“Why are there so many mattress stores in America?” probably seems like a strange question to cover here, but the subject of mattresses came up on two (2) podcasts I regularly listen to within the last month. Podcasts are at peak mattress right now.
One podcast, Surprisingly Awesome — from Adam McKay (Will Ferrell’s writing partner and the director of the good Ferrell movies) and Adam Davidson — finds topics that may seem to be boring on their face, but pulls out what might be fascinating in these topics. Fittingly, they recently tackled what is so fascinating about mattresses, specifically: Is there really a huge difference in the different types of mattresses (short answer: No).
Meanwhile, Freakonomics devoted an entire podcast to the very question asked above: Why are there so many mattress stores in America?
Here’s what I learned from the two podcasts:
1) There are almost 10,000 mattress stores in America. 10,000! They are often clustered so closely together in towns and cities that you can literally drive to three or four mattress stores within a radius of a mile or two.
2) The average lifespan of a mattress is 8 to 10 years.
3) If people are only buying a mattress once a decade, then why are there so many mattress stores? Because there can be. The profit margins on mattresses are extremely high. They’re cheap to make, salespeople work on a commission, and storefronts are inexpensive. A mattress that retails for $1000, for instance, can be manufactured for only $250. The mark-up is so high that a mattress store only needs to sell 12-20 mattresses a month to break even.
4) The reason why mattresses are so expensive is because they used to cost a lot more to manufacture, but when the manufacturing costs came down, the retail costs didn’t fall. Customers are just used to paying a lot of money for a mattress, so they continue to do so.
5) We’re also in something of a mattress bubble. People didn’t buy new mattresses during the recession, so many are doing so now. Moreover, people moving from older houses to newer houses are often upgrading to king- and queen-size mattresses. Those mattresses often could not fit into bedrooms in older houses. Also, divorce is good for the mattress business, because after a break-up, someone has to buy a new mattress.
6) There’s not really a better brand of mattress, per se, because each of the three major brands — Sealy, Stearns and Foster, and Simmons — all sell mattresses at different price points. In other words, each of the three brands has cheap crappy mattresses, nice mattresses, and overpriced mattresses. The $300 mattresses are comparable, the $1000 mattresses are comparable, and the $5000 mattresses are comparable.
7) Is there a huge difference in different mattresses? Yes, and no. If you are spending less than $800, the mattress probably isn’t very good. If you’re spending more than $1500, you are spending too much. Most mattresses that fall between $800 and $1500 are comparable, and it all basically depends on personal preference. Do you like firm mattresses, or soft mattresses, etc? (This is not only true of mattresses, but also of appliances, which are all about the same, no matter the brand).
8) Another reason there are so many mattress stores is because only six percent of mattresses are sold online, so it’s one of the few retail outlets where people still prefer to test them out in person.
9) Some mattress stores are very particular about being recorded. In both podcasts, the hosts were yelled at for recording inside the store. One lady was super angry.
10) Finally, some people fall asleep while testing out mattresses in stores. Salesman generally let them sleep because when they eventually wake up 1) they’re more inclined to buy the mattress because it was comfortable enough for them to sleep on, and 2) they may also buy the mattress because they are embarrassed not to.
11) The topic of mattresses is surprisingly awesome.