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Toppers piquing interest of mattress industry

A consumer searching for “mattress topper” at mega online retailer Amazon.com will find more than 2,000 results, a sign that the product category has gone mainstream in a big way.

The first toppers, appearing some 30 years ago, were a yellowish beige egg–crate polyurethane foam. Today’s typical topper is 1½ inches to 3 inches of convoluted memory foam selling for between $79 and $99 in queen size.

Sometimes called “removable pillow–tops” or “mattress enhancers,” toppers are being sold in department stores, at big–box retailers and online. They’re also cropping up on the floors of mattress specialty retailers, often first arriving atop high–end beds with optional, removable pillow–tops.

In addition to visco–elastic and polyurethane foams, there are toppers made of latex, natural or polyester fiber fill, and down—or several of these materials layered together. Heights range from 1½ inches to 6 inches. There are zoned, quilted, ventilated, perforated and convoluted toppers. Some are covered and zippered with skirts or anchor bands. Others are “free floating.” Fabrics on more expensive toppers include cotton sateen, stretchy knits and silk. The priciest toppers often incorporate natural fibers and fabrics with latex and have suggested retail prices as high as $1,000 in queen.

Buying patterns

The topper business “caught fire” when the economy took a hit, says Jeff Chilton, senior vice president of sales and marketing for bedding soft goods supplier Perfect Fit Industries, which has headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. “You can get a really nice $150 to $200 topper and improve your sleep.”

Growing interest means that product lines are multiplying rapidly, with everyone from traditional top–of–bed suppliers to major mattress manufacturers jumping into the category.

Simmons, Serta, Sealy and other first– and second–tier mattress manufacturers are licensing their names to suppliers of foam toppers. These visco–elastic and polyurethane foam pads are sold online, as well as at major retailers, big boxes and department stores.

“Consumers have three primary reasons for buying toppers: to refresh or rejuvenate at relatively low cost a mattress that is beginning to show the effects of wear, to correct a comfort mistake on a new bed purchase without having to exchange the entire product or to outfit the slab of springs in a college dorm room,” says Gerry Borreggine, president of Therapedic International. The Princeton, N.J.–based licensing group lends its brand name to a line of memory foam, latex and down–alternative toppers.

“This category is especially important to consumers age 38 to 55,” says Dan Schecter, vice president of sales and marketing at Richmond, Va.–based Carpenter Co., an industry supplier that manufactures a broad range of foam toppers. “This group of consumers is the most interested in improving their comfort.”

“As a culture, we’ve become so discerning. We want the ability to customize without a huge price tag. Toppers offer customization within reach,” says Julia Rosien, director of communications for Natura World. “Your comfort needs change as you age. They can also change on a daily basis—if you’re stressed at work, did a lot of exercising that day or sat at the computer too long.” The Cambridge, Ontario–based mattress maker offers a variety of topper styles.

“From high school students to senior citizens, consumers are out shopping, looking, feeling, squeezing,” says Nancy Heaton Lonstein, marketing director for industry supplier and topper manufacturer Jeffco Fibres in Webster, Mass. “Their purchasing decisions are sophisticated. They see toppers as a way to customize the bed and change their preferences.”

Many mattress pads straddle a fine line between topper and protector. A new offering from sleep accessories supplier CKI Solutions is the Sleep Defender Quilted Mattress Pad. Available in both 3–inch and 6–inch thicknesses, is it a “pad” or “topper”?

“It’s really plump and filled with polyester cluster fiber,” says Chris Montross, director of sales and marketing for the company, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We’ve carried mattress protection products for over 10 years now, but our retail and hospitality customers were telling us they wanted something to make the bed more luxurious.”

New takes on foam

“This category is open to significant growth,” Schecter says. “Today’s consumer is very savvy, and as new foam technologies become available—as the chemistry continues to advance—she will continue to buy into that.”

High–end memory foam toppers are made with technologically advanced foams with higher densities that are sometimes layered with other components.

Jeffco Fibres’ Cradlesoft Memory Foam Topper comes in two densities and has thicknesses up to 4 inches. The company’s Cradlesoft Memory Cloud Mattress Topper has visco–elastic and down–alternative polyester fiber encased in a quilted cotton cover.

Natura World makes 21 topper styles, including the Soy Snuggletop Memory Foam Topper, which has virgin wool piled atop an upholstered visco–elastic core with renewable content.

The Therapedic Memory Touch Mattress Topper contains 3 inches of ViscoTech foam covered in a removable, 100% cotton fabric with temperature–regulating Outlast technology. The memory foam is described as being “temperature sensitive” and having anti–microbial properties.

Depending on the foam used, toppers can offer pressure–point relief, as well as support, Schecter says.

“There are three classifications of foams in our premium toppers: visco–elastic for cushioning; Omalon—a proprietary support foam; and self–adjusting Avena—a hybrid foam with both cushioning and support,” he explains.

Carpenter manufactures a range of foam toppers for a number of distribution channels. Some carry its trademarked “Sleep Better” seal. Its flagship topper brand is Isotonic.

“A moderate topper price point would be an uncovered 2–inch convoluted Omalon or visco–elastic topper packaged in a zip bag,” Schecter says. At the company’s upper end is the Isotonic Platinum, a zoned topper introduced this spring. It’s ventilated with “active air technology” and has gel inserts for additional support and comfort. Carpenter’s high–end toppers are up to 4 inches thick and have IsoCool fabric covers with phase–change material for temperature regulation.

Foam producer FXI, with headquarters in Media, Pa., manufactures and distributes Aerus Natural memory foam toppers and produces them for various private labels. Aerus Natural is a breathable, open–cell visco–elastic with a percentage of renewable content.

The most popular FXI topper foams weigh 3 pounds to 4 pounds per square foot, although interest in 6–pound toppers is growing. There also are specific, limited applications for the company’s 8–pound and 10–pound toppers, says Alvaro Vaselli, FXI senior vice president for foam products business management. In addition, he says, most FXI toppers have patented Surface Modification Technology.

“It’s a proprietary engineered surface that improves pressure distribution,” he says.

Hickory at Home, a division of Hickory Springs Mfg. Co. in Hickory, N.C., sells the Viness line of memory foam toppers in three thicknesses and a collection of upholstered Dunlop–process latex toppers made by gommagomma S.p.A., in Caronno Pertusella, Italy.

Foam bed maker Tempur–Pedic manufactures a 1–inch thick “mattress pad” made with its Tempur Material and sells it through catalogs and online. It’s marketed as “a great way to upgrade your guest room.” The Lexington, Ky.–based company also offers a college–dorm topper at its company Web site.

Latex International, a Talalay latex producer headquartered in Shelton, Conn., targets mattress retailers with its Rejuvenite Pillows for the Body line. The toppers are 3 inches thick, covered in super–stretch knit ticking and come in two comfort levels, plush and firm.

For easier testing on the sales floor, Pillows for the Body come in split queens.

Pure LatexBLISS, a latex mattress manufacturer headquartered in Atlanta, began by pairing “outboarded” latex toppers with its latex mattresses and soon found that the topper business “had taken on a life of its own,” says Kurt Ling, Pure LatexBLISS chief executive officer.

The company’s 2–inch and 3–inch removable pillow–tops are available in plush or firm and are upholstered in high–end stretch knit.

“The fabric totally determines the product’s value in the customer’s eyes,” Ling says.

In response to a resurging interest in latex bedding, Jeffco Fibres introduced its Evereden brand of latex toppers in 2007, Lonstein says. They come in four thicknesses, from 1 inch to 4 inches. The company also manufactures a broad range of private–label and branded fiber–fill, visco–elastic and polyurethane toppers that retail for between $15 and $350 in queen sizes.

Sleep Studio, a New York–based manufacturer of foam toppers, pillows and mattresses, surveyed more than 2,000 consumers earlier this year and found that nearly one in five wants a topper to add support—not just pressure–point relief—to their existing mattress, says Michael Rothbard, Sleep Studio president and chief executive officer. To meet both needs, the company offers ViscoFresh Latex Memory Foam, a high–density visco and latex hybrid foam with perforations and air channels. Green tea extracts provide a natural fragrance.

Sleep Studio’s products are sold under a variety of private labels at various retailers, as well as under the company’s own SleepJoy brand.

Perfect Fit manufactures and sources a broad range of toppers, pads, comforters, pillows and other soft goods that it sells through a range of distribution channels. One of its more unusual offerings is the OOdles Blend Latex Topper. OOdles, first introduced in 2009 in pillows, is a shredded latex produced by foam supplier Latexco. Perfect Fit mixes OOdles with “blown puffball” polyester fiber to create the topper core.

‘Natural’ ingredients

Hickory at Home introduced two featherbeds in 2010, one with imported European goose down and one with domestic goose down.

Manufacturers of wool toppers say the fiber gets a bad rap for being itchy and hot. Instead, they say, it’s an ideal component because of its cushioning, temperature–regulating and moisture–wicking properties.

“Wool does a great job of solving the problems of two people in one bed with different temperature and comfort needs,” Rosien says. “If you’ve chosen a mattress that does not have wool in it, you can add wool with a topper.”

The Classic Super Comfort Plus Topper from Natura World contains 36 ounces of crimped virgin wool per square yard and has a 100% unbleached woven cotton cover. Many of company’s offerings, including the Mattress Mate Topper, layer or wrap wool over a latex core.

High–end mattress maker Organic Mattresses Inc., based in Yuba City, Calif., makes four mattress toppers in thicknesses of 1 ½ inches to 4 inches. Two toppers have convoluted latex cores; two have Eco–Wool fill.

“Our toppers are paired with mattresses and sold that way by retailers, but some of our retailers do just buy our pillow–tops,” says Walt Bader, OMI president and chief executive officer. “Pillow–tops make sense especially when accommodating more than one sleeper, because couples may have different comfort preferences. The pillow–top can add more comfort and ‘ahhhs’ to a bed, without changing the underlying support.”

Tackling the topic of toppers

For an industry invested in getting consumers to purchase new mattresses, the subject of toppers can be a bit sensitive. Don’t toppers take away from mattress sales? Though they might be big sellers at big–box retailers or department stores, are specialty mattress retailers willing to give toppers floor space?

“I tell retailers people are buying these anyway. You need to get in the game or they’ll shop elsewhere,” says Kevin Stein, vice president of marketing and research and development at Shelton, Conn.–based Latex International. “Don’t look at toppers as a Band–Aid to a bed. Instead, add a $399 topper to a $699 bed purchase and have a beautiful $1,100 bed that is highly profitable to the retailer.”

“Show the pillow–top (topper) every time a customer purchases a firmer bed,” says Kurt Ling, chief executive officer of Atlanta–based mattress maker Pure LatexBLISS. “Let the customer know ‘You can come back to buy this if you decide the bed is too firm.’ One in five times, the customer buys the pillow–top outright.”

“Toppers are a great way to sell the nine out of 10 shoppers who walk out of your store without making a mattress purchase,” says Michael Rothbard, president and chief executive officer of Sleep Studio, a New York–based manufacturer of foam toppers, pillows and mattresses.

Sleep Studio’s recent consumer survey found that 65% of the more than 2,000 respondents were “unhappy with the comfort and support” of their mattress, but just 5% said they would consider buying a new one. Some 60% said they “would more readily buy” a mattress topper, Rothbard says.

“Toppers don’t take away from mattress sales, they enhance them,” Stein says. “There are cool ways to incorporate them into the comfort process. Many shoppers start on a firm bed because they are looking for more support. Retailers can say they are going to add some pressure relief and then put a topper on the same bed. Customers love a sales process that gives them some sense of control.”

Aside from using toppers for comfort adjustments after a sale, “smart retail sales associates will up–sell toppers to begin with,” says Julia Rosien, director of communications for Natura World, a mattress and sleep accessories producer in Cambridge, Ontario.

“You are letting customers know you’re thinking about their long–term enjoyment of the product,” Rosien says. “Be intuitive. Watch when a couple tries out a mattress. See how they respond and interact. Are their needs different? Show them how to tweak the bed with a topper so it works for both of them.”

Law of attraction

Premium mattress toppers studded with magnets are Baron Styles’ biggest sellers, says Dave Williams, president of the Milton, Wis.–based topper manufacturer and contract quilting and sewing operation.

Introduced in 1998, the magnet toppers have fiber fill and visco–elastic or convoluted polyurethane foam studded with 300 to 1,000 magnets. Targeted channels include health and wellness retailers, online retailers and other distributors who market the toppers as a pain reducer or health enhancer.

To date, evidence of the toppers’ therapeutic value is anecdotal, but a clinical study is currently under way in France, Williams says.

Baron Styles’ other offerings include quilted damask toppers filled with layers of fiber, polyurethane and visco–elastic foams.

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