SSA President Dale Read talks about “hybrid” beds

In early April, Executive Editor of Furniture Today David Perry wrote a most informative piece in the “Mattress Math” column entitled, “Four reasons why hybrid beds are sizzling at retail.” No need to repeat Dave’s report on median best–selling hybrid prices at specialty stores and furniture stores or the important role that hybrid bed sales have played in increasing retailer sales (if interested, we encourage you to read Dave’s column in Furniture Today.)  The point Dave makes is clear that sales of hybrid beds give retailers a needed boost in sales volume and price points.

With this point in mind, as someone steeped in Specialty Sleep, I’d like to suggest that hybrids are not adversarial to specialty sleep products, but rather are a compatible entity that makes use of BOTH the latest innerspring designs and technology, as well as the innovative materials and design features of specialty sleep products. Hybrids are not just traditional innersprings with a fancy name. They embrace both the newest in innerspring advancements and a whole variety of specialty sleep components including latex rubber; memory foam; highly-engineered polyurethane foams; European-influenced designs;  gel columns and gel foams; natural and organic materials;  adjustable and uniquely designed bed-bases, platforms and support systems; phase-change materials and a whole host of textile covers that offer the latest performance features. The hybrid market today is a melding or amalgamation of the traditional innerspring mattress technologies and the wide variety of special sleep innovations listed above.

To make my point, let’s turn the clock back to the early-to-mid 1990’s. Approximately 92% of all North American mattresses sold were traditional innerspring mattresses featuring three or four basic innerspring or coil designs (Marshall, LFK, continuous or encased coil) with a quilt or some kind of foam or cotton comfort layer.)  These were not a joining of two or more technologies, but basically innerspring beds with a topper layer and a ticking or cover. At that time an estimated 8% of the mattresses sold fell under the new specialty sleep umbrella including waterbeds, airbeds, latex rubber beds, Swedish foam (memory beds), all natural cotton, wool beds and a few gel column beds as well as various types of futons.  Many of these technologies and new bedding companies first appeared on the market at the then Specialty Sleep Association and Futon Association shows held around the country each spring(in Las Vegas every other year prior to the Las Vegas World Market Center.)  During the 1990’s and well into the 2000’s , the specialty sleep categories boomed. Memory foam, airbed and latex rubber sales grew like crazy.  Gel foam, phase-change materials, performance chemistry such as Celliant, and a whole variety of materials with natural, green or health and wellness features advanced both through the innovative companies, as well as process of acceptance, then advocacy by the largest mattress companies.  (The adoption of the memory foam and gel swirl technology by Serta comes to mind.)

At the same time, as the specialty category was exploding in sales, the traditional innerspring designers and marketers fully redesigned and updated their innerspring technology to offer a vast variety of innerspring choices for mattress models. They also had the wisdom to not simply market against specialty products, but to marry specialty features and benefits with their new high technology innerspring designs; and in doing so, they created the new category of the “hybrid” bed, offering consumers the advanced features and benefits of both mattress technologies. Consumers could receive both the resilient support and push back of springs, as well as the conforming and enveloping embrace of various foam and textile technologies.

The fact is this melding of innovations and technologies is by no means completed. At every show, we at the SSA have the fun and the privilege of seeing new entrepreneurs and innovators introduce such things as performance textiles, 3D-string fabric construction, new foams, European bed support systems, heating and coolant systems, healthier and safer, well as sustainable and “organic.” mattress and bedding solutions.

So more than anything else, we see the “hybrid” phenomenon as a catalyst and an opportunity to move forward encouraging our members to introduce new ideas and to expand existing platforms. As one observer said to me, the explosion of the next round of specialty sleep solutions to enhance consumers’ lives is right around the corner. It will depend upon the introduction and advancement of the newest idea (the next memory foam…). Could it be suspended silicon gel mattresses? Or how about air flow suspension? A new combination of springs and air? Who knows for sure? It will come at some point, and we at the SSA will be ready to host, advance and promote the next innovation in sleep