How to avoid becoming the Baskin-Robbins of bedding

By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I may have grown up in a rough neighborhood. When we heard the ice cream truck ringing its bells in the summertime, we would stand on the corner and sing:

I scream, you scream

We all scream

The cops show up and we get arrested

Purchasing decisions were easy as a kid. There were a half-dozen choices on the truck, priced from a dime to a quarter. Most ice cream decisions came down to finance rather than flavor and depended on the coinage in your pocket.

I’m still an ice cream fan. Our town has three national chains offering that frozen treat: Baskin-Robbins, Hershey and Dairy Queen. In the cause of marketing research, I feel it mandatory to visit each one several times a month.

It seems that the line at DQ moves about three times faster than those at Baskin-Robbins or Hershey. That means three times more customers are served resulting in triple the cash register rings. Why? Because the good people at DQ have made it an easier choice! While all three shops offer multiple dessert option like sundaes, frappes and concretes (i.e., thick frozen custard mixed with toppings), DQ has limited its ice cream selection to three choices: chocolate, vanilla and a twist of both (for indecisive patrons).

Just like your BR, ours features 31 choices, and Hershey’s one-ups them with a whopping 40-flavor selection on their wall-mounted menu. On your next trip there, chances are good that each of the members of the soccer team, who hip-checked their way in front of you, will want to read all the flavor names and taste three or four samples before making a choice.

And there is no best choice. When it comes to ice cream, the worst I’ve ever had was pretty good. It’s just too overwhelming to decide.

It’s probably not much different in your shop. When it comes to merchandising, you need to offer product choices; you can’t just have chocolate and vanilla. People expect to see a wide selection in your store. But unlike your local scoop shop, you can have a selling process that slims the selection to a manageable level, easing the stress of decision-making for your shopper and, in turn, your salesperson. Part of that process means reducing your entire catalog to a three-choice selection, just like Dairy Queen, thereby creating an easier pathway from showroom to cash register.

It’s a fairly easy process in the mattress world. A typical 30-bed selection provides a myriad of triple-choice selection options:

Technology: Memory foam, innerspring or hybrid

Comfort: Soft, hard or medium

Base: Foundation, adjustable or platform (no base)

Size: Adult – king or queen; youth – full or twin

Budget: Premium, mid-price or budget

Payment: Bank card, finance or cash

The choices become a selling process when you develop discovery questions to help the shopper understand her needs. Explaining that memory foam provides a passive (“sink in”) support feel, an innerspring provides active (“push up”) support and hybrid is the best of both makes it an easier choice. Asking about their sleeping and waking position along with their pain points helps you recommend the comfort level that will suit your shopper.

When you find out if there’s a TV or laptop in the room or if reading helps your shopper wind down, it can lead to a decision on the triple-base choices. Mattress size is a given; most shoppers will purchase to their headboard and room size.

Most likely your shop displays comfort and support feels in multiple price ranges. Once you determine your shopper’s comfort level, you can have them test-rest the three price-point levels. (Start with the premium; it’s like a super banana split with far less calories).

And don’t forget the extras. Just like a sundae, they offer more satisfaction for your shopper. Protectors, pillows and sheets are the sprinkles, hot fudge and whipped cream of our industry.

Payment terms are the cherry on top. Offer all three choices and their decision means the purchase decision has been made.

The Inside Scoop: Here’s the skinny on BR’s 31 flavors. Forty-eight percent of Baskin-Robbins’ sales are derived from four flavors, with chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip cookie dough and cookies ’n cream comprising almost half of all purchases. The remaining 52% of sales were split between the other 27 flavors. I’ll bet you a triple-decker cone that sales in your shop aren’t much off that ratio!

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and is a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at

Upcoming Events