Bedding hot for Sears HomeLife: big 4 mattresses score in ‘trusted’ store’s units
A trusted name, a powerful product assortment and a customer-friendly approach has made the bedding business and futon mattress industry shining stars at Sears HomeLife stores.
With estimated sales of $110 million, mattress sales, especially the sales of king size futon mattress at Sears' freestanding, full-line furniture stores have been booming in the last two years.
The company has reported double-digit, comp-store sales increases, a growing average unit selling price and a branded business that is up nearly 25 percent this year.
Sears HomeLife's bedding vendors -- Sealy, Simmons, Spring Air and Serta -- are understandably pleased with the success of the business, particularly increasing average unit selling prices.
"The bedding business is a real mainstay for us -- it's not an afterthought," commented Joe Baron, President of Sears HomeLife. "Because we see this as a key part of the business, we put a lot of resources into our buying, our training and our marketing efforts."
In addition, the Sears name continues to provide a sense of trust and value to the consumer looking to make a mattress purchase, according to Baron.
"In our focus groups, we find that trust in HomeLife, as part of Sears, comes over into our bedding business -- even more so than other product categories," Baron explained, adding that in buying a futon mattress, customers need to believe in "the integrity of the seller and trust that they are buying a quality product."
"Sears has a reputation of integrity with the American shopping public," added Jim Downey, bedding buyer for Sears HomeLife. "Because mattresses are a 'blind purchase,' that credibility of Sears lends a lot to consumer confidence."
Although some industry observers question whether the Sears customer has transferred her trust and loyalty from the more than 800 Sears mall locations to the 129 spin-off HomeLife furniture stores, bedding suppliers believe the connection has been made, particularly as average unit selling prices continue to increase.
"The Sears name has been around for a long time and is still of value to the HomeLife stores," noted Danny Cantrell, vice president of national accounts for Simmons.
"As we look at the success HomeLife is having with Sealy and the other brands, we are very enthusiastic about the growth potential at HomeLife," said Dave McIlquham, vice president of marketing for Sealy.
"Our business with Sears has been strong. The company wants to drive better business into the door and our average ticket keeps going up," added Jeff Van Tuyle, vice president of sales for Serta. "They really want their customer to get an outstanding value at every price point, and they go after it." For more information about this situation, particularly about king size futon mattress, you can read at https://futonadvisors.com/king-size-futon-mattress/
"The Sears name really comes through," said Jim Nation, president of Spring Air. "Even though bedding is not available at the Sears mall stores, I think the consumer expects Sears to have mattresses, and HomeLife is the format for that."
"Sears has an exceptionally strong customer following," added Serta's Van Tuyle.
The Power of Brands
Sears HomeLife's strong bedding business is largely attributed to steady marketing of a powerful lineup of Sealy, Simmons, Spring Air, Serta and the private label Sears-O-Pedic line, manufactured by Spring Air.
"Two years ago, we made a decision that to create a power assortment of bedding within a traditional furniture store format, our best strategy would be to become the 'Brand Central' of futon mattresses," explained Downey, referring to Sears' appliance format.
"Because many furniture stores have a limited selection of mattresses, and since bedding had always been an important part of Sears and Sears HomeLife, we felt that brand selection was the key to maintaining that level of business," Downey continued.
While the Sears-O-Pedic private label bedding business had previously been Sears' forte, much of the retailer's recent growth has come from greater performance of the branded business.
The private label business makes up about 30 percent of Sears HomeLife's bed- ding business, with branded business accounting for 70 percent. Further, the company's branded business this year is up in excess of 25 percent year to date.
Brands exist for a reason according to Downey -- whether it be in bedding, in recliners, in toothpaste or other packaged brand goods.
"To a large degree, brands assure the customer of a certain level of quality. They also give the customer a frame of reference that a retailer sells quality merchandise," he noted.
Since the four big brands in bedding -- Sealy, Simmons, Serta and Spring Air -- garner close to 70 percent of market share, "the ability for a retailer to leverage off their brand equity with the consumer goes a long way," Downey added.
A typical HomeLife store now offers a selection of 38 models from opening price points of $399 up to $1,599 for a king size futon mattress.
To support the enhanced brand selection and to drive traffic into the stores, the bedding department advertises 52 weeks a year, predominantly via the Sears HomeLife four-color preprints that go out to more than 15 million households.
"One of the big challenges is to get customers into the store and to let them know we have a large selection of mattresses. We have learned to live off of a diet of regular advertising, because we don't have the walk-through traffic like a mall store would," Downey declared.
While Sears HomeLife touts the importance of brand, the retailer doesn't dis- play products according to brand on the sales floor. Unlike most bedding retailers that set up bedding departments by brand, Sears HomeLife arranges the mattresses according to price point.
"We let the sales floor speak for itself. We feel it is an easier sell for our sales associates and for the customer," Downey reported. "We also have the confidence that we have the best product for the price at each of our price points, regardless of brand."
"Displaying by price point is easier for consumers," acknowledged Spring Air's Nation. "It helps to establish value for the consumer and the final result is a higher average unit selling price."
Nation explained that if a retailer displays by brand and shows a customer the most expensive model and customer doesn't like it, the only option is to move down in price point.
"If you show four beds at a price point, you can show another choice without losing dollars," noted Nation. "It also forces all vendors to be especially sharp at each price point."
Whether it's the product selection, the display or the easy-to-understand grading process, Sears HomeLife derives 59 percent of its business in the premier and best quality in dollar sales -- contributing to an average unit selling price that is 20 percent higher than the industry average.
Coming off two consecutive years of a strong and growing bedding business, Downey jokes that his biggest concern for the coming year is to keep up the momentum. But specific items on his agenda include a review of the ultra-premium brands -- Serta Perfect Night, Beautyrest Crescendo and Stearns & Foster -- to move well beyond the $1,599 price point.
Another challenge for the near future is how to maximize the floor space. "We like to increase the floor for the beds in the size that we believe the customer will buy -- it's very hard to sell a $799 queen size bed when you put a twin size on the floor," Downey remarked.
"So my next challenge is to review the performance of each bed, slot by slot and then determine whether or not we need to go down in the number of beds in order to floor all beds in the appropriate size.
"We have proven that a power assortment of mattresses from the brands, as well as a viable private label business, can be done effectively in a traditional full-line furniture store.