Counting Sleep

Marketing Hook Flips Air-Mattress Seller Select Comfort From Also-Ran to Leader

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NEW YORK ( -- Quick: name the top bedding specialty seller. Hint: It's not Sleepy's or Mattress Giant.

Nope, It's Select Comfort, according to Furniture/Today's recent ranking of the top 100 U.S. home-furnishing stores. Thanks to the marketing innovation of its Sleep Number bed, the company has eclipsed its air-mattress roots, lack of product awareness and Clapper-like direct-response TV image. In 2005, Select Comfort sold $639.2 million in bedding and sleep accessories, besting Sleepy's The Mattress Professionals by more than $200 million, according to Furniture/Today.

It's quite a Cinderella story, considering that starting in 1987, Select Comfort struggled to overcome a lack of product awareness and the perception of air mattresses as something you put on the floor for guests. Then, in 2001, new President-CEO Bill McLaughlin took advantage of a marketing strategy that had been offered to Select Comfort years before by what's now Euro RSCG Tonic, New York, and was never used-the concept of the Sleep Number bed. The pitch: Adjust the support and firmness of the mattress for your optimum comfort, with each adjustment corresponding to a number between one and 100.

Five years later, the growth of the Sleep Number bed is really starting to change the industry, said Doug Collier, senior VP-chief marketing officer of Select Comfort. In fact, the International Sleep Products Association two years ago started tracking the non-innerspring mattress industry, which includes foam and air bedding. "[The category] was having an impact on the market," said Nancy Shark, VP-communications for ISPA. "We needed to track it in order to have the best possible information on what was happening in the mattress industry."

The Sleep Number bed can be found in 40% of Radisson Hotels and Resorts and in its TV, print and in-hotel advertising. Radisson wanted to upgrade to compete in the trend of using the hotel bed as the point of differentiation, said Nancy Johnson, exec VP-brand leader for Radisson. "We also have a brand essence, a core theme for our brand, which really speaks to allowing our customers to stay their own way," she said. "The Select Comfort Sleep Number bed was an obvious choice."

Diane Utzman-O'Neill, VP-brand marketing at Select Comfort, said, "Radisson is a very nice credibility builder." Credibility is important since the brand has had major marketing mountains to climb. First, it had to change the perception of air mattresses as guest gear. Second, it had to jump from the image of a direct-response sell to a high-quality, mainstream retail product.

shifting strategies

For the Select Comfort bed, the advertising was mainly one- to two-minute DRTV spots, infomercials and direct-response print. But for the Sleep Number bed, marketing strategies changed.

"We created the language and the idea of the Sleep Number because they had the patented technology in the remote control, which seemed like such an unusual point of difference," said Betsy Simons, group account director on Select Comfort at Euro RSCG Tonic, New York.

Starting in 2001, the Select Comfort team rebranded over 350 pieces of communication, from business cards to local TV advertising, to go along with the Sleep Number concept. Efforts were also made to upgrade quality. The use of Lindsay Wagner, a.k.a. The Bionic Woman, as a spokeswoman in the direct-response TV was part of that, Ms. Utzman-O'Neill said. And the media buy increased: Select Comfort went from using eight local TV and/or radio markets to 38.

"Though the mix of direct is still significant, it's definitely less than it was five years ago," Mr. Collier said. As the company grew, it embraced newspaper inserts, local TV spots during prime time, and more of a balance between national and local spending.

Since switching to the Select Comfort Sleep Number bed, the marketing messages, too, have evolved. The first batch of 30-second Sleep Number TV spots, produced by the agency, depicted couples reacting to the capability of adjusting the support and firmness on their own sides of the bed. The new work, now in test markets, is more benefit-oriented and focuses on research about deep, dream-filled slumber. "In markets where people are now familiar with the product, we need to give them an extra set of reasons beyond just our dual-adjustability," Ms. Simons said. The spots also call on consumers to visit Select Comfort stores.

Even though it operates 410 company-owned stores, Select Comfort still seems to have room to grow. "Even though we do about 79% of our business through retail stores," Mr. Collier said, "up to 85% of people who are aware of us don't think those stores exist."
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