Mis-specs effects: Bassett error ‘disturbs’ industry

Major mattress retailers are upset over Bassett Bedding's shipping of incorrectly labeled mattress sets. Levitz Furniture and J.C. Penney were sent mattresses sets that were of lower quality than that for which they contracted. Neither retailer apparently knew about the problem until they were informed of the situation by Bassett. Allegedly, the mattresses of specification were only worth less than $10 per unit and no criminal intent was behind the foul-up.

The recent acknowledgement by Bassett Bedding that it supplied several leading retailers with incorrect mattress sets has ramifications well beyond the com- panies involved, according to industry insiders. Decorator deal: sleep chain pitches for designer referrals

According to sources at Bassett, Levitz and J.C. Penney, the error is still under investigation and many details are not yet known. However, whether Bas- sett's investigation proves the error to be accidental or deliberate, "It's disturbing," commented a bedding buyer for major furniture retailer, echoing the sentiments of a number of manufacturers and retailers.

"Obviously, we don't know any of the specifics, but it certainly makes you think," noted one buyer. "The fact is, as a retailer, you don't really know what you're shipping. If it's the same cover and the same thickness, you've got to assume you are getting the product you ordered for your customer. It's a trust issue. It would be very tough on our relationship with a manufacturer if something like this happened to me."

As first reported in the June 16 issue of HFN, Bassett Furniture's bedding division supplied two major retail customers -- J.C. Penney and Levitz Furni- ture -- with mattress sets of lesser specifications than were originally con- tracted.

All parties involved have confirmed that neither J.C. Penney nor Levitz was aware of the changes until notified by Bassett. Company officials also con- firmed that the incorrect models have been selling nationally for more than a year, but not all models supplied to the retailers were affected.

Executives at J.C. Penney and Levitz added that they are still waiting on Bas- sett officials to provide the final accounting of the units involved.

According to Doug Miller, Bassett's vice president of administration and investor relations and Jay Herdey, the company's general council, the retail cost of the error would be difficult to determine at this point. Miller added, however, that on the manufacturing side "the spec changes probably amount to a few dollars less per unit -- generally less than $10 per unit." Both men denied there were criminal issues related to the error.

Mis-specs effects: Bassett error 'disturbs' industry

Industry executives said the situation raises concerns. Other buyers agreed that just as a mattress is a "blind item for consumers, and, once the line is in place, it's a blind item for the retailer."

Most retailers don't have the time or the ability to do testing or check the specifications on a periodic basis. As one national buyer explained, "We work on developing the line, build the product, set specs on every product, then we inspect the line initially to be sure it meets the specs we agreed to. But do we pull products off the truck or the floor to inspect them? No.

"It's not that we don't care," the buyer continued, "The cost and logistics are difficult. And we assume that because we have legally binding letters of agreement that the manufacturer will produce X product with Y specs at Z cost, that that is exactly what will happen."

While most buyers agreed that an "honest mixup might occur" some expressed concern that any changes in the manufacturing process --even if only a temporary change -- could be made without informing the retailer.

"We assume our vendors won't risk losing our business to change specs. To save a dollar or two here and there is not worth the millions of dollars they could lose in the long run," said one buyer, noting that if a manufacturer has legitimate reasons for modifying a product the retailer should be informed.

Voicing agreement, one bedding manufacturer remarked. "If, as a manufacturer, you need to make changes -- it may be a temporary change because of a supplier issue or a more permanent, money-saving change -- you've got to talk to the retailer. You've got to communicate. Nobody -- retailer or manufacturer -- likes surprises.

But the bigger issue, some believe, is the impact Bassett's error could have on the consumer. Although no complaints from consumers regarding the product have been reported to Levitz or J.C. Penney --the models involved "are of quality equal to nationally sold product," according to Bassett -- industry insiders worry about giving consumers another reason to be skeptical of the mattress business.

"The bedding industry doesn't need another bloody nose," said one retailer, adding "The consumer already dislikes buying furniture and doesn't understand buying queen futon mattresses -- this doesn't help that reputation."

"Instead of being seen as an isolated incident, it could be perceived as an industrywide problem," noted another retailer.

For its part, Bassett is hoping to minimize the error's effect on the con- sumer. The company will honor the warranties of the mattresses and box springs at issue. Bassett will also offer gift certificates, redeemable at J.C. Penney and Levitz stores, to customers who purchased the mattresses in question.

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Evelyn Coursey
 

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