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David Perry

Selling mattresses requires both male and female voices

INDIANAPOLIS - It was the men versus the women at a spirited panel discussion at the International Sleep Products Assn. conference, a session that helped both sides better appreciate the contributions they make to the mattress industry.
The two men - Leggett & Platt marketer Mark Quinn and Don Wright, chief marketing officer of Wright of Thomasville - met their match in Cindy Williams, senior vice president of marketing at Comfort Solutions, and Kim Knopf, CEO of Innovative Mattress Solutions of Winfield, W.Va.
Moderator Julia Rosien, social media strategist of SocialNorth and president of WithIt, the women's leadership organization, noted that both sides found common ground in the discussion.
But both sides also scored points with arguments, observers said.
Quinn, segment vice president of marketing at L&P, said he understands that women make most of the purchase decisions when it comes to mattresses. "But men sleep, too," he said.
He said the industry should not focus solely on female consumers but should instead focus on the sleeper, whether male or female. "If we focus on women, we are alienating people for whom sleep is very important, too," Quinn said.
Wright said his top salespeople are women, and said that he prefers to have women selling to him. "Men want women's acceptance," he said.
Knopf said women are "finally getting the respect we deserve," but agreed with Quinn that "it's all about segmentation." The industry must use "the right media" to focus on key consumer segments and drive market share, a challenge that is becoming more complex.
Williams said that in her 20-plus years in the business "women have been under-represented" in the industry. She said that both male and female voices are needed in mattress marketing departments.
Williams also said that women are more concerned about the shopping environment and in issues like keeping stores clean. She decried "yucky bathrooms," which she described as "despicable."
Quinn said focus groups have found that women don't want to lay their heads on naked pillows, and said retailers should be using disposable pillow coverings.
Rosien asked the panelists what they would change if they could change one thing in the industry.
Williams said she would like it if consumers could do comparative shopping for mattresses, something that Wright said is easier now than it used to be.
Wright said he would like the industry to focus on better sleep. "We are selling sleep," he said. "Let's give sleep a chance."
Quinn agreed that the industry should do a better job of touting the many benefits of a good night's sleep, and said more women are needed at higher levels in the industry.
Knopf said long warranties and long comfort returns are issues, as is the problem of worn out bedding remaining in the market.

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