Going to the mattress

Elmer Cooper (left) and Danny Pendergrass set up a bedding display inside the new Mattress Firm store in West Ashley.

Mattress Firm recently opened a new store in West Ashley beside Best Buy on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. It’s across the street from another Mattress Firm in Harrell Square, which sits a stone’s throw from an America’s Mattress store and half a mile away from yet another Mattress Firm on Orleans Road.

About a mile or so up Savannah Highway, Mattress Firm has another store in St. Andrews Shopping Center and is planning to build another store on Rivers Avenue next year.

Over in Mount Pleasant, Mattress Firm operates a shop in Towne Centre. Just up the street on U.S. Highway 17, America’s Mattress opened a new store on Labor Day weekend a few feet away from Mattress Source, which plans to open a new store in Summerville.

Those are just a few of the mattress stores making their beds in the Charleston area, but what’s driving the sudden surge in bedding? It’s a combination of factors, according to industry officials.

Interest in better health, marketing campaigns that inform mattress owners to change their mattresses every seven or eight years and a slowly improving housing market are the main reasons.

The International Sleep Products Association projects modest growth in the mattress industry through 2014, based in part on an improving economy that will increase consumers’ purchasing power and demand.

For 2012, the mattress trade group recently revised its estimate and expects the value of mattress shipments to rise 10.5 percent and the number of units to grow 6.5 percent. The average unit selling price is expected to rise 3.7 percent.

Last year, the U.S. mattress industry reported nearly 19.5 million shipped-out units, about 200,000 more than in 2010. The figure does not include 15.4 million shipped foundations. The value of mattresses alone exceeded $5 billion in 2011, up from $4.6 billion the year before.

The cost of mattresses is all over the board. They range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand for top-of-the-line models.

Both mattress shipments and wholesale dollar values suffered deep declines in 2008 and 2009 during the height of the deep recession, but rebounded into positive territory in 2010. The industry overall still is feeling the effects of the steep economic downturn.

“The 2012 value of mattress shipments is forecast to reach the industry’s 2007 levels, but the units shipped in 2013 will remain well below 2000 levels,” according to the sleep products trade group’s forecast.

“Mattress sales correlate with housing starts,” said Karin Mahoney, spokeswoman for the association. “People also want to invest in their well-being and if they have the disposable income, they will spend a little more to get that.”

The real estate market in the Charleston area, nudged along by the growth of Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner factory in North Charleston and its workforce of about 6,100, continues to trend up, a rebound that started last fall.

Home sales have been rising, inventories have been falling and the uptick in median sales price suggests that broader real estate values are starting to rise, according to monthly data from the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

Also figuring into the growth of mattress sales is people’s interest in healthier living.

“Health is becoming more important and more thought about,” Mattress Firm district manager Conran Ayers said this month while helping set up bedding displays in the new store on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. “When people have a good night’s rest, they can lose weight, it’s good for the heart and muscles repair themselves.”

A bed is where people spend one-third of their lives, so it should make sense that the place they sleep is comfortable. But 80 percent of people sleep on a mattress that is worn and out of date, Ayers said.

“I replaced a woman’s mattress one time that was 42 years old,” he said.

Mattresses on the market today are not like their counterparts of yesteryear. Just a few years ago, buyers had three choices, Ayers said.

Today, options include pillow top, memory foam, latex foam, open coil, off-set coil, individually wrapped coil, tempered steel, nontempered steel and twice-tempered steel.

Ayers said it’s no accident that mattress stores tend to cluster.

“Each time you open one, they all do better,” he said. “They provide easier access to the market.”

But Jeff Ferguson, co-owner of seven America’s Mattress stores in the Charleston area, believes his expansion-minded rivals are developing too fast and too aggressively.

“We feel like we know the market, and we feel like they are overdoing it,” Ferguson said.

America’s Mattress, which specializes in Serta sales, has about 400 locations in the United States.

The larger Mattress Firm, which provides a wider variety of brands, has more than 850 stores in the country.

The new America’s Mattress store in Mount Pleasant is less than half a mile from another America’s Mattress shop run by Ferguson and family members, but Ferguson expects to close the shop on U.S. Highway 17 across from Walmart when the lease expires in about a year.

“The new store is pulling in business that the old store used to get,” he said.

It sits, by no accident, a few yards away from Mattress Source, which operates three stores in greater Charleston. A fourth one is planned for Summerville, according to its website.

Ferguson doesn’t expect to open any more new competition in Charleston in the near future, but he said Serta is pushing the company to open a new shop in Columbia.

“We still have a lot of work to do here in Charleston,” he said. That includes improving the Sam Rittenberg location to compete with Mattress Firm’s high-profile presence down the street and expanding the store at Azalea Square in Summerville.

“That’s a good store for us, but we need something bigger,” Ferguson said of the latter location.

At Mattress Source, Ferguson’s next door competition in Mount Pleasant, store manager Michael Anderson said business has been steady, but October is generally the slow sales season for the industry.

July and August usually see more customers because people, especially college students, head back to school and need a bed, he said.

After Labor Day, sales slow and then pick back up in November and December as people update their bedrooms for holiday guests.

Politics is also playing into the decision to spend this year.

“People are waiting to see how the election comes out,” Anderson said.

A recent survey by Deloitte found that nearly one-quarter of respondents said they would delay their holiday purchases until after the election’s outcome.

Anderson also noted that the bed people sleep on touches just about everything about them.

“It affects your attitude, your health and your well-being,” Anderson said. “It affects every aspect of your life.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.