By Dale Read
Dave Perry and the researchers at Furniture Today published in the most recent issue of the magazine (Page 18, December 11-24, 2017) a report that answered a huge question I have been asking the top executives of the mattress industry on Facebook for about a year. Who is it that really buys our mattresses and bedding? Who is it that actually buys our products, keeps our factories and our stores going, and what income bracket do they fall into? I will openly admit that I have a bias. I have believed that based on common sense, the preponderance of mattress purchases simply could not be driven by the wealthiest customers…the top 1%, top 5% or even the top 10% of income earners in America. I have believed all along that the vast majority of mattress and bedding units sold, and total dollars spent, actually come from the middle class and the upper middle class. True, the very wealthy can purchase mattresses for many thousands of dollars, and yield very large comfortable margins for manufacturers and retailers alike. Nevertheless, steeped in my bias, I have believed that a strong and viable middle class and upper middle class were the backbone of mattress and bedding profits. The middle to upper middle buyers were what kept the $13 billion-dollar retail industry and the hundreds of mattress factories open and humming away. You could lump all the sales of the very rich together, (both units and profits), and there is simply no way you could keep our industry alive and robust on those sales alone. My conclusion was that we truly need a viable and strong middle and upper middle class alive and well, and buying mattresses for our industry to thrive.
Now comes the impartial, non-biased “Buying trends by income” research report in the latest “Bedding Consumer Buying Trends” write up in Furniture Today. According to Furniture Today, this online survey (the online method may lean towards higher income folk who can afford computers, etc.) “….analyzes the responses of more than 2,500 U.S. households and presents a broad overview of how household income levels influence bedding purchases….” The researchers divide their respondents into three categories “Lower income”, making less than $50,000 in 2016; “Middle income, making $50,000 to $99,999; and then Affluent, making $100,000 or more.
Before I relay Furniture Today’s findings, permit me to share that one could legitimately argue that $125,000 or even $150,000 is actually not “Affluent”, but rather average or middle income for folks who live in Greater New York or New Jersey, Greater Boston, parts of Philadelphia, Greater Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia, parts of Florida, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Housing values vary significantly depending upon where you live. A decent ranch style home in parts of suburban North Carolina could sell for $185,000 to $250,000 and the same ranch would sell in my neighborhood near Annapolis for $400,000 or more. There really is a diversity in values and property tax levels in rural, relatively poorer communities and wealthier suburban and urban enclaves with heavy concentrations of people. There could be an argument for a more detailed or finite breakout at the very top and very bottom brackets of this study to track even more closely the income levels of bed purchasers. That said, I think this study is still very informative and we should be grateful to Furniture Today for showing us the income levels of those who purchase mattresses and bedding.
According to “Buying Trends by Income”, 70% of all mattress units are purchased by middle income or affluent buyers. 38.1% of the households that bought a mattress in 2016 were middle class households and 32% were in the affluent category. As might be expected the middle class was responsible for 41% of the total dollars spent on mattresses. Due to higher price points and higher quality of models of beds sold, the “affluents” spent 42% of total dollars. Supporting the proposition that affluent buyers have a disproportionately positive influence on mattresses sold, Furniture Today reported that,” High-income households spent 1.8 times MORE on bedding than lower income household…” in 2016. This is all good news for manufacturers and retailers looking to market mattresses at higher price points which earn them higher profit margins. It is good news to know that there is a solid “high-end” mattress market place, especially for those brands that focus on comfort, performance, durability and quality.
Nevertheless let’s re-focus back on what may be an even more compelling piece of news: 38.1% of Furniture Today’s buyers were middle class who purchased mattresses, and they represented 41% of “Total dollars spent on bedding.” Add in my bias about who is really middle class in today’s more populated states (move the $125,000 people down to middle class), and I’d guess that the middle class really represents 50% or more of both units sold and dollars spent on mattresses.
Well mattress executives, there you have it. Our business is a middle class business with affluent benefits on the high end. We make our money and keep our factories flowing and brands flourishing because people who make $50,000 and up buy a huge portion of our products. The affluent may be the frosting on our cake, but the middle class is the cake itself. So if we act in the spirit of “enlightened self-interest” when it comes to business policy (employment, wages, benefits, insurance) or to public policy (taxes, education, job-training, infrastructure, etc.) we should do everything possible towards building a vibrant and successful middle class earning somewhere between $50,000 and $125,000 a year. When they thrive, the mattress industry thrives. They falter or fail, the mattress industry falters as well.
You can argue left, right, up or down, but show me the evidence where the mattress industry does well with a weak middle class, even if there is a strong affluent sector, and I’ll change my opinion. So far the evidence sure does seem to be flowing towards creating a newly revived and strong society fueled by consumers who make $50,000 to $125,000 .
Dale T. Read
President, Specialty Sleep Association (SSA)
Owner/CEO, The Marketing Arm Group, LLC