29 May 2024, 02:54
By Jan Turner Sept 27, 2018

What does the future hold for the bed industry?

Apart from the inevitable swing towards more online trading, just what does the future hold for bed manufacturers, retailers and suppliers? Industry specialist Jan Turner asks several industry leaders to share their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead …

As an industry, we should expect to see the arrival of augmented reality (AR) to give online buyers a taste of how their bed might look and feel. And the growth of try-before-you-buy and next-day deliveries. Plus a sharp upswing in consumer expectations.

These were just some of the predictions thrown out when we asked a selection of bed manufacturers, retailers and suppliers about what lies ahead for the industry – covering everything from technology to Brexit and the impact of social change. All this, plus advice for anyone starting out – including “don’t bother”!

Changing the channel

On the subject of online versus bricks-and-mortar trading, there was general consensus that the next decade will see relentless growth in internet trading with, according to Zed Hyder, MD of Hyder Living, “only specialist retailers able to survive the change in purchasing habits”.

Gerd Derieuw, sales group manager, BekaertDeslee, agreed that the next 10 years will see the emergence of a completely different landscape – mainly online driven but with trial shops, pop-up stores and only top brands having their own branded shops or shop-within-a-shop.

Shane Harding, head of marketing, Highgrove Beds, believes those that combine online trading with in-store expertise and customer service will be the main winners, while Nick Williams, Sweet Dreams’ sales manager, says: “Shopping online will increase exponentially, with only certain price points needing to be ‘touched and felt’ in-store.”

The overall effect, according to Mike Murray, MD at Land of Beds, will be a rationalisation of niche multichannel retailers and some big online retailers. 

Tech the lead

Mike also believes that technology is set to lead some radical changes in the way consumers buy their beds and mattresses. 

He says: “AR technology will allow customers to ‘see’ and potentially feel how a bed would look in their own bedroom when ordering online. By offering consumers an interactive ‘real world’ experience through technology, retailers will be able to recreate the experiential benefits of visiting a physical store without owning any premises. 

“A significant number of online customers will also want to try before they buy. Retailers who want to offer this option will need a full end-to-end logistics set-up that can handle returns and cancellations in a cost-effective, profitable way. 

“Voice search will represent the majority of searches by then, and retailers will need a new type of marketing approach focused around voice interactions and expert advice.”

Shane Harding says technological advancements will enable manufacturers to create new products such as firmness and temperature control, as well as providing consumers with easy-to-understand product features and benefits via apps and social media. Order tracking and stockist portals, he says, will become the norm.

The general belief is that new technology will also impact on the science of sleep. Says Zed Hyder: “The industry will increasingly look to incorporate smartphone technology and sleep and how we can influence people’s attitudes to sleep and health.”

As Mike Murray points out: “Sleep has undergone something of a renaissance, with the benefits being evangelised by everyone from lifestyle gurus to business leaders. Wearable sleep trackers are massively gaining in popularity, therefore bed manufacturers will increasingly need to consider how to incorporate smart technology into mattresses to enhance sleep quality.”

According to Gerd Derieuw, this more scientific approach to sleep will include everything from beds and mattresses to pillows and fabrics, with the introduction of sleep measuring devices and in- or out-of-bed sensors.

Other devices could include specialised foam products with built-in technology, such as sleep trackers and health enhancers to monitor blood pressure or sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, says Colin Heal, general manager of The Bed Experts (Newbridge Street Bedding Centre, Sunderland Bedding Centre, Northgate Bedding Centre and Portrack Lane Bed Centre).

The growth in technology will extend to manufacturing too – where Fara Butt, sales and marketing director, Shire Beds, predicts greater automation within the production process. She says: “There has been an increase in the purchase of automated tape-edging and glue lines, for example, to help speed up processes to meet the demands of retailers and consumers. 

“Over the next 10 years, the automation process will continue to develop. Maybe we will see robots making beds as we do with cars?”

Demographic directions

Social changes are also set to impact the market, not least, says Zed Hyder, because people will have less money, so will be more careful during the purchasing decision.

Gerd Derieuw sees the ageing population as an opportunity for more adjustable or waterproof-with-comfort mattresses. 

Mike Murray agrees, saying an ageing population will also necessitate more medically-advanced beds. “Concerns around health, climate change and animal welfare have seen veganism emerge from a fringe movement to a mainstream populist choice, with 7% of all Brits now identifying as vegan,” he says. “Bed manufacturers may need to think about replacing traditional fillings derived from animals with plant-based options to satisfy consumer concerns.”

The ‘growing’ population holds yet more opportunities – in both senses of the word! Shane Harding says: “The UK population will increase substantially, and bed manufacturers will benefit from this. People are also getting taller and heavier, and this will provide new opportunities for bigger beds with more resilient upholstery fillings. Perhaps we’ll see the day when UK kids have become so obese that the NBF announce that a 4ft-wide bed is now a standard single!”

The new homes sector helps things along too. Says Nick Williams: “Demand will increase as the population grows and more homes are built. We are also seeing enormous growth in adjustable beds as the population becomes older and somewhat larger! Hybrid beds will become more the norm.

“Product expectation will become the key driver for sales (web reviews are king!). Products live or die on customer expectation of value and quality.”

Colin Heal agrees that consumer expectations are getting higher by the year: “They want to be excited by the product, receive good advice from knowledgeable staff, and for their demands to be met regarding delivery and service.”

Seeking fulfilment

It’s all set to have massive implications for the logistics side of the industry. As Zed Hyder points out: “Next-day delivery has proven to be a big success, as we live in a world of ‘want it now!’ As for same-day, Amazon is a perfect example of how demands are changing. Retailers are looking to cut stock back and use manufacturers as a stockist. This will continue as online takes more of the market.”

 Mike Murray says speed of delivery and returns will be a critical part of the final decision to buy: “Logistics and delivery will be a challenge for bed manufacturers – finding the fastest way to get products off the factory floor and into people’s homes will be a major task.”

His advice to manufacturers is to “focus on logistics from day one – how quickly and cost-effectively you can get your product into someone’s home will be of paramount importance. Gone are the days when people were prepared to wait”.

Colin Heal concurs: “Customers want to have what they want, delivered, when they want it. They want to be able to track deliveries on their phones and specify time slots.”

It’s something manufacturers are only too well aware of, as Fara Butt knows: “Within the next five years, we believe that there will be greater expectations of delivery times to meet the demands of the busy world. We also predict a higher percentage of returns which will need to be addressed, as millennial consumers buy and try, or use, then return – unashamedly!”

What’s in-store?

But what of the retail scene itself? Colin Heal says it’s difficult to predict even the next five years, but believes it will be survival of the fittest, and says: “I don’t believe the high street will ever be the same again.”

But it’s not all gloom. Zed Hyder believes niche retail offers a great opportunity for anyone who can find the right products at affordable prices, while Shane Harding is convinced retail space will become a more attractive option again as landlords and local councils become realistic in terms of reducing rents and business rates. “There’ll still be the odd retailer that operates on the back of a fag packet, but most will have died off,” he says.

Gerd Derieuw expects the next 10 years to bring more vertical integration of producers with their own shops and internet sales from all over the world.

Meanwhile, he says, the lower end of the market will continue to be price driven (perhaps with Far Eastern imports of roll-ups?), while the better end will either take a  traditional or scientific approach with further dissipation of the middle market.

Self sufficiency and staffing

Brexit is another inevitable disruptor. As Colin Heal points out: “Five years ago, no-one would have predicted this country would vote to leave the EU, and the ongoing effects of Brexit. This has had a huge impact on the bed industry.”

Shane Harding warns of the impact on confidence and cost prices for several years to come, especially if sterling remains weak against the euro. He adds: “UK manufacturers must take advantage of post-Brexit trade agreements and start exporting UK products throughout the world.”

Buying British will be key to going forward, according to Zed Hyder, while Gerd Derieuw says the challenge after Brexit will be to understand how to get closer to retail to know its needs and get fast feedback.

Nick Williams expects Brexit to impact on labour availability – and the industry’s workforce is among other areas of future speculation. Says Nick: “Among the challenges of the next 10 years are diminishing skillsets (agents and craftspeople on the shopfloor retiring) and increased protection for the workforce, which will increase costs. My advice to retailers would be to get good people – effective sales staff are like gold dust – and invest in them, then train, train, train!”

Shane Harding also urges retailers to “make sure your staff are sleep geniuses”, and Mike Murray agrees, saying that creating a “talent pipeline” and investing in people with different skills will future-proof a company. 

Green means go!

Another issue facing the industry going forward will be the growing need to comply – not just with the growing bank of legislation and regulations, but with greater awareness of ethical concerns, too.

According to Gerd Derieuw, one challenge for bed manufacturers and suppliers will be how to meet FR regulations for a wide assortment of products without having to use the chemicals traditionally needed to do so.

Zed Hyder believes third-party accreditations will be key for any mainstream business, as the consumer seeks reassurances that they are buying from credible companies.

Mike Murray says his advice to suppliers would be to “align yourself with manufacturers who can evidence that their products are ethically sourced, from an animal welfare to workers’ rights perspective. The rise of consumer activism is one of the biggest-growing trends, with people adopting a ‘positive buying’ mindset that sees them favour ethical products”.

 And Fara Butt has some words of wisdom, too: “To those setting up a manufacturing business, we’d recommend they fully understand the processes that it takes to produce good-quality beds. Research all legal areas, for example flammability and timber regulations. Be aware of competitors, look at what they’re taking to market, and see how your product differs. 

“In order to set up a supply business within the industry we’d recommend that, similarly to manufacturers, they understand all the legal regulations and ensure they’re fully compliant. We’d also suggest that they’re confident that they’re able to provide consistency in the supply chain.”

It’s an awareness that needs to extend to environmental concerns. As Shane Harding observes: “Online marketing will be key to consumer decision making, and millennials in particular are very savvy about environmentally-friendly products.”

Fara Butt adds: “As consumers become more ethically aware, there will be a greater focus on products that are made using environmentally-friendly materials and procedures, as well as being recyclable.”

Shane Harding again: “Chemical usage will be replaced, for example, by 100% natural flammability methods. Plastic packaging will also be replaced.”

And Colin Heal says: “The biggest challenges will be the sourcing of sustainable raw materials and duty of care regarding the recycling of old mattresses.”

 Simon Spinks, MD of Harrison Spinks, also believes one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – in the mattress industry is to make a bed that is 100% recyclable at the end of its life. 

He says: “This means removing all foam and chemicals from the product and replacing them with eco-friendly, natural alternatives. As an industry we need to think how we can all be more sustainable in order to produce a product that is eco-friendly. Consumers want eco-friendly products, and we must deliver this. 

“In 10 years’ time the bed industry will be very different to the one we currently know. The key to surviving in this tough economic climate will be innovation. Across the industry people should be looking to innovate in order to make the beds of the future and withstand the test of time.”

It all points to a world in which manufacturers and retailers must embrace the change in mood towards sustainability, as consumers will increasingly demand products that can prove they can be recycled and that the raw materials utilised are ethically sourced. 

Reach out and be creative

Marketing and promotions will continue to be important to an industry not always at the forefront of latest ideas. Shane Harding wonders if we might even see the day when promotions evolve to five years’ interest-free credit and 200-night trials! Retailers, he says, will also demand more own-label exclusivity.

Mike Murray is a “technology-first” advocate, with his advice to retailers being: “Ensure you have a big budget for marketing and take a technology-first approach. Digital advertising is costly, but necessary to help you get noticed by potential customers.”

Go new or go home

And there is plenty more advice on offer, with one manufacturer telling anyone else thinking of going into production “not to bother”. He had a similar message for suppliers, recommending that it wasn’t a market worth entering “unless you have something new to offer – it’s already saturated with plenty of options”.

It is advice echoed by Colin Heal, who says: “Unless you have a unique, exciting product, I would suggest it would be very difficult to compete in this current highly-competitive environment.”

And Nick Williams has a word of warning for manufacturers: “Don’t try to fight the brands or you will struggle. Look to diversify and offer just-in-time solutions for your retailers. Be the ‘delicatessen’ of the industry. Be prepared to adapt and change at short notice. Make sure you have a good set of agents – becoming harder and harder to find.”

Fara Butt has some words of wisdom for retailers: “It’s critical that they understand the range of products that they’re selling and are able to provide consumers with full details of construction and materials.,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to liaise with the manufacturer about products, and if possible always visit the factory and head office to get a full understanding about the business.”

Finally – and returning to the subject of challenges for the industry in 10 years’ time – one contributor told us: “I don’t really care. I’ll be well retired before then – although an adjustable bed that cures snoring would be a sure-fire winner!” It goes to prove that when all else fails, the industry’s humour stands firm!

This article was published in Bed Buyer 2018, a special supplement dedicated to the National Bed Federation (NBF), its members and annual Bed Show.

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