a global scale.
Being overly conservative in this regard was not an option from the start as potential “threats” were not coming from the U.S. and Europe. This allowed a permanent and increasingly important exchange of information, experience and best practices. Several mattress studies have been either initiated together or have been exchanged.
For example, Oklahoma State University conducted a study on the fact that one sleeps better on a mattress that is five years old or less, and Dr. Bain’s study conducted in the U.K. strongly recommends changing your mattress every seven years.
In addition, both organizations have conducted marketing studies on the perceptions and expectations of consumers toward mattresses in several European countries and the U.S.
ISPA and EBIA were pioneers in this regard. This approach of close cooperation also has been adopted by other U.S. and EU industry associations.
In regard to EBIA, the major topics at the early stages of our cooperation were the flammability issue and the end-of-life question. Today, the focus is additionally on sustainability, recycling issues and product safety. Due to differences in legislation between the U.S. and the EU, the approach toward a solution may differ, though it is, in fact, identical when it comes to achieving the basic aims. There is a regular exchange of experiences in this regard, which often are complementary and hence facilitate the road toward achieving the set objective.
How are the organizations similar? Different?
Lauwaert and Geerkens: Clearly, both EBIA and ISPA share a core mission that is providing concrete solutions for the problems our members are facing. It goes without saying that ISPA is a large and potent organization with several distinct departments, while EBIA has a relatively small but versatile team, strongly dedicated, for instance, to EU matters and profiting from the fact that — just as ISPA is in Washington, D.C. — it is located in Brussels, the capital of Europe, in the vicinity of the European authorities and the heart of the EU policy-making process. EBIA also has a motivated technical committee focusing on, among others, CEN (European Committee for Standardization) and IOS (International Organization for Standardization) standards, as well as monitoring any new developments in this respect.
An essential difference can be found in the fact that while ISPA has to deal with different legislative issues from state to state, nevertheless, it remains a national association under one flag. In the case of EBIA, however, the membership comes from different European countries, which, in spite of the blue umbrella of the EU flag, are separate entities with different priorities on certain issues. To find the right solutions that are acceptable to all members is, no doubt, a challenge but, nevertheless, they bring lots of daily satisfaction.
Verschuere: We are confronted with the same global challenges, but to come to one view across the various countries is probably less obvious than in the U.S. We also run a young and small organization with limited resources and, therefore, are far less professional than ISPA. ISPA is for EBIA a real source of inspiration.
Why do you think this relationship is so strong?
Varga: The relationship remains strong through its continuity — frequent presence of both leadership teams at ISPA EXPO, ISPA Industry Conference and annual EBIA General Assemblies. In addition, one should not forget that several EBIA members also are longtime members of ISPA and, among others, have manufacturing facilities in the United States, as well. This has been a welcome boost to further solidifying the already excellent relationship.
Verschuere: We clearly have common interests, and we can learn from each other and exchange best practices. Moreover, there is simply no ground or reason to compete with each other. But, above all, the ties between both organizations are very strong because of the excellent personal relationships that have grown over the years.
Trainer: There are many reasons why EBIA and ISPA cooperate and partner on a variety of issues. The needs and desires of the mattress consumer are virtually universal. In addition, many of the companies in the mattress industry are active in both North America and Europe. Finally, most of the advocacy issues ISPA members face here are not confined to the United States but are also being addressed in Europe. As a result, it makes sense to share experiences, information and insights on consumer and commercial trends affecting the global mattress industry, as well as discuss how U.S. and EU policy makers and industry are dealing with recycling and sustainability issues. Throughout my time at ISPA, we and our colleagues at EBIA have had an open and frank relationship where one group can call on the other to provide input on these and other topics.
How does a partnership benefit each organization?
Lauwaert and Geerkens: (Our connection) has developed into a long-lasting relationship that is based on trust and mutual understanding. As the bedding industry is a global market, the sector is confronted with international challenges. The climate crisis is the ultimate example that touches companies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Another more recent example is the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has led to energy crises in both regions and has had a serious impact on supply chains and even availability of raw materials.
Trainer: Each organization’s experiences with its own members and the policy makers who regulate their industry help inform the other organization’s decision-making. For example, EU authorities frequently raise environmental topics with industry before they become an issue in the United States. ISPA can learn about these issues and how European companies are responding to them through our relationship with EBIA and consider that information as we develop our approach here in the United States.
Having participated in the collaboration between ISPA and EBIA, how do you see this relationship benefitting ISPA members in the future?
Hank Little, ISPA chair: I truly feel ISPA and its members can learn from EBIA about what works and any potential pitfalls to avoid. This should help us all to continue moving forward toward recycling/sustainability more successfully in the future.