In the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, Goldilocks tries the three bears’ beds and finds one too hard, one too soft, and one just right. The fable is the inspiration behind the Spring Air Company’s famous logo featuring a sleeping bear. The parable still holds up as a metaphor for the company’s marketing strategy today because Spring Air has developed an extraordinarily diverse product lineup incorporating nearly every innovation available in mattress design and construction. “We offer basically every type of sleep technology with the exception of air or water,” says Jim Nation, president and CEO. “In a time when people are looking to go to market with narrower assortments, we went the other way. We started offering a broader product assortment so that we appeal to a greater segment of the market place. That’s helped us in the market place and expanded the number of retailers that carry our products.”
This “marketing driven” approach has certainly worked. Spring Air’s sales revenues are up a whopping 39 percent over the last three years, while most competitors’ growth has been as flat as a sheet. “Our growth is counter cyclical – we’ve had a lot of success during tough economic times,” Nation observes. The mattress business is a $5 billion dollar enterprise with about 60 percent of sales going to the top four including Spring Air and its competitors: Sealy®, Simmons®, and Serta®. Spring Air is not as big as the others, but is growing strong. Its thrust is the consumer market, although the company does about 3 percent of its business in the hotel and hospitality industry. “The value issue for us is that we consistently try to make a little better product so that the consumer gets more bed for the money and the retailer makes more margin on our products, so it’s a win-win.”
A Head for Beds
Founded in 1926 by Francis Karr, the Spring Air Company has always been the industry’s technology innovator. In the 1920s and 1930s, Karr perfected the free-end, offset coil mattress that adjusts to the sleeper’s weight distribution. The conforming innerspring design remains the most copied bed technology in the industry today.
The ideas kept coming for Spring Air over the decades. In the 1940s, the company introduced button-free quilted surfaces and extra-supportive beds. In the 1950s, Spring Air created a mattress with zones to support different areas of the body. The popular Back Supporter® brand mattress came along in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the company created the soft, pillow-top layer, a very popular design to this day. Natural fiber was all the rage in the 1980s and is also offered today in the company’s Four Seasons® line. More recently, high-tech foam mattresses have made their debut in Spring Air’s offerings. Another new twist on a classic design is the latex innerspring mattress, which has a different feel than synthetic foam. “We use a lot of latex foam, the world’s premium foam. The value is that it’s a natural, rubber-based product,” Nation explains. “If you dropped a baseball on a piece of latex, the ball would bounce up. It has that ability to push back when you push down on it. This is just the reverse of the memory foam material that you sink into and when you take the pressure off, its response is very slow.” Both products are at the premium end of the business and each has a certain feel. “It’s a personal preference whether you like that latex feeling of the bed pushing back or the foam that collapses under you,” he says.
If Goldilocks wandered into a bedding showroom, she’d be sure to find a mattress in the Spring Air line. Spring Air has the bed that’s “just right” for everyone as its advertising campaigns say. Products include mattresses and box springs, although Nation stresses that comfort is all about the mattress; the box spring is really just a platform to provide height and support the mattress.
Product lines include the new Spring Air ComfortFlex® Collection, which conforms to the sleeper using coils that reduce disturbance for couples. The key to this construction is that it uses individually encased coils instead of a wire unit. Unlike competing designs, Spring Air’s ComfortFlex coils are tempered to provide a kind of metal memory that springs back into the original position.
The Back Supporter line has added a Comfort Caress design with the company’s exclusive Total Balance™ dual gauge coil system to enhance lumbar support. Four Seasons remains the choice for those seeking today’s luxury. The latex construction has no springs. Another product, Chattam Wells™, is a high-end, ultra-premium, handcrafted mattress line introduced in 1997. “What’s good for the industry is that consumers are willing to pay more for a good mattress than they used to be,” Nation observes, noting growing consumer awareness of health issues and the importance of sleep to well being. “If you talk about the luxury end of the market for any product category, there are a greater number of people trying to pamper themselves and a good mattress is certainly a good way to do that.”
Rounding out the diverse Spring Air showroom are the Nature’s Rest® collection of latex mattresses; the Posture Comfort® collection, which offers great value along with the comfort; and Sleep Fitness® the latest technology in mattresses, which combine visco and memory foam for a unique feel. Many of the offerings also have Spring Air’s Never Turn™ technology featuring one sleeping surface so you never need to flip the mattress over.
That “Just Right” Feeling
Headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Ill., the privately held company is owned by its licensees. The Spring Air Company operates 18 U.S. manufacturing facilities including new or expanded plants in Chelsea, Mass; Columbus, Ohio; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Lacey, Wash. Each factory produces hundreds of SKUs to cover Spring Air’s broad range of products.
Mattress production is similar to an upholstery operation, Nation explains. “The quilting and sewing is done by machine, but you would be surprised how much hand work is actually done on a mattress, including layering up the upholstery by hand.” The company employs about 2,400 people. Operations also include international licenses of the Spring Air name and specifications to factories in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Australia. “I think the mattress category will continue to grow in sales,” Nation predicts. “There will be increasing innovations in the products. A lot has happened in the last four to five years relative to the last 30 and it’s still a very competitive business with new ways to bring product to market.” These include direct marketing through the Internet and infomercials, which Spring Air does not do. “We’re an old company that makes middle- to high-end products,” he adds. “We are never the price leader. We’re the value leader and our whole thing is all about comfort. We are positioned well with all our different brands. No matter what type of comfort you are looking for, we’ve got it.”
Nation says that another key to success, after pleasing consumers, is to give dealers the products and service they need to succeed. “We feel the things we do for our retail customers are just right also – the just right’ products and structure.”