« Freakonomics Radio

251. Are We in a Mattress-Store Bubble?

2016-06-09 | 🔗

You've seen them — everywhere! — and often clustered together, as if central planners across America decided that what every city really needs is a Mattress District. There are now dozens of online rivals too. Why are there so many stores selling something we buy so rarely?

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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can do for you we recently sent our radio producer Friend Bill Healy for a drive down. U S highway, forty one in share a bill, Indiana, small town, forty miles south of Chicago they were driving along his main street we'd asked bill to keep his eye out for mattress stores. Ok, I see my first mattress firm, the assignment to be pretty easy in fact, overwhelmingly easy. Here's asleep his letters of course, yes, probably a block from each other, some action firm on the other side of the street There's undocumented different matches. Firm. Now, I'm seeing on the next black match
Firm is by number of stores the biggest specialty mattress retailer in these United States. In fact it own sleepiness, as well as of a few months ago. Next Healy passes a place called bedding. Experts, then Sears, which also cells, mattresses and store called american interests here is another, managers. Does that rigour in this one small town? There are five mattress firm and just firm owned stores within a mile of another. I am at the entrance to mattress firm and starting. My time are now driving in the parking lot. I am driving to the closest mattress firm shop,
I'm still in the parking lot and at another mattress firm. That was twenty two seconds between them. You may have noticed this where you live to a proliferation of mattress stores and a clustering together too central planners decided that what every city really needs is a mattress district. Today on for economics, radio, why? Are there so many mattress stores pretty much every single strip mall that I've been or drive pass death a mattress store? How many is too many? I would expect across the EU Oh you ass it. We probably will see net growth, a mattress tumors and it's not over yet will the internet kill off the mattress stores were so tiny? I mean it's such a big category and Bill Healy ever run on a mattress doors to visit.
Share of Indiana. Okay, now I'm kind of excited by, whereas the next mattress target to be from the w unwisely studios. This is free economic, radio, the podcast that explores the inside of everything with your house. Stevens Abner Sir glass goofy aggression, old, outlawed during his survey of mattress shops in share a bill Bill Healy stopped inside a furniture depot. Yet another mattress retailer which is where he met the knell lush bar, and twenty one year old Son, Hayden, snot grass so what are you looking for that? We're looking for two twin mattresses for the boys to toys? For me, my brother showrooms, or to turn back?
furniture, depot cells, all kinds of furniture, but the salesman here Joe Deasey says actresses, have their own special place in the show room usually keep those towards the back of the store to all the more of an intimate purchase. I feel but Deasey says a lot of customers don't take advantage. They just walk up to the mattress late. They just can't press down on the mattress, rather than actually weighing on it and trying the mattress, so he gets Hayden, not grass, to lie down on one That's nice. How goes it there's no stay near him good. What do you like about it? I like the firm and solid there's. No, its, not soft light to solve for me but yours is a kid who I will state grandma sleep on the floor, so I get so used to sleeping on the floor, grandma's that the firm- that's what I like now so he's ready to buy this mattress, but is mom, thinks it's too firm is a leading. I now apply weight so
decide to try another store you one or another or put more combat? Remember there are plenty of man restores the check out in share urville. One retailer told us there were at least seventeen places to buy a mattress on this one commercial strip. Now this is not unique to share of ill. It does turn out that delicately. Thousands of matter stores in this country- that's boot, the luckier. He is a professor of marketing at Race University in Houston, Texas, which also has about a mattress stores
every corner and in every strip mall. But then a few blocks. You could easily find five matters stores and multiple places in the city. One day the lucky says a student of his head, the question he couldn't answer: she had just move to Houston from England. The question: why are there so many matter stores than America pretty much? Every single escape Malta, Bailey or draft pass ass, a mattress store, that is the student Zora Zena Emerson. Personally, I thought it was just me. Being see me because I'm not from Houston- and maybe it's something very obvious- the reasoning but to her professor. The reasoning was an obvious at all. In all these matters everywhere, but I never really thought about this issue. We recently got a related question in the four economics radio inbox
listener and named Jared Taylor, had noticed an awful lot of mattress stores lately, particularly online stores like Casper and toughen needle and LISA. What guy scared wrote, don't get me wrong. I am all for some disruption in an industry with a traditionally terrible customer experience, but why now? Why did mattresses start blowing up? How can the market sustained, so many similar companies popping up at once or can it are they copycats or was it just time for India Culture to reach the realm of sleep? Ok, let's try to find some answers when pulled the lock. You got interested in this topic. He began. Reading mattress industry reports talking to people in the business is kind of like of qualitatively such just to get a sense of what factors might die if the number of matter stores. Ok, what is the number of match restores one good estimate,
decades. There are at least ninety two hundred mattress stores in the United States by comparison, There are some twelve thousand seven hundred Starbucks in the. U S, since coffee is something a lot of people every day it might make sense to see more than twelve thousand Starbucks and, of course, many other coffee shops, but ninety hundred mattress stores, most people by only a few mattresses in their lifetime. So how can it may economic sense to have so many stores for survival running a matter store is quite a profitable compared running other types of retail stores. We are talking markup people. If you talk about a supermarket or some kind of
Oh sorry, story: the margins on average are in the single digits and they could often people of five percent, and this is too far many types of retail for clothing, for example, and so on, where margins are quite low and when you compare selling mattresses, a contrast is quite stark a matter can easily be marked up forty, fifty percent hundred percent and even more consider a mattress that stuff cells, for one thousand dollars in that scenario of a thousand dollar mattress at a gross level, historically walking away with Six hundred dollars- that's bread, Thomas Season, Research, endless four key bank capital markets in New York. Retail profits are steep for a mattress because manufacturing costs are low, so a bed with a retail rice points of one thousand dollars probably cost, about two hundred fifty dollars to make, which leaves plenty of potential profit
the manufacturing side and the retail inside now, a retail certainly has plenty of costs that cut into that six hundred dollar gross figure, rent and labour costs, of course, but those are not the big expenses, it's mostly sales and marketing enfranchise fees. Still running a retail mattress shop, is relatively cheap food Paul D. Lucky again, so I did the math by talking to some of these store or nurse, and they told me they have to sell an email from a dozen to twenty mattresses a month to essentially cover their costs, and there are several reasons: for this, so one reason is that there are what had costs are much lower, so they don't trust stock inventory, for example, though, just deliver the mattress from there. Tribute that thousands on many of their employer These are on commissions, which again laws the labour costs. So it's a relatively cheap business with relatively low
mark ups, which together go a long way towards explaining the proliferation of mattress stores. You ve also got pent up demand from consumers and that a session a lot of people postponed buying mattresses and there are many reasons for this, so people are very moving much less. There were staying put their own house They met a marrying much less so the number of marriages spend down and these other types of rigorous, which actually drive mattress purchases, people move people get married, people moved a bigger house or a new house. That's when people by mattresses and saw during the recession for a period of five or six years, people just stop buying mattresses, and so there is a lot of pent up demand, and so in the last three years or so much of this spent up demand has severely released and encouraged. Many of these,
mattress companies to open new store, Ceta, rather rapid pace. Indeed, mattress sales have finally gotten back above their pre recession levels. The? U S, retail betting market last year was in the neighborhood ten billion dollars. So the pie, he's got a larger which, not surprisingly, as lead some large firms to try to get even larger through acquisitions, mattress firm, for instance, which now own sleepiness mattress pro and sleep train. This is another factor in the proliferation of tell shops in a small place. Lake Share Urville Indiana. Part of this is because there is one large public company made seven acquisitions in the last two years, and a number of hosts happened appear in the Chicago area. That's Jerry, Emerson, piece of furniture market researcher that one large public coming
he's talking about is mattress firm and they ended up with a large number of different branded. Stores and they have not had the time or opportunity to go through and sort through the places and the real estate and figure out which your keepers and which are losers, see this happen afterwards, bank mergers, may have seen a mattress firm commercial on tv sat at the wrong mattress store and made an eight year mistake. We made a mistake sleep happy night after night, replace your mattress every eight years presented by mattress very save money matters for has rapidly become what some industry people say is the first national mattress retailers there now some thirty five hundred mattress firm own stores in the United States, including those five in sheriff oil producer Bill Healy visited one of them.
How are you where thanks? That's where he found the now lush bar and Hayden Snob grass, again the mother and son shoppers hello. Yes, follow me around a radio border, I'm doing a story about matters shops along. U S, forty one! Would you mind that? Actually I would point out that single everything? Ok, I would you mind if I waited outside and talk to you after I kicked out of my first matches firm, but I will wait here. We need outside the parking lot until lush bought and not grass came out. I was I was this one, so it's mattress firm their experience and firm for pretty much the same bad as Unite. Diner range
there are a hundred dollars more for what I think is the same type about that. I would get down there for three, fifty nine. So to me they were- our expensive. So here's another way in which the mattress industry is a bit odd. It can be really hard to compare pray between nearly equivalent mattresses. When you go from store to store, it's almost impossible, Jerry Episode with the investment banking for a man arm instead and a person in Richmond Virginia, he has studying the mattress industry for forty five years most of your law. Your name ran mattresses, try to put an identity on a mattress that itself on this corner that has a different identity to the mattress they sell in the opposite corner to a competitive. So this one might be the West gesture and the one across the street might be the Winchester
so what you need to do is consumers. First of all, can I use your own senses ass to the matters? Look at the Spring Council. Look at the foam density, look at the material on the outside and family. Just just look into the features of that matters. Compare the features, don't look for the same at dinner, fine name and when you talk about a sort of a silly, a summons, almost all of the big ass they sell abroad. Mix of me, justice from very inexpensive up to extremely expensive mattresses, and so the brand name didn't tell you what say The word Lexus does with an automobile ok. So let's talk about some sales numbers and prices, and things like that. Do we buy more mattresses per capita now than we did ten twenty thirty years ago. Yes,
several reasons for that number one were buying larger mattresses. Forty percent of american homes were built before nineteen, seventy and Didn't have queen or king says mattresses until the sixties, so very few homes built before nineteen. Seventy were built for these larger mattresses and queen king says mattresses today have become the norm, in many households, rather than the exception. Secondly, were buying more expensive mattresses because we're paying more for the technology that goes then to them and me Actresses are moving towards a replacement cycle that closer to seventy years, rather in ten years longer, I'm curious if mattress sale have risen over time in part because fewer people are concerned bidding getting married, etc and therefore more people have their own mattresses. Do you know anything about that
Well, as you know now, we're just over thirty percent of all households or single person, arousal unknown kid over the years that, if you're in your mattress industry? We we encouraged divorce because they both can't take the the sofa they both can't take the mattress- and you know if we can keep himself raided work or sell to matters as Mr Watts, so it's you guys, been behind the rising divorce over the decades in America. Yes, it's the furniture and mattress industry. We played a modest role. I am sure that would you say that your interest in the mattress industry is purely professional or have you to love it overtime. Well, I enjoy my personal matters. We have a good relationship and yes, I enjoy. The industry is a fascinating, fascinating industry, because, if you think of it in a business, You have to be a strong marketer to be in the mattress interest
because they're really selling identical rectangular slabs and Consumer has no clue. What's inside the technology, that changing the new jail than before all these technologies that come and go and change these mattresses and are making them so much better, make it a very exciting business and yet as exciting, as those gels informs, may be. Bred Thomas of Key bank capital market says most people these days. A mattress that is very similar to the basic inner spring. Mattress that's been around for a long time. The inner spring bed really came about in the late eighteen hundreds and that's been standard up until very recently. Last year, eighty five percent of the matter sold in the? U S in units were enrichment beds, we haven't seen a whole lot of innovation. It's been slow to unfold can share urville. Meanwhile, Bill Healy was still
tagging along with vanilla, Bonn Maidens, not grass, they just left the mattress empty, handed and decided to try. The sleepy is across the street unaware that sleeping is also owned by mattress firm. So this might seem a little crazy, but can I follow you too sleepy as executive Pittsburger, Ghana? They might knowledge in our brain on the short dry over snug rest stuck his hand out the window and signalled Healy to pull into different store. They spotted american match. No relation to mattress, firm or any other chain? The sails here was named Jason Herrera Are we I'd, rather not because it can make customers feel uncomfortable. We want them. I followed them you followed him here. Yet I would nevertheless to stores they went off. I have already had so I'd appreciate gives some space so Healy.
They'd, behind a chat with Herrera, while lush bonds negress went off to try out some mattresses Healy learned, for instance, that it is not unusual for customers to false. People to try out new mattress and we're not supposed to wake him up. We wake amount than another at could freaking out, so we just let them sleep till they wake up gently they by the bed. You don't say gently due by the bed after after they ve slept on it. I'll sleep, but they use their embarrassed because they think that they deliver to both moving about them have you ever- has anyone know a red sex in the best that we could ask now they went the wet no, no, no, these are what the beds less bought and not grass we're done shopping by now. I won't see no MIKE in their face MIT why they bought of advice.
Save a lot wanted american mattress see the hundred dollars cheaper in the frame was included, price wise, you can eat it and I compared to what it was. There's a discount, and especially at mattress firm. They were outrageous said it one more time I heard they were outrageous. Mattress firm, our age coming up on, economics. Radio. Are there really too many mattress stores in Amerika? I do nothing There's too many match, restores today and isn't the mattress a perfect candidate for some good old fashioned internet disintermediation, yes by farmers, were customers or via direct online. Also, is there a secret anthropological explanation for why people been willing to pay the huge mark up on mattresses. If you go back to Colonial America, the bed was the most important position that people had freakin Amex radio is supported by Stanford Health
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Your Hobbes and your life rocket mortgage gives you the same level of confidence when it comes to buying home or refinancing. Your existing hormone rocket mortgage is simple, allowing you to fully understand all details and be confident you're getting the right mortgage for you to get started, go to rocket mortgage dot com, slash freak, equal housing, lender licensed in all fifty states, an M l S, consumer access, dot, org number thirty. Thirty. I do not think there's too many match, restores today that's bread, Thomas. The key bank analysed we heard from earlier, even with the mattress store explosion, he says, and with corporate consolidations the trend line still rising. The reason being that I think there is still an opportunity for they spent to category those stores that only saw mattresses to take market share.
Where from furniture stores and departments worse. So I would expect, across the whole you ass. It would probably will see net growth, a mattress stores and it's not over yet so that might explain why were seen so many match restores out there, but why are they so often clustered together? So there are really two dynamics at work here, that's kinda, life. He is an urban planner who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. The first has to do What are called lower and higher ordered goods, so as an example, milk and eggs are lower order. Goods if you live in a rural area, you're not likely to go more than a few miles down the road to get your necessities, if you like, city, just want to walk out of your house, got on the corner, store and get things like milk and eggs, and you ll notice that corner stores cluster on the same block now: mattresses, cars, diamonds, goods like that more expensive goods these are examples of higher order. Goods consumers purchase them much less
frequently and when they do their willing to travel further to purchase them. Ok, that makes sense, but why the clustering miss the strangely wonderful sort of natural economic phenomenon. The two retailers selling comparable goods will, though, basically shift their position in a city or a region in order to trying to capture more market share, and the sort of interesting natural outcome is that both will literally wind up next autumn each other- and I know this sounds weird: if their computer why would they end up next door to each other? Ok, why imagine two mattress stores or cargo ships of endeavour to control the most amount of geographic market share in a city when one move their location to capture the majority of the market share her competitor well answer and kind and the two retailers will move that move again and move until there I realise that the optimal location where they both captured the majority the market share, is directly next door to each other, and at this point now
the retailer, can move in order to capture a disproportionate amount of the market. Share. And this is really why you see majesty shores and car dealerships and diamond stores now clustered, but a state said there is a second reason for the cluster. If you talk to an urban economist city, planner will tell you that the reason cities exist is because of this dynamic called agglomeration and it organs back to a very basic principle of economics, and it's that firms tend to cluster and space to take advantage of scale economies. So the fact that closer firms they can share inputs. They can share customer bases that can share a well trained labour pool. It basically all helps to reduce the cost of doing business and helps to increase revenues, so that explains the clustering of men,
stores and the proliferation seems to be best explained by the simple economic fact that there is such a high market possibility for mattresses, and that might best be explained by our history. It turns out But if you go back to Colonial America for a vast majority of families, the bed was the most important position that people had that again is race marketing professor Paul D, luckier there was a fire in the house? The fire men actually tried to save the bed before anything else, simply because it was so expensive and so precious. You could see what I mattresses were, of course handmade back then and stuffed with straw or feathers or horse hair. So people MR treating them as, if not quite a luxury item at least an item that was particularly closely so here's a theory if we
leave? What behavioral economics tells us about anchoring the idea that the first price or number we encounter sets an anchor in our minds that we have a hard time moving away from than could this be wiped out Oh, are still willing to spend so much money on a mattress mean even asked machine manufacturing, lower the cost of producing mattresses, consumers still accustomed to the idea of the mattress as a very expensive item, and this in turn allowed manufacturers and retailers to get away with such a high market. I think that's absolutely true. That's James Newell VP, at a firm, called Ivy, P institutional venture partners, we back the best lit stage technology companies in world companies like Snapchat and twitter kayak. So What's a venture capitalists like that doing episode like this now mattresses
yeah yeah. I said it's interesting because it's not you know we didn't. We didn't necessarily go looking for the world's best mattress, we need to go and find, because the venture world you looking for for businesses that can get scale very. Very. Lee, and as a result of capital in order to fund that growth, and so you don't necessarily think about the mattress industry, first or second or third or fourth of ITALY, further down the list, but I think we know, after appealing back the onion a little bit and understanding a little bit about the industry dynamics. You can see why a vertically integrated direct Sumer brand is actually quite attractive with. In the mattress industry, the vertically integrated direct consumer brand. He is talking about is Casper an online mattress company. Well, I think They would tell you that they're not a mattress company theory, a digital first brand around sleep. Ok, I stand corrected. In any case, I VP did invest in Casper, we'll just under ten percent and care.
But we should say, is hardly the only digital first sleet brand yoga bad LISA Eve Sunday, Andy, Loom and Leif Lindsey Kaplan Casper's, vice president of Commune patients naming some of her rivals. Tuck helix also bear this out out an online brand Kaplan says, has an opportunity to change the conventional thinking about mattresses, chess mattresses, grouse, nobody likes her matches band nobody likes. Experience. How do you actually flip that and make something people love people love talking about their beds. Now there as the mattress mobile, but Philip Krim on one of the co founder, sincere Casper Casper is still very young company
Just over two years old, we launched the business April. Twenty second of twenty fourteen and cream and Kaplan themselves are still young, is really important because the industry so- and it full of people who have been doing this. Same thing over and over again, and it's really hard to reinvent, because there are stuck in this industry where I dont think they can make a change and still continue to make such big profits. But how much Can I mind companies disrupt and industry, as established as the mattress industry were so tiny? I mean it's such a big category, so we still think we have a long way, Indeed, ah my mattress sales account for only about six percent of total mattress sales. This does not come as a surprise to someone like Jerry, a person, the old school furniture market researcher.
To him, a mattress is something you select by lying down on it in person in a store, not by can a mouse and then having delivered by bicycle, which is what Casper likes to do with a big mattress, stuffed into a relatively small cardboard box. When you take a mattress out of a box and you slowly watches that matters in flights and it goes up to full size. I guess that's entertaining to some. It reminds me of a old Dick Vandyke were Lore Petrie, accidently Unbox De Air inflatable raft body when people like that and that's a fascination and allow this has to do with appealing to young people. They see something, that's fun that sexy ok. So, let's put Jerry a person in the I'm impressed with the online mattress company category and let's are met
that online stores due account for only six percent of mattress sales, and It's also remember that James Nicols, venture capital, firm, ivy, P, owns ten per cent of Casper, so How much would you imagine that ten percent of Casper is worth? Would you believe fifty five million dollars. That's right, Casper, which is still privately held, is valued at five. Didn't fifty five million dollars. Half a billion dollars on revenues of hundred million dollars last year now compared those numbers to a behemoth like the publicly traded, mattress firm, its revenues, steer were two point: five billion dollars or twenty five times Casper's revenues. Its market cap, meanwhile, is only
One point: three billion dollars not even three times larger than what Casper is already valued at an casper is expected to at least double its revenues this year, all of which would seem to indicate a very healthy appetite. For buying mattresses, mine, perhaps at the expense of those thousands upon thousands of roadside mattress stores are best seller here is called the phoenix you get. The matters at the box bring with this for only three ninety nine, unless of course it doesn't mean that at all people actually preferred to going to physical store to buy a mattress boot Paul D luckier again buying a mattress is an uncommon budgets, so you by three or four mattresses in your lifetime. If that many
so you're not really use to deciding how to buy a mattress and even more importantly, people actually want to try a mattress and now basically lie down on it. At least, most people do to see how it feels so to de luckier. If the core Chinese. Are there to many mattress stores in America? The there would be no. Unless you change the question slightly and ask: are there to many stores in America in the whereas we just have to much retail or Algeria, not just matter stores. That's ring the bell, liberation of mattress retailing is just a subset of a larger problem, a proliferation of retailing period, which is an interesting claim for a professor of marketing to me. So once thought estate, which I found to be very interesting, is that America has forty six square feet off the air space.
Per capita? In contrast, Uk United Kingdom has just nine square feet less than a fist and in fact, that the UK is The european country, with the most to retail space per capita, saw all other european countries have much less retail space, and so in America we just have a law. Retail, evaluate the online retailing shift. We still have too many details, stores of every type, not just mattresses and maybe that's the best exports
the ball for why America has so many mattress stores all that retail space throughout the land means we spent a lot of time shopping, which, of course, is very tiring, which of course means we yearn for sleep, which of course means we need a lot. A mattress stores K solved coming up next time on for economic there is a lot of news going on in the world these days. So we ask one those obvious questions that we are so fond of. Why do we, they follow the news. I think that about, the news may make people smarter illegal out of people.
Say, there's entertainment value to news for some reason. I have always had to read the New York Post and prevent every day I think, very little of the news actually today is of practical value. So why do we follow the news its next time and for economic radio economics. Radio is produced by w in my C studios and W productions. This episode was produced by Christopher Worth and Urban Gunjay with help from cash him a highly rich. Our staff also includes Jake how it merit Jacob Gregg resolve skiing. Alison Hockenberry, Dolent, Greensburg and Caroline English. You can subscribe to this Pakistan.
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Transcript generated on 2021-01-25.