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Mattresses from the '90s 14 Oct 2012 20:17 #1

Hi Phoenix,

I've been thinking a lot about the state of the mattress industry and how it relies primarily on advertising and obsolescence for profits rather than delivering a high-quality product geared toward longevity (I have a Media Studies degree so this kind of stuff always piques my interest, haha).

I know people that still have their mattresses from the '90s and they're still going strong. My partners' parents' mattress is 15 years old but is still supportive and comfortable for them. It's a big-name (Serta or Sealy), double-sided, and they bought it extra firm originally although it's much softer now. My close friend has a hand-me-down mattress that is now 12 years old and it to is still in excellent condition (double-sided and firm originally). These mattresses have ample padding but I would describe them as "tight-top". I assume they used polyfoam in the 90s. Has the quality of polyfoam really decreased that much amongst major manufacturers?

In reading reviews of mattresses, I notice that people say "I bought such and such 'S' brand to replace my 20 year-old mattress which was finally starting to sag," or "I had a Serta for 13 years before it needed replacing and my new mattress lasted me 6 months." Etc. etc. etc.

Is the mattress industry that different now than it was a little over a decade ago? Is it just the foams, or is it the entire system of manufacturing? I'm just curious about the drastic difference in quality and longevity that took place in only a decade...

I'm not sure why this is so intriguing to me. I guess it's because corporate culture is just so increasingly shady!

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Re: Mattresses from the '90s 14 Oct 2012 20:54 #2

I am replacing my 20 year old Simmons Beauty Rest. It is double sided and it is only within the past 2 years that I began to think about replacing it. Up until then it felt ok to me and even now its not too bad, a little lumpy, a little softened, but far from horrible. I knew nothing about mattresses when I bought it and only went by how it felt and how much it cost. I don't remember what I paid for it but it wasn't an expensive mattress and it has served me well. I just bought a Berkeley Ergonomics 100% latex mattress for what seems to me to be an astonishing amount of money. It won't be delivered for a few more weeks and I am looking forward to getting it but it's $2000 price tag (plus tax, delivery, old mattress removal, platform bed, mattress protector bringing it close to $3000) still makes me wonder if I am out of my mind. Everything I have read here and elsewhere leads me to believe that quality has indeed diminished. I think there is an interesting book that could be written about the mattress industry, big business vs the little guy, questionable sales practices, poor quality products, toxic vs non-toxic/natural/organic materials etc. I think you should write it Phoenix, kind of like Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" but about mattresses not food.

Jean

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Re: Mattresses from the '90s 15 Oct 2012 00:21 #3

Hi pinupchick,

The industry has changed quite dramatically in the last 15 years or so. Several of the biggest changes includes the era of leveraged buyouts (at all levels of the industry) which has created a lot of debt and pressure on profit margins (resulting in a lot of research about how to use cheaper and less durable materials to simulate the performance of more expensive materials), a shift in the industry towards chain stores and mass marketing of mattresses (also advertising driven) which has a focus on profit margin rather than consumer accountability and quality, and changes in design including the switch from two sided mattresses to mostly one sided which was started by Simmons a little over a decade ago and a continuing trend towards the use of lower quality materials. Regulatory issues such as the 1633 fire regulations that came into effect in 2007 have played a part as well adding to the price of a mattress (and because of the cost of prototyping a mattress to pass the regulations has also been a major factor in some local manufacturers going out of business). While polyfoam has been around for a long time ... there have also been changes here as regulatory and environmental issues have put some restrictions on how it can be manufactured and the chemicals and methods that can be used which have also added to costs and often resulted in lower quality to meet pricing targets demanded by the larger retailers.

The market and economic conditions have changed as well resulting in different types of pressures as consumers have often lost sight of the distinction between price and value in their efforts to buy everything as "cheap" as possible.

In all of this ... the major companies have relied more and more on advertising and have become less accountable to customers and more accountable to shareholders and the increasing demands on profit margins and market share. The advertising driven market share of the top 15 brands (in conjunction with the mass market retailers which mostly carry them) has steadily increased till now it's at about 86% and the several hundred independent and local manufacturers are sharing about 14% of the market. This is a big increase from a couple of decades ago (Note: as you can see here it is now up to 87%). UPDATE: In 2013 this percentage is now up to 90.6%

So yes there have been some substantial qualitative issues and the mattresses that you buy from the major manufacturers in general are much lower quality than they were 15 - 20 years ago and the process of continuing to confuse and mislead consumers, make mattresses with built in obsolescence built into their design, and not disclose meaningful information about the materials that make meaningful quality and value comparisons increasingly difficult is now the norm.

There is no other industry that I'm aware of that consumers as a whole are so willing to make a major purchase with so little or in many cases no meaningful information about the actual quality of what they are buying. It's so bad that if you have the "nerve" to ask about foam density in most of the larger stores they will look at you like you're crazy and tell you that "nobody asks those questions" which is their justification for why they don't have an answer. The other most frequent comments you will get it that "it just confuses people" or "only engineers need to know that". Go figure .. the most important questions that a consumer can ask about the quality of their mattress and outside of the rare consumers that have taken the time to learn ... nobody is asking it! Even worse ... outside of smaller independent manufacturers ... very few are willing to provide the answers even if they are asked.

Phoenix
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Last edit: by Phoenix.

Re: Mattresses from the '90s 15 Oct 2012 00:39 #4

Hi jrisman,

I think there is an interesting book that could be written about the mattress industry, big business vs the little guy, questionable sales practices, poor quality products, toxic vs non-toxic/natural/organic materials etc. I think you should write it Phoenix, kind of like Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" but about mattresses not food.


Perhaps one day :)

The mattress industry is also a reflection on some of many changes in our society as a whole over the last few decades and the changing relationship between consumers and industry and the effect of advertising and (sad to say) the loss of critical thinking and long term thinking (IMO) on a larger level.

These are political and societal issues as much as they are mattress issues.

I could probably spend the next few years on this single post and everything I write opens the door to more thoughts and comments (only some of which are connected to mattresses) ... so I should probably stop while I'm ahead :)

Phoenix
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Re: Mattresses from the '90s 15 Oct 2012 08:09 #5

Phoenix wrote:
The mattress industry is also a reflection on some of many changes in our society as a whole over the last few decades and the changing relationship between consumers and industry and the effect of advertising and (sad to say) the loss of critical thinking and long term thinking (IMO) on a larger level.

These are political and societal issues as much as they are mattress issues.

I could probably spend the next few years on this single post and everything I write opens the door to more thoughts and comments (only some of which are connected to mattresses) ... so I should probably stop while I'm ahead :)

Phoenix


I eagerly await your book. Mattresses as a microcosm of our society and world, who knew? I find that I am happy about the mattress I selected not only because I feel I got a quality product but also because I bought it from a local merchant whose values quality and customer service.

Jean

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Re: Mattresses from the '90s 15 Oct 2012 13:11 #6

Hi jrisman,

Mattresses as a microcosm of our society and world, who knew?


Perhaps there's even a "conspiracy" involved and I should use this article as the introduction? :)

Phoenix
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Click here for TMU Discount Codes if purchasing from Our Trusted Members.
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Last edit: by Phoenix.

Re: Mattresses from the '90s 15 Oct 2012 16:47 #7

Viva la mattrevolucion!!

:)

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