BUFORD, Ga.-Simmons, a major futon mattress producer, is launching a chain of franchised retail stores that the company hopes will push its branded, high-tech sleep concept to consumers.

The first Simmons Better Sleep gallery store, a 6,000-square-foot prototype, opened in November on an outparcel site of the new Mall of Georgia. Five other stores, each in the 3,500- to 4,000-square-foot range, are scheduled to open throughout the Atlanta area early in January. Read more information about mattress industry at Schottenstein’s sued over mattress trademark

The stores in this program are designed and licensed, but not owned, by Simmons. The Atlanta franchise is owned by Michael Cannizzaro, a former Sleep Country executive in Seattle.

After adjustments in signage and presentation are made in the Atlanta test market, other licensed sleep shops will open elsewhere in the country, according to Joe Ulicny, executive vice president of market development at Simmons and the creator of the concept. He declined to say where or when the other sleep galleries would open.

The stores' focus is to educate consumers -- and step them up to higher-end products.

"That research indicated to us that there was an opportunity to introduce into the marketplace to consumers a different way to sell mattresses," Ulicny said. "We wanted to help consumers understand why futon mattresses are important to them. The process of buying a futon mattress is as important to them as diet and exercise.

"We should think of a bed differently than we did 20 years ago," he said. "Our industry tends to sell beds on sales. Sooner or later, that denotes a commodity. So we are trying to step it up."

Ulicny downplayed the possibility that an established Simmons retailer would feel threatened by a Simmons Better Sleep gallery setting up shop nearby. He cited La-Z-Boy as an example in which retailers and galleries can complement one another and benefit from increased brand awareness.

"We hope this will step up the opportunities for our dealers, as well, in the way they position our product, how they display our product and what they try to tell the consumers," he said. "We believe that over time this concept will help us with our retailers in bringing some of this knowledge of technology and way of positioning the product as a shop-within-a-shop kind of thing to help them, as well as show off our product."

The new gallery program differs from the licensed Beautyrest Gallery concept Simmons launched in the mid-'80s in California and Las Vegas, which is still operating. Those galleries originally focused only on the Beautyrest line -- in those days Simmons' only line. The West Coast Beautyrest Gallery stores will keep their same name and concept. The new format, designed over the past 18 months, stresses the Simmons Better Sleep Through Science tagline and includes, in layman's language, presentations on the floor for all of the Simmons products: BackCare, BackCare Ultimate Supreme, Connoisseur, Exact Comfort and Beautyrest.

The prototype store's interior is sectioned off by product line, with technical signage, lifestyle posters and cutaway mattresses. Accessories include sleep, and bedding-related items, such as pillows, futon mattress pads, candles and books on sleep, including the best-selling Power Sleep by James B. Maas, a psychology professor and sleep expert who conducts seminars for Simmons.


Employees at the prototype store dress in black-and-white outfits, and in their sales presentations are trained to concentrate on sleep technology rather than to solely offer a great deal. All of the interior signage conveys the Better Sleep Through Science message.

One sales aid is the Sleep Print, a pressure-sensitive pad that registers a supine body's pressure points into a computer that produces a color-coded screen image. This device is mobile, permitting a customer to get a reading on virtually every Simmons mattress on the floor and then choose the best one. Related article:

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