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David Perry

To be a hybrid or not is puzzling question

April 9, 2014

With apologies to the Bard, we begin with a slight addition to one of his quotes: "To be a hybrid mattress, or not to be: that is the question."

Yes, William Shakespeare might have offered up that question if he were surveying the mattress scene these days. One of literature’s greatest writers would surely be baffled by the tough spot we find ourselves in as an industry, caught between definitions that don’t easily fit our changed mattress landscape.

The names of the beds we have created swirl through the marketplace: Hybrids, gel beds, “real” gel beds, specialty sleep beds, non-innerspring beds. We think we know what those different types of beds are, but we don’t all speak the same language. And I’m not sure we ever will.

Years ago I was encouraged by a producer of latex beds to define latex beds. This producer favored the requirement that a latex bed must consist of four inches of latex. I responded that it is not Furniture/Today’s role to formulate such a definition. The fact is, the industry will define products in the way it wants to define them.

Today we have latex beds that do, indeed, have four inches or more of latex. But we also have latex beds that contain less than four inches of latex. Latex beds are, in many cases, in the eye of the beholder — or the marketers who are touting them.

So it is with the challenging new category of gel beds. Gel comes in many configurations. There is swirled gel, and gel spheres and gel circles, and there are beds with columns of gel and layers of “real” gel. There is gel on gel, and there is gel on latex. I’ve been chastised for using the term “gel” too casually, but I repeat: The industry defines products in the way it wants to define them.

Let’s take the “hybrid” term. You may think you know what a hybrid is — perhaps a non-quilted mattress with plenty of specialty foams and a layer of encased coils tucked under those foam layers, yielding a comfy, plush feel. OK, but hybrids can also be quilted and they can use open coils. There is no simple definition of a hybrid.

Thus it is no surprise that we struggle to define “specialty” sleep sets today. The International Sleep Products Assn. defines an innerspring bed as one that has an innerspring unit, and it defines everything else as “non-innerspring.” I usually apply the term “specialty” to that non-innerspring category.

But now some say an innerspring mattress can be considered a specialty mattress, if the specialty foams in that mattress are the focus of the selling story. But if that is the case, then the ISPA definitions are rendered moot. And we must have some basic guidelines to work with.

Some say ISPA should add hybrids to its bedding classification system. But how could those products be defined? The way ISPA defines bedding types these days, hybrids are in the innerspring category, as they contain innersprings.

It would be helpful if hybrids — and memory foam beds and latex beds, for that matter — could be clearly defined and included in ISPA’s monthly statistics report. The bedding universe is much more complex than just one populated with innerspring non-innerspring beds.

But that is no simple matter. And remember: A hybrid by any other name would sleep as sweet, as Shakespeare might say.