A Soft Dive Into Design

Shifman Mattress Co. is building a design trade program to expand its reach, both with designers and high-net-worth consumers.

Bill Hammer, president of Shifman Mattress Co., and Alison Minella, marketing director, showcased the Inspired collection at the company’s showroom in High Point.
Bill Hammer, president of Shifman Mattress Co., and Alison Minella, marketing director, showcased the Inspired collection at the company’s showroom in High Point.

At High Point Market in October 2021, Shifman Mattress Co. quietly launched a design trade program. The 130-year-old family-owned bedding company realized it was missing out on a lucrative distribution channel — the highly affluent who do not go to retail stores and only shop through their interior designer.

“We have been a retailer-only company for as long as I can remember,” says Bill Hammer, president of the Newark, New Jersey-based business. “But the development of the design community and the strength of the design community over the past 20 years has gained tremendously. How designers shop for their clients has really changed the landscape.”

Hammer is right.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the interior design profession has grown by 30% since 2005. Today, most all national retail chains and some regional furniture chains have a design trade program — and brands are following suit.

The trend started in the early 2000s, with the rise of HGTV and Bravo TV fueling consumer interest in designers. Then, the 2008 Great Recession sparked retailers and manufacturers to look for a wider audience. Designers made perfect sense because the average consumer may buy a mattress every seven years, whereas a designer may buy seven mattresses in one year — or more if they have commercial clients, such as hotels.

While hiring designers is becoming more mainstream for middle- and
upper-middle-class consumers, Hammer is homing in on the affluent because that’s the market for his handmade, luxury mattresses which can cost upward of $10,000.

“We identified that we were missing that entire channel of people who would not find our products, because they wouldn’t go to retail stores,” Hammer said. “And we wanted to make them available to those individuals.”

Starting small

Shifman chose a soft launch to give the company time to evaluate the market and craft the product around the trade program. “We’ve been talking to many, many people in the design community about how to effectively make these mattresses available in the best interest of the designers and the consumers,” Hammer said.

Interestingly, like wealthy consumers, most designers do not shop retail either; they seek out discounted programs at trade-only sources. In a study conducted by Business of Home in 2018, designers reported shopping retail for their clients about 11% of the time. 

So, if the affluent aren’t shopping at retail stores and neither are their designers, conceivably the only way to reach a high-net-worth audience is by starting a trade program — like Shifman.

Hammer emphasizes that their program is mutually beneficial for designers. Not only did Shifman start the program — the company also developed a special collection, Inspired, just for designers.

“We’ve made it simple and easy for a designer to choose a comfort level for their customer,” says Alison Minella, marketing director of Shifman. “Being a former interior designer myself, I know the challenge firsthand: Going through a sea of mattresses to try and pick something for your customer is not an easy task.

“Therefore, having this simplified program that offers extreme comfort and high natural content in a luxury mattress makes it easy for a designer to feel confident and choose a mattress for their customer.”

The Inspired collection comprises four models, all named after 20th-century icons of interior design: the most luxurious, plushest (Elsie) De Wolfe pillow-top, the medium-firm (Julia) Draper pillow-top, the firm (Billy) Baldwin and the more value-priced (Michael) Taylor.

Getting inspired

Part of the Inspired collection, the De Wolfe pillow-top mattress is Shifman’s plushest, 
most luxurious bed. It’s also popular with designers.
Part of the Inspired collection, the De Wolfe pillow-top mattress is Shifman’s plushest, most luxurious bed. It’s also popular with designers.

“The whole idea is that designers don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about mattresses and construction: They want to design,” Hammer says. “So, this is an easy way to design a beautiful bedroom and give them the most important piece of furniture in that bedroom, which is the mattress.”

Minella adds, “When you’re taking the time to create an oasis, a sanctuary, why would you overlook the most important element in that space?”

All the Inspired mattresses feature two-sided construction and natural materials, such as cotton, natural latex and New Zealand wool. In addition, the beds are hand-tufted with Shifman’s proprietary Sanotuft technique, and they all come with eight-way, hand-tied box springs with upholstery coils — except for the Taylor, which is quilted with a wire-tied, grid-top box spring.

“Taylor still has coils, but it’s not hand-tied,” Hammer says. “It’s for more budget-conscious projects, and Taylor is more of a medium firmness that would appeal to the masses.”

So, logistically, how does this design trade program work?

Shifman is taking a “separation of church and state” approach: The company is intentionally separating retailers from designers. “Our retailers have been the lifeblood of this business for much longer than I can take credit for,” Hammer acknowledges. “We’re coming up on 130 years.”

Further, the company is not dealing directly with designers — it’s using design centers as intermediaries.

Business structure

“The structure is like other home furnishings companies in that we sell our products at the wholesale price. And then the agent, the design firm, will offer their programs to independent designers,” Hammer says.

“We’re a manufacturer and a wholesaler, and so it’s up to those agents, those representatives that we carefully handpick, the design centers, to expand their business the way they do it with other home furnishings,” he continues. “I like to argue this is fine upholstery; it happens to be a mattress and a box spring. And it shouldn’t be handled any different.”

Typically, designers receive a 20% discount off the list price from retail trade programs, according to Business of Home. For trade brands, that discount can increase to 30% to 50% off. Sometimes, manufacturers offer both a discount to designers, plus a commission.

Shifman is removing itself from this equation and leaving it up to design centers to work with designers directly and set prices.

“We’re doing this in a way that’s not only protecting retail, which is very important to us … it’s also making sure that we partner with the right design firms,” Hammer says. “We’re not a volume shop; we take our time and make bespoke mattresses. And we take our time and choose our partners.

“This is not something that we need to accomplish in a day, a month or a year. I plan on staying here quite a while. So we have plenty of time to accomplish more and more every year.”

The company is in talks with design showrooms and large design centers to represent the brand and make it available to the design community, and they’re seeking out design showrooms in multiple major markets, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York, among others.

“I think in another market or two, we will have much more detail to share,” Hammer says. “Now we’re focusing on educating the design community on who we are, what we have available, and why that’s beneficial to them and their clientele.”

Minella sums it up: “At the end of the day, we want this to be as successful as all our other product lines. The goal is to reach the right people and help them to become successful.”

A Word From Designers

David Santiago of Casa Santi Interior Design recently signed on to the Shifman Mattress Co.’s design trade program and used Shifman mattresses in this recent project.
David Santiago of Casa Santi Interior Design recently signed on to the Shifman Mattress Co.’s design trade program and used Shifman mattresses in this recent project.

Susan Greenbaum and her family that are behind Greenbaum Interiors in Morristown, New Jersey, have done business with Shifman Mattress Co. for almost 70 years.

David Santiago of Casa Santi Interior Design in Hackensack, New Jersey, began working with Shifman more recently.

What do they have in common? They both signed up for the company’s design trade program.

“My business is a resource and asset to residential and hospitality projects,” Santiago says. “We get to design and specify the beds, the bedding (sheets and accents), so, why not the mattresses? It’s a perfect trio, and that’s music to my ears and my clients’.”

For Greenbaum, it made mattress buying a lot easier for her team of in-house designers.

“We always private-labeled it, and I kept it very simple: guest room, master bedroom, kid’s room,” Greenbaum says. “My staff of designers, they don’t get into bedding. They glaze over when you talk about the fantastic benefits of cotton on top and wool and all that good stuff.

“So, you have to keep it simple for them. And when Shifman came to me, and we discussed this designer program, it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m in! Get me those samples right away.’”

Both Greenbaum and Santiago agree that another benefit is that the high quality of Shifman mattresses meets their affluent clients’ needs and expectations — not to mention it comes with Shifman’s high level of customer service.

“Shifman has the quality and craftsmanship that I look for in design and, quite frankly, they raise the bar with the most comfortable and the variety of mattresses,” Santiago says. “I have access here in the New York metro area to the factory by appointment. Shifman has it all: They have quality control and superior customer service, which is essential in our industry, not to mention a brilliant team.” 

Greenbaum took a tour of the Shifman factory in Newark, New Jersey, near the end of 2021 and she, too, was impressed by the level of quality. She custom manufactures furniture, “so I really appreciate what goes into each Shifman bed,” she says. “Most companies today … they don’t talk about the box spring. … The level of workmanship in Shifman’s box springs is fantastic.

“And that’s why these beds will last for 20 years, 30 years,” she adds. “And it’s all natural and all cotton. … I was blown away by the amount of cotton that goes into one bed.”

Santiago also appreciates Shifman’s 130-year history, as well as “its employees who are as diverse as the mattresses,” he says. “I have built my business on return customers and put integrity in all the work I do. I feel at home with Shifman and believe we are like-minded.”

For Greenbaum, the program helps the dynamic with clients — the ones who lie down on the beds and the ones who order from her sight unseen. A lot of her customers don’t have time to come into one of her showrooms.

“They’re like, ‘OK, we need eight sets of bedding and what do you recommend?’” she says. “And we’re like, ‘Well, if you like a plush, let’s do the De Wolfe, which is the most expensive one, for your bedroom. And then let’s do this one for the kid’s room and this one for the guest room.”

Most of all, her customers appreciate making a private appointment at her historic showroom and design center.

“Clients are excited that we make it easier for them,” she says. “They don’t have to go shop around and deal with the massive world of mattresses today. … So, I have them lie down on everything and they pick one and it’s easy.”

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