Mind Over Mattress

Jim invited his mother over for dinner. When Mom arrived she was a bit surprised to meet Jim’s breathtakingly beautiful roommate, Krista. Mom had assumed her son’s roommate was a guy. 

During dinner Mom couldn’t help but notice the playful banter between her son and Krista. Giddy energy. Affectionate looks. Laughing together at “inside jokes.” Mom suspected they might be more than just roommates. 

After dinner Jim walked Mom to her car and said, “Mom, I know what you’re thinking, but Krista and I are just friends.”

Mom replied, “Of course honey. I think it’s wonderful that you found such a nice roommate.”

A few days later Krista asked Jim, “Have you seen my silver gravy ladle? Since your mom came over for dinner I can’t seem to find it.”

They turned the apartment upside down but couldn’t find the ladle. Baffled, Jim sent his mom an email asking if she remembered seeing the gravy ladle at dinner.  

His mom quickly replied:

“Hi Jim. Yes, I did see the silver gravy ladle. If Krista is ‘just your friend’ and sleeping in her own bed she would have found it under her pillow by now. Love Mom.”


This amusing story is a fitting intro to our subject today – mattresses. 

A little history…

The origin of the mattress dates back 77,000 years!

The name is derived from the Arabic word “matrah,” which means “something thrown down.”

The earliest mattresses were typically made from large sacks stuffed with feathers, straw, or horse hair. 

Earlier hominids were more “chimp-like,” able to sleep in trees as protection from predators. But when early humans discovered fire, they began sleeping on the ground, using fire to ward off sabre tooth tigers and the like. That’s when they started using early forms of a mattress. 

The first modern mattress? German inventor Heinrich Westphal developed the first innerspring mattress In 1871. Many consider it the first real mattress, although Westphal never received much recognition or compensation for his concept. 

Today you can choose among a myriad of different mattress types. Innerspring, foam, water, air, adjustable beds, pillow tops, organically made, and everything in between.  

And because virtually every human on earth prefers to sleep on something softer than the ground, the mattress marketplace has grown into a 30 billion dollar industry today. 

If you read my articles each week you’ve noticed a theme for the last eight. They’ve explored innovation and disruption in business and marketing. This is no exception. 

So what’s disrupting the mattress industry?

Four words…“bed in a box.”

“Some people compare mattress salespeople to used car salespeople, and I think that’s an insult to used car salespeople.” – Anonymous 

Personally, I respect salespeople, mattress, car or otherwise. But that quote does have an underlying message. 

Most of us don’t like the feeling of being “sold,” but these days mattress salespeople know they’d better “close you” while you’re there or likely lose you to an online competitor. 

The traditional “try it then buy it” at the brick and mortar store is being disrupted by selling mattresses online. This billboard says it all…

The beginning of problems for brick and mortar mattress stores? Some believe it was BedInABox.com’s launch in 2006. 

Using NASA technology the firm figured out how to vacuum compress, roll up, box and mail a memory foam mattress for delivery to your door. All you had to do was unbox it, unroll it, lay it out and let it expand into a pretty darn comfortable mattress. 

Now there are a myriad of online mattress competitors. Two years ago CNBC published an article entitled, “There are now 175 online mattress companies – and you can’t tell them apart.” 

Critics say buying a mattress online doesn’t allow you to try the bed before buying it, and it doesn’t take care of the removal of your old mattress.

But critics aren’t consumers, and more and more bed buyers are willing to ditch the drive to the mattress store, opting to make their choice via online reviews, have their mattress show up at the door, then call Goodwill to pick up the old one.  

Legendary hockey player Wayne Gretsky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

That’s what disruptors do…figure out what consumers might rather have instead of what they already have, then be the first to manufacture and market it.

Gretzky also said, “I can’t beat other players with my strength; I don’t have a hard shot; I’m not the quickest skater in the league. My mind has to do most of the work.”

In the mattress industry, it’s not a better mattress that’s winning, it’s being smart enough to give consumers a better way to get that mattress.  Essentially, it’s mind over mattress.