I owe full credit to my dear wife for the odd topic we’re about to discuss, but she raised a question last week that deserves the kind of ground-breaking research only journalists are weird enough to handle.
Have you walked outside of your house recently? If you look within a two block radius, I’d almost guarantee you will see a mattress store, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.
You’ve got Mattress Firm, Mattress One, Mattress Pro, Mattress Mac, Mattress Royale and, not surprisingly, Mattress Overstock. There’s J&J Sleep, Golden Mattress Co., Affordable Furniture and the Waterbed Factory, because 1987 called.
If there’s a retail space up for lease, I’d bet a sleep number that a mattress store is unloading its showroom in the back.
Best example I can think of is right in the middle of The Leader’s coverage area. On the southeast corner of 11th and Shepherd in the Heights, you’ll find a Mattress Firm. On the northwest corner of that same intersection (a good 3-minute walk), you’ll find a Mattress One. Admittedly, that’s not completely nuts. Well, it wasn’t until I noticed a new store, Mattress Pro, just opened at the intersection of Shepherd and 610. So there are three mattress stores all within spittin’ distance of each other.
OK, I’ll concede that telling you about three mattress stores in two square miles isn’t earth-shattering material. So try this one on for size: Doing a standard map search, and using The Leader office as the center, I found there are 32 mattress stores within a radius of nine miles.
Here’s a question: What did you do more recently? A) Buy a mattress; or B) Buy a cup of coffee.
There are 33 coffee shops in the exact same area there are 32 mattress stores.
Let’s try another. What did you do more recently? A) Buy a mattress; or B) Go to the grocery store.
There are 14 grocery stores in the exact same area there are 32 mattress stores.
We all know there’s a national advertising campaign convincing us that we need to buy a new mattress every five to 10 years. But come on, folks. Are we really buying new mattresses more often than we buy new cars? Speaking of advertising hoaxes, the pillow industry (yes, there is one), now suggests we buy a new pillow every six months. If you’re like me, when I find the right fit, the dust mites have to drag that thing away before I chunk it.
Obviously, I’m not here to pontificate about the reason for so many mattress stores. Instead, I got on the phone.
My first call went to the International Sleep Products Association, which is further proof that we all need an association. A lady by the name of Mary Helen Uusimak is in charge of media inquiries, but she didn’t return two of my calls. Probably thought I was a hack, like half our readers.
Next, I found another organization called the Better Sleep Council. I clicked on their media contact and, wouldn’t you know it, old Mary Helen is also in charge of their media inquiries.
That left me to start digging locally. I called Jacob Millwee, president of the Greater Heights Chamber of Commerce.
“Jacob,” I asked, “how many times a year do you buy a new mattress?”
“None of your business,” he answered.
Just kidding. Millwee’s hypothesis is that the real estate market has driven all these stores.
“We buy mattresses when we move, right?” Good point. “Maybe that’s why they’re all here. So many houses are selling, and maybe those stores are cashing in on our market right now.”
As a side note, Millwee said there are no major mattress stores that are members of the local Chamber of Commerce, which I think is sad.
Obviously, Millwee and I can only guess at why there are so many stores, so my next call went to Mattress Firm, which I learned is based in Houston and whose spokesperson, Casey Zuber, actually lives in the Heights.
I asked Zuber why her company, alone, has seven storefronts in our market. Are that many people really buying mattresses?
“We aren’t always a top-of-mind purchase,” she said. “So we look for highly visible and convenient locations.”
That, explained Zuber, is why you’ll find mattress stores popping up whenever there’s a visible location available
Apparently I’m not the only one asking this question. Earlier this year, the news service Bloomberg did a piece from Manhattan where a store called Sleepy’s has more than 30 locations. Bloomberg found that most mattresses are marked up at least 50 percent, which means selling just a few mattresses in a market like Houston would pay the rent on most of these storefronts. (I’d bet a Tempur-Pedic they are marked up more than 50 percent.) Bloomberg also said these mattress stores aren’t always worried about making a lot of money from the storefronts because their signs serve as branding billboards.
So if you’ve ever wondered why there are so many mattress stores, I suppose the reason isn’t as mind-blowing as we might have guessed. Sounds like economics to me: Cheap rent, high margins and built-in advertising.
Meanwhile, if I need a mattress in another 10 years, I wonder how many of those stores will still be around. Maybe they’ll all become Tex-Mex restaurants. We only have 61 of those in the market.