• Putting Innovation to Sleep: Once Upon a Mattress

    By Shlomo Maital 


     Here are two case studies about innovation related to mattresses, as related by my friend and colleague Arie R.

    *  A small Israeli mattress company had a miniscule market share. Then, an advertising company employee looking for ideas for copy spoke with a line worker at the company, and discovered that after receiving complaints from customers about back pain, the company was putting a piece of extra-firm foam into the mattress at the area of the lower back.  This became the focus of an ad and marketing campaign, touting the “Healthful Center” (the center of the mattress that supports the lower back and therefore contributes to our health and wellbeing).  At one stroke, this campaign shifted the focus in the mattress business from “comfortable sleep” to “healthful sleep” – from comfort, to health and healthy backs and straight spines.  The company became a market leader. Competitors first ignored the “healthful center”, then copied it.  But in copying it, they verified and validated the very idea, and further strengthened the originating company’s innovation.   Innovators: Get your competitors to copy you!  If you cannot nail them for patent infringement, you can use them to prove that you are the first, original and authentic source of the innovation. 

    * A New York City mattress salesperson made a small observation:  You do not have to go to a restaurant to buy pizza, it will be delivered to you.  Why not, he thought, have mattresses, too,  ordered and sold by phone?  Mattresses, like pizza, are standard. People usually know what they want: extra firm, extra soft, etc., and they know the size. Why not store the mattresses in Jersey, in inexpensive warehouses, and zip them across the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan to fill orders, while taking away the customers’ old mattress?  Why not save people the trouble of shopping, shipping, etc.?  The result was Dial-A-Mattress, a highly successful business for many years.  

       Innovation, as Dell Computers’ direct-order mass customized business proves, is not solely about gadgets or technology. It can also be about such mundane things, as, how do I fill an order?  Find a better way, and you can redefine an industry.