Although it may not be a category that generates much excitement, a rebound in sales is prompting new sponsorship spending from specialty mattress retailers.

According to the Int’l Sleep Products Assn., U.S. mattress shipments and the wholesale dollar value of those shipments will grow by 4.5 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, in 2010. ISPA expects those numbers to rise another 6.3 percent and 10 percent in 2011.

The increase follows a 7.4 percent decline in units shipped and an 8.9 percent drop in dollar value from 2008 to 2009, according to the association, which also noted in a report earlier this year that specialty mattress retailers continue to take market share from furniture stores, where mattresses “represent 10 to 11 percent of sales and 35 percent of profits.”

The sales turnaround has helped prompt new sponsorship spending from a number of mattress retailers as a platform to build visibility, drive traffic and access new sales channels.

Case in point: Mattress Firm, Inc.—which operates 580 stores in 22 states—has signed new partnerships with 13 properties this year, including state fairs, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Memphis in May festival.

In addition, Sit ‘n Sleep recently came on board as a new sponsor of the Los Angeles County Fair, while Sleep Country USA, LLC earlier this year purchased naming rights to the Sleep Country Amphitheater, an 18,000-seat music venue in Ridgefield, Wash.

On top of that, Select Comfort Corp.—both a mattress manufacturer and a national retailer with its own stores—will sponsor next month’s Taste of Atlanta on behalf of its Sleep Number by Select Comfort brand. The company has sponsored a number of other properties, including the Ohio State Fair and Denver’s National Western Stock Show.

Mattress Firm Expands Portfolio After Successful Tie With Texas State Fair
Three good years partnering with the State Fair of Texas led Mattress Firm to look for other sponsorship opportunities.

Satisfaction with the state fair tie was based on the company’s ability to promote its brand to thousands of consumers and gain on-site sales opportunities, said Sunni Williams, Mattress Firm’s communications manager.

“It was a good opportunity to get our name out and sell product at the same time. We are now involved with more state fairs and looking for other opportunities.”

Indeed, Mattress Firm has created a multi-channel sales department dedicated to sponsorship, under the direction of Walter Kinzie, national manager of multi-channel sales.

At each sponsored event, Mattress Firm sets up an area to interact with consumers and display its mattresses. It also uses the events to promote Sleep to Live Diagnostics, a patented technology that assists consumers in choosing a mattress based on their sleeping needs.

The privately held retailer also uses sponsorship to showcase new products. For example, Mattress Firm reportedly plans to promote its new Yume line of mattresses at the September 24-October 17 State Fair of Texas. The line features proprietary technology that uses ambient air to heat and cool the surface of the mattress.

Mattress Firm also distributes coupons at each event to drive store traffic, Williams said.

“Mattresses are not always a top-of-mind purchase. We have seen great success in using sponsorship to get our name out and drive incremental business.”

Making Good Bedfellows
Below, tips on selling sponsorship to mattress retailers and manufacturers.

Help build visibility. Mattress retailers use sponsorship in part to gain a point of differentiation from other companies in a highly competitive category that traditionally has relied on in-your-face TV and newspaper ads touting low prices and quality service.

Retailers frequently look for title or other high profile status to rise above the marketing din of other mattress stores.

Provide on-site display. Like furniture retailers, mattress companies frequently use sponsorship to interact with consumers and gain sales opportunities outside the showroom floor.

Properties should provide ample space for displaying and sampling mattresses.

Help support community positioning. As a segment largely comprised of regional, privately held companies, mattress retailers frequently use sponsorship to demonstrate community support and highlight local connections.

Consider franchisees. Like other chains, many mattress retailers are franchise operations. Thus local properties can consider pitching franchisees, many of whom use sponsorship to support corporate marketing initiatives.

For example, a Mattress Firm franchisee sponsored the Wisconsin State Fair presented by U.S. Cellular this year on behalf of the corporate brand, said Williams, noting that roughly 65 of the company’s 580 stores are franchised.

Don’t forget manufacturers. While mattress makers have focused more on licensing deals to produce co-branded products, they should not be overlooked as a source of sponsorship dollars.

When pitching manufacturers, properties should offer promotional platforms that drive traffic to retail partners and build relationships with their sales staffs.

Serta, Inc. late last year became a partner of the National Home Furnishings Assn., a trade group representing about 2,500 retailers.

Serta leverages the tie by offering NHFA members exclusive national promotions designed to increase store traffic and mattress sales during key selling periods.

For example, the company earlier this year ran a Serta American Idol sweepstakes that dangled trips to the show’s finale at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. To spur trail, consumers had to take a “Rest Test” on a Serta mattress to receive a contest entry code.