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Mattress matters - sleep on it

| Updated on: Mar 28, 2013
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Getting Indians to shop for sleep accessories like Westerners.

Considering that you will spend at least a third of your life on it, you should invest both money and time in buying a good mattress, says S. Sundar Rajan, CEO of Dubai Furniture Manufacturing Company (DFMC), which makes the premium King Koil and ultra-premium Serta brand of mattresses. But, even the richest Indian families driving shining Mercs and Audis make a compromise in buying mattresses. In the US, Europe or the UAE, people take considerable time in testing different mattresses before buying one. But in India, “it’s mostly a two-minute thing. People will touch and feel a mattress for its firmness and then buy it.”

DFMC is the market leader in West Asia, with 60 per cent market share for both its American brands. As elsewhere, in this Rs 350-crore market too, 90 per cent mattresses are made with springs. But in India, 95 per cent of mattresses are non-spring, made of cotton, coir, foam and latex. While the world market is $14 billion, Rajan estimates the Indian mattress market at around Rs 700-800 crore.

Beginning in 1993 with just 20 a day, today the company can make 800-1,000 mattresses daily at its modern facility in Dubai. “With the UK brand Silent Night the market leader then, we thought if we don’t succeed in mattresses, we could move to furniture, that’s why our name,” he smiles. In six years the company became West Asia’s market leader in the premium segment. Unlike in India, where you can buy mattresses from stores, in evolved markets the mattresses are custom-made and delivered in 2-3 days. In West Asia, mattresses cost 1,000-15,000 AED.

Hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and, in India, the Leela group buy DFMC mattresses and sleep accessories. The company has now launched its products in India, opening a factory in Pune. Because the market here is still unorganised, Rajan - who earlier worked in Kurlon, Dalmia and Funskool — sees a huge opportunity. “Changes that revolutionised the communication or auto industries are yet to be seen in the mattress segment, where even very rich people surprisingly don’t pay much attention to good mattresses, which are so important for their health.”

Showing the various layers that go into a good mattress - springs, foam, protector sheet, fitted sheet and, finally, the flat sheet - at the factory, Marketing Manager Sudarshan Rai says the spring system is the real backbone of a mattress. “If made properly and maintained, a spring mattress is much more durable. Also, spring mattresses provide the right support and comfort consistently. But the consistency changes for cotton, coir and foam, which settle down,” he says.

Support, comfort

While support depends heavily on the spring, comfort is given by the several layers of foam. “…without a proper spring system and support, the mattress will go out of shape, taking a contour that forms at its base.”

The company uses an eco-friendly German megafoam technology to manufacture its own special foam “where we eliminate the use of methylene chloride, which is harmful. Foam is a synthetic material, and any synthetic material generates heat. But through this technology we produce megafoam with open air cells, so there is air circulation.”

With its emphasis on quality, the company grew six times in the past decade, says Rajan. He is aware that pricing will be a challenge in the Indian market, not because Indians don’t spend but because the concept of spending on good mattresses is yet to evolve.

Plans in India

Rajan says the Pune plant now makes 200 mattresses a day and the product can be delivered at no extra cost anywhere in India; “the delivery charges are inbuilt in the cost, which ranges from Rs 28,000 to Rs 1 lakh”. The mattresses will not be priced cheaper in India because the raw material comes from Dubai, and “there is not much labour involved in making a mattress, so cheaper labour will not reduce cost”. It is early days yet, but Indians are going for the higher priced mattresses.

He says that while the India entry may not be significant from the investment or employment angle, “we are hoping to change the Indian mattress industry and the way people sleep”. Unfortunately, most Indians don’t realise the importance of good sleep, look upon a mattress as part of the furniture and “don’t think a mattress can contribute to their lifestyle and health. So they will have huge TVs, swank cars, fancy homes, but not a comfortable, durable mattress.”

Coming to preferences, Rajan says while Americans go for soft mattresses, in the UAE medium-firmness is popular. “Although some of them do ask for soft mattresses; we made one for a customer, but he came back in a month saying he had a back problem. So we took it back and gave him a free replacement.”

UAE customers spend an hour or so trying out different mattresses, return with their spouses and even children, and spend another hour before finally buying one.

So, how important is the pillow for your sleep? “Very, very important. Before our customers in the UAE select a mattress, the salesman first gives her a choice of pillows, and the chosen pillow is taken from one to the other mattresses being tried out.” The support and comfort factors - firm or soft - are very subjective and depend on age, weight, height, sleeping habits and postures. “So when somebody comes and says give me the best, we say you select,” he says.

The right way to maintain your mattress

A good mattress, so important for your spine and sleep, which can cost up to Rs 1 lakh or more, has to be maintained properly, says S. Sundar Rajan, CEO of DFMC. For instance, the mattress has to be turned once in three months. But at 20 kg, the mattress should be lifted by 3-4 people, ensuring it is kept straight and not bent. And the mattress should be flipped over once in six months. “That is the most important part of maintaining a mattress, where everybody goes wrong. They don’t turn it… and, sometimes, one person tries to turn it, and that’s it… the life of the mattress is gone,” he says. The mattress should be vacuum-cleaned once in three months, despite the many protective sheets to keep out dust, “so it always looks fresh and clean”.

The life of a well-maintained premium mattress is 10-15 years, but five-star hotels change mattresses once in five years. The key lies in the maintenance.

The company, which also manufactures pillows, duvets, linen sets, comforters and toppers, trains the hospitality industry in their maintenance. Pillows and bed linen, he says, should be changed every six months.

When the luxury hotel Emirates Towers opened in Dubai in 1998, DFMC supplied it the King Koil range of mattresses, with a five-year warranty, he says. “In 2004-05 they came to us for new mattresses, saying the warranty period was over.” But when his team inspected the mattresses they looked new, so the hotel was asked to continue with the same kind of maintenance. “We said that with such maintenance these will last for another five years. We are not in a hurry to make money… our job is to provide customers the right sleep systems and solutions.”

The client, who was good for 600 pieces of his product, returned after three years for a replacement. Once again, Rajan’s team said the mattresses still looked new, but the hotel wanted an upgraded product. “At that point, the trust level was so high they never considered anybody else.”

Luxury hotels, in a way, are Rajan’s brand ambassadors. Often he gets requests for supply from German or other European guests who have tried the company’s mattress in West Asian hotels. “So we ship it out to them; the cost of shipping is more than that of the mattress, but they go for it,” grins Rajan.

Published on March 12, 2018

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