Upstart mattress companies muscle in on traditional purveyors to hospitality

The subway advertisements are hard to miss. "The Perfect Mattress For Bringing Home The Bacon"—with little piglets cleverly amassed atop the mattress. "The Perfect Mattress For Creatures Of The Night"—a sleeping vampire tucked into the sheets. "The Perfect Mattress For Everyone"—another of the many taglines from startup mattress company Casper, whose whimsical ads have long adorned New York subway cars, promising $50 off with code: SUBWAY or NYC. The intrigue doesn't end there. TV commercials illustrate a Casper mattress arriving in a compact box: no chance a mattress fits in there! But, defying logic and the laws of physics, there it goes, springing out of the box like a cobra uncoiled, unfurling into a full mattress, ready for sleep. 

The mattress disruptors are here and are challenging legacy mattress brands for hegemony, in the consumer space and now in hotels. Companies like Leesa, Tuft & Needle, Casper and Purple are gaining traction in an industry long dominated by the likes of Serta, Simmons and Sealy. Can they succeed?

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David & Goliath

The traditional, bigger brands have had a strong presence in the hospitality sector for decades, Rick Sequeira, VP of contract sales at Serta and Simmons, said, estimating that 98 percent of Hilton hotels use Serta mattresses, while Simmons is represented in Westin and Wyndham hotels. “We’re about 70 percent of the market share,” he estimated.

This means that the new brands have to fight for their place in the business, but with travelers always seeking something new and unique, the fight isn’t unattainable. “There isn't a ton of convincing that we try to do,” Nick Arambula, COO of Tuft & Needle, said. “We haven’t made a concerted effort to try and go out and build the presence in hospitality.” Instead, Arambula said that more often, individuals in the business will buy the mattresses for personal use and then recommend them for hotels. “We usually go back and forth a little bit and give a little bit on pricing for wholesale partners that are going to be using the beds for a business purpose.”

While most of their hospitality sales are the result of outreach from hotels, Arambula acknowledges that the company may expand its sales team and try to gain market share in the coming years. “But as of right now, it's really been a grass-roots formulation with interest from the boutique hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.” After six years of operations, the company has product in more than 30 properties with more in the pipeline, including an upcoming Ace Hotel.

At just 3 years old, Leesa has already leveraged an existing partnership to move further into the hotel sector. The company made its product available in more than 80 West Elm stores last September, and David Wolfe, the company’s co-founder & CEO, said he hopes the mattresses will be used in West Elm hotels when the brand makes its debut. Similar to Tuft & Needle, Leesa has not actively sought out hotel partners, but the company’s mattresses are used in New York City’s Made Hotel, and at the former Breakers Boutique in Montauk, now called the Knowhere. “We have lots of strategic ideas,” Wolfe said about the company’s expansion into hospitality.

 

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“They’ve gotten people’s attention,” Sequeira said of the new companies, noting that they benefited from the “convenience factor” of online ordering. “They’re convenient, but they’re not more economical,” he added, acknowledging that hotel brands are investigating the new options. 

Still, Sequeira isn’t bothered by these new upstarts. “Most hotel companies see the convenience, but they don’t need a bed shipped in overnight.” Even if a mattress needs to be replaced, he said, a hotel will usually have extra stock in storage, and does not often need immediate replacements.

Large companies also have benefits of scale that the smaller upstarts can't match. Serta and Simmons have factories all over the world, Sequeira said, and can ship mattresses to hotels straight from the nearest plant. “Everything is made to order,” Sequeira said. “We don't pull mattresses from a warehouse. If a hotel comes to us and wants 100 or 200 sets, it’s on our schedule. Four days later, they're made, and on the fifth day, they ship.” The numerous factories also help reduce shipping costs, he added. Serta and Simmons both have a factory on Oahu, for example, so Hawaiian resorts don't need to worry about cargo delays from the mainland. 

And then there's the value of buying in bulk, which a large company can provide. “We can offer a higher-end product for less because we can purchase large amounts of materials in bulk,” Sequeira said. 

The Right Partnerships

With smaller businesses promoting unbranded “authenticity,” smaller mattress companies may want to choose their partners carefully. “We have a lot of inquiries, but we’re very careful about where we put or mattresses,” Wolfe said. “It’s not just about volume, it’s about partners.” A presence in hotels, he said, provides a showcase not only for a product, but for a brand’s standards, especially in terms of corporate social responsibility. Leesa donates one mattress to a shelter for every 10 mattresses sold, and this made its partnership with West Elm appealing. The furniture company, a subsidiary of Williams-Sonoma, also actively promotes CSR as part of its business standards.

“When you think about the millennial demographic, many of those consumers are more focused on experiences,” Arambula said. “Buyers are looking for something that is going to stand apart from the last thing that they did. I do think that there's certainly space for [new mattress brands] and I would imagine they will continue to expand, especially as these small providers continue to build more unique opportunities and more unique experiences for consumers coming into the boutique hotels.”

Wolfe agreed. “If they want cheap, we’re not the solution,” he said. “If you want functional, we’re a good choice, but don’t choose a mattress just for function. Many hotels are curated experiences, and they want like-minded partners. That’s where we fit in.”

Design Details

When it comes to choosing mattresses, the options can be overwhelming. From memory foam to spring technology, there is something to suit every taste—but a hotel can’t cater to one individual preference, and a mattress designed for home use may not help a hotel’s guest satisfaction scores.

“Retail models are based on personal preference,” Sequeira said. “They can be soft or firm or whatever your preference is.” Hotel mattresses, meanwhile, have to be somewhere in between to keep the majority of guests happy. “The brand people are involved with us to determine what they want in their rooms,” he said, and said that the company aims to please 85 percent of the guests. “We can’t get to 100 percent,” he said. “Some people want the bed to be softer or firmer. I feel if we can satisfy 80–85 percent, we’ve done our job.”

The new mattress brands are increasingly finding ways to fit into that middle space with products that use springs or foam or a combination of the two. “A mattress needs three things,” Wolfe said. “Support, pressure relief and comfort.” The company’s two mattress options focus on these three needs in different ways. The traditional Leesa mattress is made with three layers of foam, with a 2-inch top cooling layer from Avena, a two-inch pressure-relieving memory foam layer and a 6-inch base foam layer. “It gives you passive support, and it’s slightly thicker,” he said. The hybrid Sapira mattress, meanwhile, has what Wolfe calls “three responsive layers,” with a 1.5-inch Avena foam top layer, a 1.5-inch layer of memory foam and independently wrapped steel springs in between two 1-inch layers of stabilizing foam. “The top two layers are slimmer to let you benefit from the pocket springs,” Wolfe explained.

Tuft & Needle has a proprietary adaptive foam top layer that the company developed with a chemist. “We've done things to essentially improve the air flow within that top layer of foam, improve the cooling nature of the foam itself and improve its responsiveness as someone is lying on it and shifting from side to side,” Arambula said. “The biggest critique [of traditional memory foam mattresses] is that you kind of sink into the bed and before you know it, you're in a hot sinkhole that you can't move out. Our foam is meant to have some of the benefits of the memory foam in terms of pressure relief, but it is more supportive and, frankly, a little bit more responsive to someone laying on the bed.”

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