Sleep Maestro: 5 Questions With Warren Kornblum, Serta Simmons Bedding


Tomorrow Sleep battress and bedding

The sleep industry is undergoing massive changes, from the increased awareness of its health benefits to the nuts and bolts and springs of mattresses as disruptive startups and e-commerce companies enter the fray.

Tomorow SleepSerta Simmons Bedding is the leading sleep company and the largest manufacturer, marketer and supplier of mattresses in North America. Based in Atlanta, SSB owns and manages two of the largest bedding brands in the U.S. mattress industry, Serta and Beautyrest. It also launched Tomorrow Sleep, a direct-to-consumer mattress brand to compete with the likes of Casper, Tuft & Needle and Leesa.

Warren Kornblum, Interim CMO of Serta Simmons Bedding, began his career in advertising in Toronto and opened his own agency before he turned 30. After selling that agency in 1995, he landed in New York as a Managing Partner at Bozell Worldwide. Recruited to join senior management at Toys “R” Us in 1999, he became Global CMO and a member of the Executive Committee at Toys “R” Us for five years, and was involved in developing the retailer’s global flagship store in Times Square, New York.

Warren KornblumIn 2016, Kornblum (right) became a Senior Advisor to the Chief Executive of Serta Simmons Bedding and earlier this year stepped in as Interim CMO while the search for a permanent CMO continues.

He spoke with us about the battle for a good night’s sleep, and how SSB’s brands are not only responding but ahead of the curve.

Warren, how are our sleep habits changing and how is SSB adapting to those consumer behaviors?

Serta Simmons Bedding (SSB) applies more than 100 years of experience and insights to improving the quality of sleep for consumers. Our heritage of innovation enables us to continuously reinvent and create new products that meet people’s sleeping preferences and address issues that affect quality of sleep. Over the past century, consumer sleeping habits have changed due to environmental factors, levels of physical activity, stress, exposure to technology and so forth. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep.

SSB understands the critical role that sleep plays in people’s well-being. Through our innovation process—driven by consumer insights and integrated with our top two brand teams, Serta® and Beautyrest®—we create new products and adapt existing ones to satisfy consumers’ biggest sleep concerns.

For example, we discovered that many consumers sleep hot. In response, we created the Beautyrest Silver mattress, which has both cooling and antimicrobial properties. Another example: for consumers who track progress toward a more healthy lifestyle, including sleep quality, we also offer SleepTracker, the first mattress-agnostic, non-wearable device that enables consumers to track and measure their sleeping patterns, identify areas of concern where they need to improve their quality of sleep, and tips for doing so.

As more consumers become aware of and sensitized to the need for better quality and quantity of sleep, SSB and our brands are committed to providing the very best mattresses and sleep technology, in addition to being the trusted source of information for people wanting to learn how they can improve their sleep.

SSB made several big moves this year including introducing a mattress-in-a-box for Serta and Beautyrest, investing more than $100 million in manufacturing and expanding your strategic partnership with Mattress Firm. What was behind these moves?

With the bedding industry expected to grow slightly this year, we are focused on driving innovation and expanding our product portfolio that will differentiate our brands in the marketplace and meet consumers’ sleep needs. These initiatives will enable us to retain our market leadership position as the largest manufacturer, distributor and marketer of mattresses.

We have developed new mattress-in-a-box offerings for our Serta and Beautyrest brands. These new products will be sold through our retail customers’ channels, providing them with products that are available across all of their distribution points for consumers who seek differentiated shopping experiences. We recognize that consumers shop online and in-store, and these new products enable us to meet every shopping preference. They also allow us to provide our retail customers with the opportunity to provide our high-quality branded products to their consumers.

Our $100 million-plus investment in expanding our manufacturing footprint is designed to meet the increased retailer demand for our best-selling brands’ products. We are opening four plants during 2017-2018 in strategic locations to support areas of growth for our retail customers, including: Houston, TX; Windsor Locks, CT; Seattle and Moreno Valley, CA.

Our expanded strategic partnership with Mattress Firm, America’s largest bedding retailer, solidifies our number one market position. We are committed to our relationship with Mattress Firm and we intend to be the very best partner to all our retailer partners selling mattresses through brick and mortar, online or omni-channel. Our goal is to make our SSB’s brands the first choice for retailers and consumers.

The mattress industry is full of startups, rivals and a plethora of e-commerce options. How does a mainstream brand like SSB deal with increased competition?

The startup sector in the mattress industry identified a need, from a consumer standpoint, for ease of purchase and clear communication. We recognize that consumer buying preferences are evolving and that the online segment continues to grow at a rapid pace. Online U.S. retail revenue is expected to generate nearly $450 billion in 2018, and experts estimate that by 2020, it will generate well over $500 billion, according to MediaPost and Forrester Research.

As this research indicates, there is a distinct segment of the population that prefers an online shopping experience, which is why we launched our own direct-to-consumer brand, Tomorrow Sleep. What makes Tomorrow stand out is the brand’s ability to leverage the knowledge, expertise and research of SSB, including our technology, innovation, manufacturing resources, product development and supply chain.

What differentiates SSB and our online offerings from startups is our leadership position and 100-plus years of experience in the global sleep industry. We represent $3 billion in the $8 billion wholesale U.S. bedding industry and are the market leader. We believe that Tomorrow Sleep will be a significant competitor in the direct-to-consumer segment and that both Serta and Beautyrest will be even stronger, based on our commitment to consumer listening and incorporating these insights into our product development process. This enables consumers to make the best choice for their personal needs. One mattress does not fit all. Our commitment is to provide the very best possible sleep solutions through the SSB family of brands.

Are millennials and younger consumers buying mattresses differently from their elders? 

Yes. Millennials and the younger cohort are spending much more time than earlier generations researching purchases and learning about products before they buy. Consumers are increasingly moving online to do their shopping. However, brick-and-mortar is still a steady force in the industry, especially when it comes to big-ticket, investment purchases like mattresses. An omnichannel approach is critical; companies must meet their consumers at every touchpoint. This shift is indicative of an enhanced focus on the consumer and meeting them at various points on their purchase journey, through their preferred channels.

Having extensive experience in marketing, including serving as CMO for Toys “R” Us, are there similarities in selling toys and mattresses—and what lessons do you carry forward?

As a global CMO in the retail and consumer durable worlds, I think there are similarities and certainly many lessons learned throughout my career. The most important one is to never lose sight that what we do needs to be relevant to the consumer we’re speaking to. Understanding the consumer process of considering and making a purchase, finding ways to communicate with them the way they choose, being where they want us to be when they’re ready and providing the information they seek is very important.

In my opinion, too many brand marketers focus on the process and/or trying to force things on end users. We live in a world where data is critically important, but data unto itself does not provide strong consumer communication and brand affinity. Insightful analysis of the data combined with instinctive consumer-focused marketing does.

During my tenure at Toys “R” Us, I had the honor of selling the joy of childhood. Today, I have the privilege to really make a difference in people’s lives by helping them find the perfect mattress and enabling them to improve an important dimension of wellness—sleep.

While my personal approach to marketing and brand positioning has evolved technologically with different media tools and rapidly changing consumer habits, the foundation of my approach hasn’t changed much at all.

I strive for “share of mind,” “top of mind” and most of all, “share of heart.” Because if consumers think of us first, we’re well on our way to doing business with them. And if we can build a relationship, earn their trust and have them “like us” we’re well on our way to the success that every marketer strives for.

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