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"Powercoil." "Foam density." "Fabric technology." Are we buying a mattress or fixing Matthew McConaughey's space ship in Interstellar?
These layers of confusing jargon do little to comfort stressed-out consumers looking for a new mattress. To help cut through the clutter, we contacted a retired industry insider known as "The Old Bed Guy." The 85-year old former bed maker and seller now runs a popular mattress consumer information site where he gives out his (somewhat cranky) advice.
“Mattresses have no real value,” said 'Marshall Coyle,' a pseudonym he uses to avoid blowback from the tight-knit mattress community to which he used to belong.
That statement is a rude awakening to anyone who's peeped at the price tags after taking a stroll through a mattress showroom lately. With prices running into the thousands, dreams of better "zzz's" are quickly zapped by sticker shock.
The Old Bed Guy is talking about the markup versus the actual value of the steel, foam, and wool that goes inside a bed. For example, he said, it might cost a factory $600 to make a mattress that they sell to a big department store for $1,300. That store might then slap a price of $2,999 on it, then give it a big discount during one of the never-ending sales, he said.
"The money goes for something other than what you're sleeping on," said Coyle.
While every business is entitled to try to make a profit, every maker also has its own special lingo. That makes true comparison shopping difficult. Some of the differences are real. Some are just marketing vapor.
Rather than try to explain it all and risk being as bewildering as the confusion we're supposed to be relieving, here are 5 tips from the perspective of The Old Bed Guy that always get you a better deal on a mattress, no matter what store or manufacturer you're dealing with.
Look for stores that have their own factories
A few smaller regional stores make their own mattresses in their own factories. That cuts out the middleman. "I don't know of a better way as far as value," said Coyle.
Stores in this category include Charles P. Rogers, McRoskey, Original Mattress Factory, and Verlo. Their stores aren't everywhere, but the savings and quality difference is enough that this reporter nearly considered a 10-hour road trip just to get a bed.
Buy based on weight
If you're a fan of strong, long-lasting steel coils, a heavier mattresses usually mean there's more quality materials inside. "They have 12-15 inches to fill," said The Old Bed Guy. "You can stretch your coils and make them tall and thin."
Typical mass-produced beds weigh about 90 lbs while higher grade beds can weigh around 120 lbs, he said. But you won't find this info online, you'll have to buttonhole the sales agent or bed maker to get the details.
Buy at the end of the year
"If anything is for real," said Coyle of the mattress business, "the periods when people don't buy mattresses see the best deals."
Few buy before Christmas, saving room on the credit card for the holiday shopping spree. The last 2 weeks of December are a prime time as stores try to unload inventory before the new year. Good savings can also be had the first two weeks of January.
Be careful with Internet-only stores
Some online outfits say they pass on the savings of not having any retail outlets. But it's not that hard to set up a shop and outsource manufacturing and shipping to China. That can create an accountability gap that leaves consumers in a lurch if their bed starts giving them lumps. "If they won't give you their street address, don't give them your credit card," said Coyle.
What about latex?
"Latex costs more and is worth more, period," said Coyle.
Email Ben Popken email@example.com or tweet @bpopken.