The mattress industry - an introduction
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No matter how much knowledge a consumer may have about mattresses, without a way to put this knowledge to practical use by knowing where to buy a mattress and why, this knowledge will be wasted. This is the reason for this section of the website. In conjunction with the forum, it can provide the specifics of where to go in any area so that consumers have a way to connect with the highest quality manufacturers and retailers in their area that they may not otherwise even know about and that are so often drowned out in the "noise" of misleading and misinformed advertising.
There are currently over 500 mattress manufacturers in the USA and perhaps a hundred more in Canada. While many of these represent the many subsidiaries, hidden and otherwise, of the larger mattress manufacturers, hundreds of them are also independent local and regional private companies that are owned by people who love producing mattresses and have amazing value. They know their stuff and genuinely care about the products and the value they produce.
I have been fortunate to have had extended conversations with dozens of them and it is an understatement to say I was amazed at how willing they were as a group to share their knowledge and information about their mattresses, their business, and the industry as a whole with me. I came to quickly understand that if every mattress in the stores was made by manufacturers such as these, then not only would higher quality mattresses cost much less, but it would also be so much easier to know what was in your mattress and make a purchase that was perfect for your circumstances.
As I became more and more intrigued by what I was discovering, my conversations continued. I also quickly discovered that some of these manufacturers were struggling and that many of them had gone out of business since the last census ... not because of poor quality design, construction, service, or value ... or even from a worsening economy ... but because more and more their value was not being recognized as they were being overwhelmed by larger companies who began to dominate the information flow and the floor space of the largest retailers with misleading information and lesser quality materials promoted as being better than they were. Many of these had been in business for several generations and had passed their knowledge on to each succeeding generation who in turn refined it and "brought it up to date". Sadly, some of these are already gone.
In a similar way, specialty retailers, sleep shops, and other outlets that focused on value, quality and service were (and are) are being driven out of business by the information flow and dominance of lesser quality, overpriced mattresses that many consumers have come to believe represent their best choices. I have had dozens of conversations with many of these as well and they too are struggling as a group against the misinformation and false claims that have become the norm. When they truly offer something better ... it is often considered as being "just another claim" in an industry where stories have become more important than genuine information and consumers have become jaded because they truly don't know where to turn.
Consumers who do not have a reliable source of information or frame of reference to determine which claims or stories are true and which are not, will often just take the "safe" approach of going to a chain store and buying a mattress "on sale" which they believe represents good value ... even though it rarely is. More often than not they are buying the story rather than the mattress. These hundreds of quality retail outlets are also in many cases privately owned and run by "mattress people" who love what they do and truly do their best to educate their customers and offer mattresses that represent real value ... even though they are being lost in the maze ... or the haze ... of the overall direction of the industry. I have seen countless examples of consumers who live in a large city who don't even know that the best retail outlets and manufacturers in their own city even exist.
The larger manufacturers, also called "name brands" or "S" companies because the names of so many of them happen to start with an "S", and the chain stores and larger retail outlets with which they have a completely co-dependent relationship, call these local and regional manufacturers "off brands" and in this segment of the industry this is considered to be a derogatory term. It is equivalent of saying "stay away" and a not so subtle way of influencing consumers not to consider them as an option through comparative shopping. The only comparisons they were and are comfortable with are with other mattresses ... made by subsidiaries of the same companies ... using the same materials ... and going by a different name with different ticking (covers) so they look like a different and "unique" mattress.
These mattresses are "differentiated" (a common industry term) by different stories or endorsements rather than by real differences in construction, quality or materials. Since all of these "comparisons" are similarly overpriced, and more and more consumers don''t where else to look for value, or would even have the ability to recognize it if they did, mattresses in general are rising in price and becoming lower in quality. If you look at many of the larger manufacturer websites, you will even see the emphasis on "differentiation" and the stories they conveniently provide to do it. You will rarely find useful information about the materials they use or their methods of construction.
The introduction of one sided mattresses under the guise of "greater convenience" was a major example of this to the point where some consumers actually believe that one sided mattresses are superior to two sided constructions. These lesser quality one sided mattresses quickly became as expensive as their two sided counterparts people were used to buying. The widespread use of low quality polyfoam, memory foam, and airbeds, are a few more examples of "changes" in the industry that have certainly had some benefits but the exaggerated claims attached to them, and the prices that go with these exaggerated claims, have further added to the perception that price and quality go hand in hand. There are many other examples of the industry's ongoing search for ways to use lesser quality materials to produce lower priced mattresses that sell for higher prices while at the same time convincing consumers through a story or endorsement that their deficiencies are either "normal" or desirable.
More and more of the kind of accurate and specific information that is truly needed will appear on this website over time however I also realized that in spite of my focus on finding out the truth, that I was developing a "bias" and a "favorite" brand along the way that actually had a name. This brand was called "off brand" and was made in very high quality and with exceptionally high value by hundreds of manufacturers and sold by thousands of independent specialty stores and sleep shops around the country. This recognition and the realization that consumers needed to be re-connected with the manufacturers and the retail outlets that sold them was the beginning of "The Mattress Underground".
What you see here so far is just the start. It is also interesting that the "alternative version" of the origin of The Mattress Underground and how it started that I posted in a forum in a light hearted moment on Christmas eve of 2010 ... was more true than the "funny story" that I thought it was at the time. You can read it here if you wish.
The manufacturers that produce these high quality mattresses, and the retailers who sell them in a spirit of knowledge, service, and value deserve to be both recognized, rewarded, and to prosper. The greatest beneficiary of their individual success will not only be the consumers who "discover" them and buy a better mattress, but all retailers and manufacturers who share these values, and the industry itself. Re-connecting these three parts of the industry who share common values and goals is the purpose of The Mattress Underground and the reason it began. This section and the forum is a way to help you recognize and discover who and where they are.