April 25, 2005


Upon seeing the mention of my recent purchase of a mattress, Dr. Smith asks:

Please tell me what you learned about buying a mattress. We have not bought a new one in years and it is confusing since every store sells the same brands but not the same models.

I’m serious about this as I need advice but don’t think I need a sleep number bed.

Serious advice from Possumblog, eh? Well, you get what you pay for, I suppose.

Which isn't necessarily what you get in a mattress.

First of all, everything wears out, so if you've been sleeping on the same mattress for more than ten years, it's probably about time to change it. We've had ours for fifteen, and it was a pretty good one and has served us well. But it's got about a 3 inch droop in the middle, and the top edge of the box springs has a big bend in it. I'm not sure if this came about when we moved, or just the effect of sitting on the edge of the bed. Which, according to the lady at the store, really isn't a good thing to do to your mattress.

So, anyway, after you've figured out you need a new one, what to do? As Jim mentioned, it's very confusing, because they all pretty much look alike. Sorta like computers. And many times the closeouts are cheaper only due to a style change in the exterior covering for the next year's model, kinda like clothes. And off-brands are sometimes made by the same people who make the big names, like tires. And despite the fact that they seem pretty simple straightforward, there actually is some science and research that goes into them, like Possumblog. Or not.

Anyway, there are all different price ranges, and all different construction types. The biggest surprise for me from when we bought ours 15 years ago is that hardly anyone builds a two-sided mattress anymore, except for the very cheapest types. From what I can tell, no one was turning them properly, and the manufacturers decided they could make a better product if they just went ahead and designed them to be used only on one side. Another thing is that it's not necessarily a good idea if you have back problems to sleep on an ultrafirm mattress. The fancy foam mattresses that conform to your body and give it support are better for what ails you in that regard.

Anyway, what I did was to first go and look at the different consumer websites such as Consumer Reports and Consumer Guide, and even Yahoo! Shopping, and get familiar with the terminology, construction, price ranges, etc.

I first looked at the foam mattresses, just because of the idea of being able to sleep without all the movement and bounce from my bedmate's wallowing about, but that quickly went out the door when I saw how much they cost. Another industry they remind me of is the diamond trade, where you're supposed to be convinced that the only true measure of your love is how much of your salary you put down on a hunk of carbon. Yes, I realize I spend a third of my life in bed, and I realize that my sleepy-time health is important, and no, you shouldn't scrimp on things that are NECESSARY and PRUDENT and all that, but 2 or 3 thou for a hunk of foam is asking a bit much. I'm sure NASA swears by them, but you know, NASA has all of my money already.

SO, a more conventional mattress. The second thing I looked for after price was price. I got an idea about how much the various manufacturers sell for, and watched the sales papers, and took a look at Sam's Club when I was in there buying a hundred pound box of laundry detergent, and came up with a range of around $500 to $600 as an appropriate amount to spend for something with a tolerable warranty, an attractive appearance, acceptable quality, and a comfortable feel. I don't know how good of an idea that is, because, again, it's rather confusing, but this seemed to be a good midrange of price for a nice quality, good-wearing mattress set.

The next step was going and looking, which I did by myself because I knew getting the kids in the mattress store was a recipe for my hair to turn even grayer. SO, Saturday, I took off on my rounds of places--first stop, K-Mart to get some zipper vinyl mattress covers for the kid's beds (always do this, or whatever money you spend will be pee saturated almost immediately), then up to Sam's to see what they had. Spent twenty minutes thinking I was going to get a super closeout deal on a Sealy Posturpedic (model changeover) only to find out only had a mismatched set--different foundation, different mattress. ::sigh::

Then I went to one of the small mattress stores close to where we live who advertise in the Sunday paper with an annoying tag attached to the edge of the comics section. I HATE that! It's a wonder I even decided to go there, but they're close. And have good prices.

Mattress dealers are just like car dealers--they will put a tremendously expensive price on something, then be your buddy and pal and boon companion and let you in on the insider deal and act like they're knocking a bunch of bucks off. It's just silly, but they all do it.

Anyway, the thing to do is walk in with a ridiculously low price that you know already is wrong. This gets them to show you their cheap stuff, and you can then work up to the type of quality you really want. The only difference is that usually they don't have to run back and "ask the sales manager" like a car salesman will do, although I'm sure there are some that operate like that.

The girl I spoke with is real good, though--I've bought stuff from her when she was with another company, although she didn't remember me. But she's honest about the products, and is willing to admit that a lot of the expense of the expensive brands is made up of marketing costs, just like green beans or potato chips in the grocery store. It's not really necessary to get the premier name to get the same quality.

While I was there, I did try out one of the Tempurpedics, and I wasn't too taken with it just on the first lay-down. I'm sure they are great to sleep on, but I was put off a bit by the squishiness and then the feeling you were locked in place. I then went on and looked at the regular mattresses, starting at the cheapo flimsy stuff and worked my way up to the one I linked to earlier. It's one of those with the one-sided construction, and had foam blocking on the sides that helps keep the sides from squishing down like a pancake. It has a nice pillowtop, which is an attempt (I think) to give it some of the conforming ability of the foam stuff--you sink down in the sink-down spots and it's supposed to fill in the rest. Or not. But it looks nice, and is in the right price range.

BUT, I still had to get Reba to look at it.

SO, after eating at the Golden Feed Trough (which actually wasn't nearly as busy as it has been) with my mom and sister after church on Sunday, we went back to the store so she could look and so I could fuss at the kids to quit making us look so much like uncouth white trash who've never seen a real mattress before. Walked in and the girl asked if she could help us find something. "Yes, I came in yesterday? I told you I was going to bring my wife back today?" Still no recognition. "I looked at that Southerland over in the corner?"

"OH! I am SO sorry--I didn't recognize you!"

I her defense, I had on my white trash shopping clothes when I came by on Saturday--gimme hat from some company that makes icemakers, faded Auburn tee shirt, ratty jeans, no socks--another of my ways of getting better prices. Anyway, after I admitted that I do clean up pretty well, I steered Reba over to what I had picked out, and proudly pointed it out for her and told her to try it on.

She was completely noncommittal. "It's a mattress."

She finally warmed up a bit and eventually got on it and lay down, then Catherine got on there and started wiggling and bouncing. Apparently, it passed the test.

SO, I paid the lady as Reba and the rest of the kids started looking at all the incredibly expensive stuff and playing on the adjustable bed. ::sigh:: AND now I get to go in a bit and go get it from the warehouse, because I saved $50 doing that. Probably not the wisest way to save fifty bucks. It's a chore to get a mattress up a set of stairs, especially ones that switch back. Oh well.

ANYway, that's how I went about buying a mattress. It requires some effort to get out there and see what's available, and what you feel comfortable on, and I can't really give you much advice beyond that--meaning, this whole exercise was rather a waste of your time.

But great for adding blog content!

Posted by Terry Oglesby at April 25, 2005 10:56 AM

At least you don't have to move your new mattress in through a second story window, (and the box spring and dresser) as I did once in England when the pieces could not make the turn in the stairs.

In another house also in England, the box spring simply would not fit into the 2nd floor and so we slept on the mattress on the floor for a year or so.

Did ya have to strap it down to the top of Moby?

Posted by: Nate at April 25, 2005 01:54 PM

Hmmm. The professor of business has become so rarified that he doesn't know how to buy a mattress?

Posted by: Janis at April 25, 2005 03:46 PM

Just like I tell my students—gather information that is recent, relevant and from trusted sources.

Posted by: jim at April 25, 2005 06:46 PM

Yep, Nate--the size of these things was very deceptive--I thought they foundation and mattress would both fit in the back of the van (without seats). No dice. Had to strap the springs on the roof and drive home on surface streets at around 30mph. And thankfully, uneventfully.

"Trusted sources"--::giggle::

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 26, 2005 08:16 AM