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189: Mattress Land Leans on AI to Innovate the Bed Buying Experience

Written by Rob Stott

October 17, 2023

Ryan Spradling, president, and John Scott, VP of Sales, for Mattress Land dive into the ways they are working to elevate the bed buying experience at their stores. At the center of it all is a unique, proprietary AI-powered tech they use called Bed Fit. We dive into that tech and other aspects of the mattress shopping experience that they are working to improve.


 

Rob Stott: We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and coming to you with a new… Still within the first year of membership if I think right. Official date of membership, well in our system it says January 1. I don’t know, that was just a nice round number for the membership team, but the team from Mattress Land, I appreciate Ryan Spradling and John Scott. Appreciate you guys jumping on and being with us today.

Ryan Spradling: Happy to be here.

John Scott: Yep.

Rob Stott: That sound right. January 1st?

Ryan Spradling: It is.

Rob Stott: You rang in the new year with NMG membership.

Ryan Spradling: It is January 1st, so almost got a full year under our belt.

Rob Stott: Well, how has year one been? We’ll start right there.

Ryan Spradling: I think from a membership standpoint and a Nationwide standpoint, I don’t know that John and I could probably be any happier. I think everything we kind of hoped for with aligning ourself with some like-minded retailers and just getting to know the executive team at NMG better from Tom to Jeff Rose to Mike Darrow. I know I’m leaving four or five other guys out. It’s just great guys, and I think we’ve just got to know them well. I think they’ve got to know us well. So on that side of that relationship, it’s gone really well.

I think we were part of this Bedding Council that was kind of formed and I think there’s 12 members in the Bedding Council now, and I’ll let John speak to that, but I think we’ve learned a lot and just got to be surrounded by a lot of different good retailers that I think will challenge us down the road and we can challenge them on a few things. But more important, we’re just around retailers that are struggling through some of the same things we’re struggling through and just here to help each other out. I know we’ve already formed some really good relationships with good retailers already. It’s been great.

Rob Stott: Yeah. John, I’ll have you dive into that in a second, but I want to ask kind of a follow up to that. Now is the group experience, Ryan, new to you guys? Talk about the decision to join.

Ryan Spradling: Yeah. No, that’s a good question. The group experience is actually not new to us. We came from BrandSource. John and I were there for quite a few years. John, I think, what, six, seven years?

John Scott: Yep.

Ryan Spradling: So, we’re pretty familiar with buying groups and what they can offer and how we can leverage that buying group for us and get the most out of the membership. So that hasn’t been new, but I think if we can just be transparent, not a lot of mattress retailers at the other group. When we sit in a room or we have some ideas that we want to talk about and present and some challenges that we need to overcome, they weren’t necessarily the same challenges with that other group. So positioning ourself with Nationwide that really has a high value on mattresses and furniture and really some of the biggest retailers in the country are part of Nationwide. So it offers us a good learning experience.

To answer your question, we’re not new to the group. We just felt this aligned with our visions down the road much better.

Rob Stott: Well, I think it’d be neat to get both of your perspectives on this. You mentioned the… And it’s kind of one of those things we’re always trying to, as a group, be out there explaining how to get the most out of your experience and that cliche of you get out what you put in, but from your seats, both of you, what would you tell another retailer that they might just see it as something like a check that goes out the door every month that they’re paying to make sure that they are getting that return?

Ryan Spradling: Yeah, I’ll let John answer that one. I think that’s a great question.

John Scott: We find that being part of a group, we have an extended interest in our business success. We don’t lead a large group of management. We’re a small leadership team. So we find the benefit of being able to lean on the experience of the leadership teams within the nationwide group. So when you have that experience, we think we can make better decisions, a more informed decision. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But we can sift through those discussions and find what we think is going to work best for our company. That could be from a marketing aspect, it could be digital, social, a vendor buying stuff, in that nature. So we find this very powerful to be part of a group. A lot of benefits there.

Ryan Spradling: If I could add to that, Rob, I think no matter how big or how small you are, I think there’s something you can take away from the group. And I think to John’s point there, there’s something that we identify. We’re a decent sized retailer, but there’s a lot of retailers in the group that are much bigger than us. The ones that are smaller, I think they’ll look at the group and say, “We’ll benefit from these five or six things.” So I think they’ve done a good job at being really diverse in how they can help retailers no matter the size, and really, no matter the size, there’s something you can take away from that membership and get better at.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome to hear. And John, Ryan teed you up earlier, but talk about… I know the FNB team here has put a lot of emphasis into that Bedding Council and everything that’s been able to do. So talk about that. For those that aren’t familiar with it, explain what your role is there, what the Bedding Council does, and then just what the experience of having been able to be involved with that has meant.

John Scott: I think overall, it’s a relatively new group for us, this council. I think we’re still trying to learn the impact that we can have on the other members of the group and the direction that as the bedding industry… internally, the council’s going to go. But what we found is we’ve already made some great relationships with, as Ryan said, some other like-minded individuals with the focus on improving the channel of the bedding. Again, we’re still early into it, had a few meetings on it, but I think we’re still young and I think we have a lot of room for growth and expanding upon what we want to do with this council.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Kind of an on the spot question, but think about less than a year or coming up on a year here in a handful of weeks. And relationships keep coming up and you talk to each other and it’s always one of the things I think we get to talk about, and I think it’s probably one of the more fun things from my seat to talk about is the things you guys learned from one another as retailers and businesses. Has there been anything that you can recall over the past 10 months and four days-ish as we sit here that you’ve been able to apply to business already? Whether it’s by talking to another retailer in the mattress space or just rubbing shoulders with different people.

Ryan Spradling: I mean, Rob, I can’t necessarily pinpoint one thing, but what I can speak to that would be traffic has been tough in 2023 compared to the last couple of years. Our industry is facing some uphill climbs with foot traffic and how do we maximize that? How do we get more footsteps through the door? So I know that John and I have held conversations with a lot of people, not only inside the Bedding Council, but outside of the Bedding Council. What are you doing to drive traffic and what kind of success do you see? What different types of marketing things are you doing?

There’s a lot of marketing opportunities we have inside NMG and I know we just reached out to an individual last week, just said, “Hey, you guys are using these people. Tell us how it’s working for you and what programs are working better for you.” I think when you look at that, there’s a lot of best practices that are shared between retailers inside of it, and I think that’s probably one of their ultimate goals of the group is to be able to share some best practices. We all have our best interests in mind. We’re independent retailers and we’re out there trying to tackle big box stores that can leverage marketing much differently than we can, but we believe we can manage inside the box much better than they can. We can create a better experience, we can have a better culture. Overall, we’re going to just provide a better experience to the guests because I think we’re more of a controlled environment. So I just think those relationships have just given us a lot of different people to talk to and kind of bounce some ideas off.

John Scott: If I can add to that, again, depending on the size of the company, small or big, we still all seem to be battling the same fight, the rising cost of just doing business and how to best tackle that and being able to share and gleam ideas on how other companies are finding some operational efficiencies. How are they driving down cost of financing? How are they being more inventory efficient? Being able to share that information and that Bedding Council, I think eventually if we can get that kind of all wrapped up into a box and be able to maybe send some best practices out to those stores or those people that are asking… Maybe they’re just getting into the bedding business and they’re just looking, “Okay, how do I be successful from the get go?” But I think some of that knowledge can be shared so that possibly they can avoid some of those pitfalls. Again, they’re not all right, but I find that we are all fighting very similar battles just on different size magnitudes.

Rob Stott: Yeah, I mean it almost sounds like the best kind of emotional support group at times too, to be able to talk to one another, see that you are fighting that same fight and you’re not in it alone. I have to imagine there’s a lot of value in that too for you guys from time to time.

Ryan Spradling: Yeah, a hundred percent.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. So shifting a little bit, you talk about some of the… Obviously there are challenges today, but how is business? What’s life like out there on the west coast for Mattress Land and what are you guys seeing today?

Ryan Spradling: I think the best way to describe is it can be a boxing match at times. I think John has mentioned this a few times. You’ve got a 12 round boxing match. We’ve got 12 months ahead of us here. We’re pretty transparent guys. There’s been some challenges with foot traffic. I think on the bright side of things, the premium customer is still very much out there. Higher end bedding is still doing very well. We’re seeing some financing offers and things like that will help move the needle for that guest. So just trying to find out where the mixes are in your advertising to kind of hit all those touch points that they need.

But business, it’s been tough this year, but the tough times make you appreciate the good times. I think we’ve learned a lot of things. We’ve overcome a lot of things this year to just get your business in a position where you can be really, really good through these tough times and you dig deep trying to find out how you can drive that consumer through the door, and again, how you can differentiate who you are. So we just kind of rolled our sleeves up and said, “Let’s get in this thing and let’s find a way to make it work.” We’ve had pockets of really good success. So we celebrate those. You just figure out where you can move the needle in the other places.

I think the first part of 2024 is going to be about the same. If you look ahead in our economy and you say, “What’s going to change right now for that end consumer?” There’s probably not a lot. We’re not going to see some relief in interest rates really for a little while. We’re not going to see some relief in housing prices for a little while. Food and gas and all those things are still very expensive. There’s the alert, right? When it comes to all those costs for that end consumer, I just don’t think there’s going to be a relief in the next six months. So I think for us, we’re just looking at saying, “We’ve just got to worry about what we can worry about and control what we can control and just get better.” Hopefully midway through ’24, some of those things, we’ll see some relief for the end consumer.

Rob Stott: I’m curious because we obviously follow different industries as well. You see appliances and consumer electronics, they’re coming up on an important time of the calendar for them with the holidays and that. Does that influence at all the bedding retail industry and do you guys plan any differently during these final few months of the year?

Ryan Spradling: Yeah, I’ll let John answer that as he’s kind of on the forefront of our marketing and things like that.

John Scott: Thanks, Ryan. I think historically, the fourth quarter is always a tough one for the bedding business. We are planning as if it will be our biggest event ever. I mean, I think that’s where you have to look at it is you just always plan and you try to promote and you try to hopefully inspire some consumers to come your way. We’re going to maybe try to bring some new promotions that we haven’t really ran before and hope to drive that consumer, again, to encourage that consumer to give us a shot. There’s no shortage of where to buy a mattress, and the focus probably is not going to necessarily be on mattresses for a lot of people when it comes to this kind of season. But we’re going to do our best to drive them and hopefully win some of those battles. We’re kind of excited about it to be honest.

Ryan Spradling: Until we can get a mattress to fit in a stocking, Rob. I think it’s always going to be a battle.

John Scott: They’re trying. They’re getting smaller and smaller.

Rob Stott: Right?

Ryan Spradling: So when you get to those stockings, that end consumer has a little bit different plan for their money when it comes to that, right? So they’re thinking about filling the stockings and putting presents under the trees. We feel like the mattress is the gift that keeps on giving, so why not?

Rob Stott: No, I love that. We can certainly appreciate that. A different time of year. It’s interesting I think to see that juxtaposition of different industries that we all represent, but how you guys approach a time of year differently from one another for sure is, I think, an interesting perspective from your end as well. Paint that picture, for those not familiar, of Mattress Land. You guys are in four states out there, Idaho, Washington, California, Nevada. 17 locations, I think. So what’s the experience for someone coming in? Is it the same from… You’re up in Spokane down to Bakersfield, almost southern Cal, right? So is the experience intended to be the same up and down those different locations?

Ryan Spradling: Yeah, Rob, I think that’s a good question. One, that’s our goal. That’s what we strive for. I think for any retailer, consistency is their ultimate goal. If you have a consistent model that you can trust in every state, every location, then you can control the experience, you can control the narrative, and that’s always what we’re striving for. Whether it’s the look of the store, the branding of the store. Certain markets have a little variance in marketing that John plays with here and there, but from a store experience side, as consistent as possible. You just want to control that narrative for sure.

I think for us as our company, where our vision is, we take a little bit different approach at how the consumer picks a bed. Rob, picking a mattress can be confusing. We hear it all the time and you walk into a mattress store and there’s 60-65 white rectangles and a consumer just doesn’t know which one’s right for them. And honestly, a salesperson isn’t necessarily qualified to say, “Rob, this bed’s best for you,” based on some questions that you can answer. So we kind of looked at that a long time ago and said, “Well, how can we do this different and how can we do this better?”

And we were able to get our hands on some technology called BedFIT that we’ve been working on a lot over the last three years to help in selecting a mattress. When you look at what this technology can do, it’s like getting measured for a pair of shoes or a set of foot orthotics. We take several measurements of the body, curvature of the spine, width of the shoulders, width of the hips, how long is the torso? Do you sleep on your side? Do you sleep on your back? What are some pain points that you have right now from the mattress that you’ve currently been on?

So you step inside this booth and it does some 3D body scans of the curvatures of your body, and there’s some weight displacement that’s taken. In about 30 seconds, we know your body shape and we know what kind of mattress you should be on. After that, you are narrowed down from 65 mattresses to probably five or six that are going to work for you. So from there, it’s just kind of our job to help you pick out what’s comfortable. Once we know what support is needed for the body, then picking out what’s comfortable just comes down to the end consumer, right? So the way everybody else does it is they have people lay on two or three beds and they say, “Rob, how does that feel?”

Give me some feedback and based on a 10 or a 15 second test rest, you’re going to make a lifelong decision on a mattress. We just felt that there was a much better way to do that. It took a lot of time, it took a lot of money, it took a lot of energy to find a different process that’s really going to work. We kind of have a saying inside of our company, “Support keeps you to sleep. Comfort kind of puts you to sleep.” And you really need both of those to help with that sleeping process to get you through all the different sleep cycles that are needed. And if you just lay down on a bed for 10 or 15 seconds, you’re really just measuring the comfort of the bed.

Rob Stott: Right.

Ryan Spradling: Support doesn’t come into play until you’ve been in it a few hours. That’s just where our technology’s really going to help that end consumer pick the right bed the first time. So we’re pretty proud of it. We lean on it and we believe in it in a big way. There’s some AI built into this technology, so it’s going to get better and better over a period of time, and we’re the only ones in our marketplace that have it.

Rob Stott: Yeah, you mentioned differentiator, right? I mean I also feel like quick aside, there’s got to be a TSA joke in there or something about stepping into a booth like that.

Ryan Spradling: It almost looks like a TSA booth.

Rob Stott: Right. You’re going through an airport security, but to your point, no, it is a differentiator. You’re able to measure those kinds of things about an individual and really tailor not only the product they ultimately end up picking, but the experience to them. So it streamlines it for them, makes it about them. They’re still at the center of everything. So it’s cool to see that be developed by you guys and not even just be sort of like a cool thing, but something that you’re really leaning into and committed to as a business.

Ryan Spradling: I think you said it best. It just creates an experience that no other retail can really provide. There’s some other retailers out there with some of the similar technology and I think they really recognize that it’s important to do it right the first time. That’s the message we kind of spray to the customer is we want to get it right the first time and we really do value getting the right bed.

Rob Stott: I mean, the other thing too, and if you’re not sure listening to this, if it’s something the NMG team could get behind, just go to the Mattress Land website, you’ll actually see some of them on there. I love that. So doing a little research on you guys and finding Mike Collier here laying on beds and filling it out and Lisa Blair. I love that you guys got them involved. Nice little Easter egg.

John Scott: We knew they were rock stars from the beginning. We said, “Hey, they got to be featured on the website.”

Rob Stott: It’s so good. But no, I mean, it’s neat to see it. And I love too your point about how it’s something that we’ll learn over time and continue to improve, and I think you hear about it a lot in many different industries, but to see it applied to sleep and the mattress industry, that’s kind of cool.

Ryan Spradling: A hundred percent.

John Scott: You look at it from a consumer perspective, I mean, again, we focus on the consumer experience. When they come into our store, they come as customers, leave as families is one of our beliefs. So would you sell your family the wrong bed just to make a sale? Or would you take that effort, learn about them, learn about their health needs, any kind of pain criteria and put them through the BedFIT program? Combined with that kind of information, they’re going to be able to make a more educated decision in a much quicker time and probably go home and sleep a lot better than they ever have. That’s what we want to see. When we go out to the stores, when we’re consumers, we’re out there shopping and hanging out in town, we want that customer to come up and say, “You know what? You changed our life,” or, “You improved our life,” versus, “Hey, you just sold me that bed because you’re going to make X amount of money on it.” Right? That’s never been our goal. Our goal is to improve the consumer’s life.

Rob Stott: It’s still relatively new. You meant three years, is that what you said about how long it’s been around?

Ryan Spradling: It’s actually been around for longer than that. We had a previous diagnostic system before that for what, John, almost eight or nine years before that?

John Scott: Yeah.

Ryan Spradling: So we’ve been in this diagnostic technology for a while. Over the last three years, we’ve changed the experience around it, changed the technology to make it what we believe, one, more accurate, two, more consumer friendly from an experience standpoint.

Rob Stott: Gotcha.

Ryan Spradling: It’s been really good.

Rob Stott: Is it at a point yet where you have customers that are coming to you for that or are you having to talk to them and kind of walk them through it?

Ryan Spradling: No, all the time. People specifically come into the stores just to do it because we do leverage that in our advertising. We want to make sure we’re speaking about how the selection process should be for that consumer. Yeah, they come in all the time wanting to use it. If you’re on our website, we have an online selector tool there that we’ve built in some similar algorithms to help in selecting a bed. It’s just not going to be as accurate as going through the scan process.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. I also see too in the name Mattress Land, the Sleep Fit experience, right? So is there a difference between BedFIT and Sleep Fit?

Ryan Spradling: It’s a good question, Rob. So Sleep Fit is really kind of who we are from a company standpoint. We believe it’s the experience behind Mattress Land. So Sleep Fit is a private label mattress brand inside of our stores that we’ve been doing for the last eight, nine years. And those continue to evolve every year too. We were one of the first ones kind of on the forefront of private label. We just partnered with Sherwood, which is a TSI company, and they’re now building a large part of our private label. And then we have some other private label through some other vendors as well. So Sleep Fit is that private label experience, but BedFIT is really the technology behind fitting somebody for a bed.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. No, that’s awesome. You love to see it all come together and tell that story. I think whether it’s the group aspect to how you’re doing business, we can kind of boil everything down to relationships and experience, right? It’s kind of what it seems like. So to see you guys doing it and really committed to it and seeing it kind of rock out for you, it’s awesome. It’s neat to see and a fun story to follow for sure.

Ryan Spradling: We’re not perfect, but we sure put a lot of effort into it, Rob, and we’re passionate about selling mattresses. We’ve both been doing it a long time.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, hey, we appreciate having you guys around and being able to call on a whim and get you on a podcast to talk about it. So I feel like this won’t be a one-off for sure. So we appreciate the time. And Ryan and John, look forward to continuing to follow your story and seeing how the Bedding Council grows, how BedFIT grows, and just continuing to be champions for you.

Ryan Spradling: You bet. We appreciate you, Rob. Thank you.

John Scott: Love it. Thanks, Rob.

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