Held concurrently with the third World Furniture Summit in Shanghai last September, the 2012 World Healthy Sleep Industry Conference brought together bed industry experts from around the world to discuss the pressing issues facing the industry. More than 400 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the China National Furniture Association and Xilinmen Furniture Co, and organised by Shanghai UBM Sinoexpo International Exhibition Co.

According to the conference’s preamble, widespread unhealthy sleep has createed a huge market for the bed industry. Reports indicate that China’s bed industry alone is now worth around £12b, and is growing rapidly. From 2002-2011, the world’s mattress consumption has enjoyed an average growth rate of 9% – a figure far higher than the growth rate of the global economy, indicating the opportunities inherent in the sector.

CSIL’s senior expert Mauro Spinelli started the proceedings by summarising the outlook for the global mattress industry, stating that the output of the international mattress industry was approximately US$40b, led, respectively, by the US (US$6.349b), China (US$6b), Canada, Germany, Italy, the UK, France, Brazil and Japan.

Mauro pointed out that China has become the world’s second-largest mattress market, with an annual consumption growth rate of 24%. The annual consumption growth of several countries exceed the average, most notably Russia (16%), the Czech Republic (14%), Poland (13%), Austria (13%), India (12%), Brazil (11%) and Australia (11%). Figures indicate that people spend twice the amount they spent 11 years ago on mattresses.

“Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region and Africa will probably have a population of four billion by 2025,” said Mauro, “so, in the future, mattress consumption will lead the furniture consumer market.”

Joe Carroll, the former publisher of US trade magazine Furniture Today, discussed the development of mattress marketing, and the difference between selling a mattress and ‘good sleep’, while keeping an eye on brand communication and consistent quality. Constant innovation in terms of materials and processes is essential, he said.

“Without a doubt,” said Joe, “the bedding industry has some of the best marketing strategists in the home furnishings industry. Why? It’s because they have to keep on coming up with new ways to sell mattresses just to stay ahead of their competition.

“The most successful bedding manufacturers have learned two very important lessons: firstly, the customer is not the retailer, it is the consumer – the end user; and secondly, we are not selling a mattress. We are selling the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

“The mattress manufacturer has two main objectives. The first is to get people to replace their mattress more often. The average replacement cycle in the US is officially given as 10 years. However, if you look at the size of our population and the number of mattresses sold each year, I think it is more like every 15-20 years. Their next objective is to find ways to increase the profitability of their product.”

Joe cited a number of examples of successful mattress innovations and marketing campaigns, and discussed how modern technology had widened the reach of the canny manufacturer.

He concluded: “The customer doesn’t really understand much about the construction of a mattress, or how much it should cost. What she wants to know is ‘how do I know this sleep system is best for me?’ At this point, price is not her objective. She is looking for eye-appeal and comfort. Price is at the bottom of her list.

“People will spend much more money than you would think if they are convinced they will get a good night’s sleep. Tempur-Pedic is not selling a rectangular slab of foam. They are selling the promise of a great night’s sleep. It is not unusual for people to pay US$6-7000 for their foam mattresses.

“Here’s what a major bedding retailer says to his salespeople on how to sell to the consumer: Remind yourself that the customer is not as knowledgeable about the product as you may think. Many customers shop the internet to learn about mattresses before they go into the store. Often this makes them more confused. The salesperson must avoid using manufacturing terms like viscose, latex rubber and pocketed coils, and be able to talk to customers in down-to-earth, plain, simple and honest language.

“Sell the benefits of a good night’s sleep – not product or price.”
Manfred Hohenhorst, sales director of German mattress manufacturer Metzeler, well known for its Rubex series, emphasised the importance of the eco-friendly and orthopaedic aspects of mattresses, and pointed out a move away from sprung mattress units.

“The mattress market is a dynamic market,” he added, “with very high-speed development. This is because the final consumers have more channels through which to obtain more information.”

Guozhong Liu, CEO of Suzhou Mbary Natural Fiber Materials Co, proposed a ‘green alliance’ of Chinese furniture manufacturers, saying: “Environmental protection is no longer an option, but a must.”

Guangliang Wang MD, general secretary of the Chinese Sleep Medicine Association and former general secretary of the Chinese Sleep Research Society, then discussed a number of issues.

“We spend money to buy good cars,” he said, “and we have to spend two million yuan to buy a house, and 0.2 million on a parking space – but we are reluctant to spend 20,000 yuan to buy a bed. We may spend 500 yuan every month to rent a parking space, but are not willing to spend 50 yuan per month on sleep investment.

“Many people have a misunderstanding of mattresses. First, there is a lack of scientific and technological context, confusing product prices with health value. Second, there is a lack of clinical evidence support, and unreliable health claims.”

Ayu Chen, chairman and senior economist within the Xilinmen (Sleemon) Group, announced the launch of a survey to better understand Chinese sleeping habits. “At present,” he said, “China’s economic development and per capita income have reached a stage of pursuing a more comfortable lifestyle. The demand has changed from ‘as long as we can get to sleep’ to the ‘pursuit of sleep patterns and sleep quality’.”

“Based on our mission and business philosophy, we want to do something for consumers in the future – Sleemon’s Survey on Chinese Sleep Index. The company has this idea for a long time. We are told about the good or bad sleep of Chinese people for whatever reasons, but there is no supporting data. As a responsible, leading enterprise, we are duty-bound to do something meaningful for both consumers and ourselves.”

These speeches were followed by a round-table discussion regarding the science of sleep – including talk of studies carried out by various institutions, and new materials, such as Germany’s cold foam. Much support was voiced for Sleemon’s proposed sleep index, the group in agreement that developing a better understanding of sleeping habits can only support the prodigious growth of the sector in China.