Turning points in India’s Mattress Industry

India’s tryst with modern beds started in right earnest in the late 50s and early 60s. Soft cotton cloth fillings, the down feathers of birds, animal fur made up a royal bed. The others made do with coarse cotton beds and charpoys made of bamboo or jute andlayered with cotton fabric for softness.

Post colonial India saw the advent of cotton and coir filled beds and it took modern days, as recently as mid-90s for Spring and foam to make inroads into the Indian psyche.

The mattress industry pioneers Kurlon, belonging to the Manipal group, Duroflex, and Sheela Foam along with Centuary had to expend crucial resources in educating a reticent Indian consumer who was shy to talk of beds in public on the one hand and on the other, did not give much important to how he sleeps. Sleep was a necessary evil for the uline millenials who believe that Sleep is the gateway to greater productivity and achievements.

A Revolution in Material & Technology

The first breakthrough came through rubberised coir. Kurlon pioneered the rubberised coir industry in India. Kurlon mattresses are made of millions of tiny coir fibres which keep the body at a static temperature Kurlon uses vertical compression technology to give more spring action to the coir in a mattress.

During a trip to Europe, Mr. Ramesh Pai of the Manipal group, came usage of compressed, curled coir for car seats. He was determined to bring that to India. On his return, he learnt that coir was a very basic industry in India manufacturing only retted fabric. He decided to value-add the entire business and set up a company to pioneer the rubberised coir industry. To put the concept in motion he chose Karnataka as the beneficiary state and brought in Austrian technology to extract fibre from coconut husk and curl it into ropes. A slew of opportunities now opened up. Rather than restrict himself to just mattresses he also developed an ancillary range of products such as cushions and mats. That venture became Kurlon. Around the same time, two other manufacturers were launching their own products, ahead of its time for a country which slept less and less luxuriously.

Duroflex commenced production and soon was bagging public sector and defence contracts. Sheela Foams started manufacturing in 1972. Kurlon tied up with Dupont and Sealy, both US-based companies for the manufacture of poly fibre and spring mattresses in 1998. A common manufacturing facility was set up at Dobersepet near Bangalore. In 2004 the company ventured beyond providing just the sleeping comfort of a mattress and extended its product range into the home comforts segment.

Well heeled consumers who frequented western countries were the first converts. In a country where the local cotton ginner would sew a bed in days, branded mattress wouldn’t take roots so fast. But the opportunity was there and its was only a matter of time. Soon there were more players in the market. Real Innerspring Technologies (Sleepzone), Peps, Centuary, Prime Foam, MM Foam and the likes made a beeline. Foreign players such as Sealy, Tempur-Pedic, Serta, Hastens, Spring Air, Magniflex, and King Koil either tied up with Indian manufacturers or opened a distribution arrangement in India.

Kurlon tied up with Dupont and Sealy, both US-based companies for the manufacture of poly fibre and spring mattresses in 1998. A common manufacturing facility near Bangalore. In 2004 the company ventured beyond providing just the sleeping comfort of a mattress and extended its product range into the home comforts segment.

It took a couple of decades, not until late 90s did the market open up for branded beds and experimented with newer material. Memory foam made its debut in late 90s through early 2000s. This new material could sense body heat and adjust itself to the contours of the spine. But it was expensive and had limited buyer universe. It would take close to a decade for memory foam beds to be embraced as a mainstream product.

Selling sleep

Gone are the days when there was hardly any communication between businesses and their customers. With various social media channels like Facebook and Twitter coming into the picture, customers today have the platform to voice their ideas and opinions on a particular product, service or company. Feedback is considered an imperative factor in building a strong relationship with customers. Led by this feedback, mattress manufacturing companies are making relentless efforts to improve the quality of their offerings. To that end, there has been a significant increase in the R&D investments in the last decade or so.

The harbinger of this trend was the Sleepwell range of EBOs launched by Sheela Foam. For the time, it was an audacious attempt to offer an exclusive store for people to walk-in and touch & feel the product. It took a while but caught on spectacularly. Most manufacturers followed suit. EBOs and MBOs became the crucial catchment point to sell branded mattresses. Selling sleep was not yet on the cards.

Innovations in the industry

Nevertheless, a visible shift came about in the consumers’ perspective, where the main focus was now on the comfort and functionality of the product.

In line with the changing times, mattress manufacturing companies adopted a slew of innovative strategies to ensure customer satisfaction.

In 2006, due to a turn of favourable set of events, Mr. K Madhavan, the man who built Kurlon onto a multi-crore business, took over the mantle of Peps India, a spring mattress manufacturing unit in Tirupur which was up for sale. Madhavan’s astute business sense brought Peps India, an upstart in a tug-of-war with the giants. Peps India stepped in with the motto that it will make every Indian sleep on a spring mattress. Spring had not yet caught in the Indian market. This push also brought to fore many facts including the most startling fact that an average Indian sleeps far less than any counterpart on this globe.

It took another half a decade a couple years more for this revolution to catch on though. Wink and Nod, a company inspired by the success of Casper, a US giant killer who relied mostly on the Internet to sell a new-age bed-in-box concept, brought mattress sales to millennials using their most favorite communication channel, the internet, and the mobile phone.