Why does the Midlands have so many mattress stores?

Editor’s note: This story initially reported incorrectly that Southern Bedding of Columbia manufactures one-sided mattresses. The company still produces two-sided, reversible mattresses.

Take a drive on any main Columbia area thoroughfare and you’re likely to pass several mattress stores.

That’s because the Midlands is home to more than 25 stores that specialize in selling mattresses. But it’s not just a Columbia phenomenon. Across the country, 700 more mattress stores are expected to open during the next two years, bringing the total to nearly 10,000 stores nationwide, according to some estimates. That’s up from 8,000 stores just five years ago.

“Sales for us at Carolina Mattress and Furniture are up – they’re way up,” said Anthony Carbone, co-owner of the business, which has locations in Five Points, on Knox Abbott Drive in Cayce, Hardscrabble Road in northeast Richland, and Irmo.

The company will close its Harden Street store the first of September and open a new one in Red Bank in Lexington County, Carbone said. That will strengthen its ability to serve a growing local market.

Why are mattress sales booming?

“First of all, the Columbia area is growing,” Carbone said. “We have a lot of people from Lexington and Blythewood and Elgin and out in the Irmo area – areas that are really booming – that we are delivering to.”

Another reason is customers’ increased focus on health, Carbone said. “There’s a health craze going here. People are a lot more concerned about what they are eating – their diet and exercise. And, in my world, the third part of that triangle that completes good health is sleep.

“If you’re not sleeping well, if you’re waking up with back pain or you’re waking up after an hour of sleep because you don’t have a nice mattress, that affects how you exercise and how you eat the next day,” Carbone said.

People today are more aware than ever of how their mattresses can affect them, Carbone said.

Mattress Firm, the nation’s largest mattress retailer, has been urging customers to replace their mattresses every eight years.

“Most products we buy have a known expiration date, but it’s harder to tell with a mattress,” said Scott Davis, the regional vice president of sales for Mattress Firm.

“Over a span of eight years, the comfortable bed you used to daydream about falling into at night begins to wear down and become lumpy or saggy,” Davis said. “After regular use for thousands of nights of tossing and turning, it’s time for an upgrade.”

Mattress technology is also continuously evolving and adapting for different sleeping solutions.

Mattress Firm has nearly 15 outlets in the Columbia metropolitan area, according to the company’s website, and it operates 64 stores across South Carolina. A week ago, the Houston, Texas-based company was acquired by Steinhoff International Holdings of South Africa for $3.8 billion, creating the world’s largest multi-brand mattress retail distribution network.

Mattress Firm has 3,500 stores in 48 states. It turned $3.5 billion in sales in 2015.

Other locally owned mattress companies in the Midlands include Michaelis Mattress Co., with four locations, and Big Deal Mattress Warehouse on Two Notch Road.

For years, many consumers kept mattresses for decades, turning them over from one side to the other as they age, experts say. Today, most mattress manufacturers produce only one-sided mattresses.

That’s not the case at Southern Bedding, a small, family-owned mattress maker on Calhoun Street in Columbia, according to Karen Lanier, one of the owners. Southern Bedding still makes double-sided, reversible mattresses.

The buying habits of mattress customers also have changed. Twenty years ago, most consumers purchased their mattresses from large department stores such as Sears. Those stores are now being threatened by specialty retailers, said Annette Burnsed, a USC retailing professor.

In the early 1990s, stand-alone mattress chains had 19 percent of the market. Today, they have more than 50 percent of the mattress business. “We have definitely seen an increase nationwide of mattress stores. ... More consumers are going there to shop,” Burnsed said.

Mattress stores are more visible because they tend to cluster in the same areas, she said. “When you see one, you’re going to see probably six or seven,” Burnsed said.

Dealers tend to think that if a consumer can’t find the product or price they want in one mattress store, the customer is more prone to try another store close by, she said.

It also is more profitable for a mattress company to be in a stand-alone store than inside a department store, she said. And the mattress business is profitable. Consumer Reports says mattresses have a markup of 40 to 50 percent.

The average mattress expenditure is in the $1,000 range, Burnsed said, though consumers can spend less. “You can sell less, service less customers throughout the year and still be very profitable,” Burnsed noted.

The home furnishings business – especially with mattresses – is not as threatened as others by the internet, Burnsed said.

“The reason for that is (mattresses) are such a tactile item,” Burnsed said. “You really have to lay on it to see if it is any good. You can’t just order any mattress over the internet. We have to have brick-and-mortar stores for mattresses. The industry is benefitting from that.”

Another factor boosting mattress sales is the economy, Burnsed said. The housing market continues to rebound from the Great Recession of 2008 to 2012, she said.

“Consumers were spending their money on groceries, fuel – the bare necessities to get by,” Burnsed said. “Now, people have more discretionary income to make those purchases they have put off – in particular, mattresses.”

Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398

Why are there so many mattress stores?

▪ The Columbia area continues to grow, especially around the town of Lexington

▪ People realize that quality sleep is a major component of good health

▪ Most people don’t want to buy mattresses on the internet

▪ The economy continues to recover from the Great Recession

▪ Consumers are choosing to shop for mattresses in specialty stores rather than department stores