Retail Road Trip: Art Van PureSleep

Midwest retailer uses diagnostics to help consumers select the right sleep surface—and sells sleep with a strong wellness message

By Gary James

David Van Elslander is vice president of  Art Van’s PureSleep

David Van Elslander is vice president of Art Van’s PureSleep division, headquartered in Warren, Mich.

Powerhouse retailer Art Van Furniture is gearing up for a busy year in bedding in 2014 as it continues to expand the footprint of its rapidly growing Art Van PureSleep program in its home state of Michigan and adds locations in the new markets of metro Chicago, Ohio and Indiana.

Based in Warren, Mich., Art Van launched its first PureSleep unit, a 5,000-square-foot, freestanding specialty store in Canton, Mich., in 2009. It soon converted the bedding departments in all of its full-line stores to the format. In 2011, Art Van acquired the Mattress World chain of 31 stores throughout Michigan and Indianapolis. Those stores currently are being converted to the PureSleep format, with the final touches due to be completed this spring. With the conversion of the former Mattress World locations, Art Van now has 43 freestanding PureSleep stores and 39 Art Van stores with in-store PureSleep presentations for a total of 82 locations, including four franchised operations.

For 2014, PureSleep is “actively pursuing locations in all four states,” says David Van Elslander, vice president of the Art Van division. In some cases, the company will be looking for improved “A” locations to replace current, less-productive sites. In other cases, it will be signing new leases, buying new stores or adding more franchisees. “We have as many as 15 sites under way,” he says.

PureSleep is aiming for sales growth in excess of 30% for 2014, according to Van Elslander. On a same-store basis, the projected growth is 3.5% to 5%. “We’re expecting some very healthy increases,” he says.

Art Van’s long-term goal for PureSleep is to become a national chain, according to Van Elslander. “But we’re going to do contiguous growth. We’re not going to jump from the Midwest to the Southeast or West. We’re focusing on a 250-mile radius of our distribution center in Warren and expanding out from there.”

Leveraging technology

A longtime major player in bedding in Michigan, the retailer estimates that it “puts one out of every two people to bed at night across the state,” thanks to its PureSleep system. The concept for PureSleep started with founder Art Van Elslander’s visit to the Kingsdown Sleep to Live Institute in Mebane, N.C., where he was introduced to the company’s innovative diagnostic selling program.

“He fell in love with the concept of using diagnostics to help consumers find the right sleep surface,” says Art Van’s son David. “It was a little risky, because we had a very healthy mattress business at the time, but he decided to completely change our approach from just selling mattresses to selling sleep with a strong health and wellness message.”

Today, Kingsdown’s patented BedMATCH diagnostic system is a core element of all of Art Van’s bedding sales discussions. Using 18 statistical measurements and more than 1,000 calculations, BedMATCH builds a personal profile of shoppers’ unique sleep preferences, patterns and needs. In just minutes, the system helps RSAs determine the mattress and pillow that are best suited to an individual’s body type and sleeping positions.

“The system replaces the guesswork of mattress buying with real science,” Van Elslander says. “In just five minutes, it will fit you to the right mattress support based on the latest research in sleep science. The results have real health benefits.”

The selling process at PureSleep is a consistent, disciplined system, based on an extensive and ongoing program of training.

“When you come into our store, one of our sleep specialists greets you and goes through a quick checklist to get information about your sleep patterns, positions and environment,” Van Elslander says. “That gives the specialist a basic idea of problems the shopper may be having with their sleep. After that, we put the shopper on our diagnostic machine to determine what level of comfort and pressure relief would be best for their needs. The machine provides recommendations, and our associates then take the customers to those beds.”

Kingsdown models are often a starting point for bed tests, but the RSAs also show customers a range of other lines that would be a good match. And if shoppers have specific brand or construction preferences, the RSA makes a point to include those in the discussion as well.

“The use of diagnostics helps reassure consumers that they are making the right choice,” Van Elslander says. “When you’re spending several thousand dollars on a sleep system, nobody wants to make a mistake.”

Mattress shop PureSleep showroom floor

Each PureSleep store typically displays about 57 beds in a 4,000-square-foot space, plus 14 twin-size promotional models that are racked.

A three-part system

Each PureSleep store typically displays about 57 beds in a 4,000-square-foot space, plus 14 twin-size promotional models that are racked. The retailer’s mattress brands include Sealy, Beautyrest, Sleep to Live, Stearns & Foster, Tempur-Pedic, King Koil and ComforPedic. Price points start at $199 for a promotional queen set and top out at $10,000 or more for king-size models with adjustable bases.

Before PureSleep, Art Van’s core bedding business fell in the $999 to $1,799 range. Now, it runs from $1,200 to $2,000. The increase reflects the new format’s emphasis on sleep quality and health, according to Van Elslander, who adds that adjustable bases also “are playing a big-time role” with an attachment rate that’s close to 30%.

“People used to see adjustables only as hospital beds,” he says. “But now they’re regarded as a luxury item. People who are sleeping on them would never go back. And those not sleeping on them don’t know what they’re missing.”

PureSleep’s attachment rate in pillows is even higher—55% at its in-store Art Van locations and as high as 70% at the freestanding stores.

“Our approach to the customer is a three-part system: It’s about choosing the right mattress and pillow, as well as a protector to keep your sleep environment clean. We believe a big part of the comfort in a sleep system lies with the pillow. So we make it a part of our sales discussions right from the start.”

PureSleep’s specialists recommend specific pillows that would best meet shoppers’ needs based on their sleep profile, “so that they can carry them around and get a feel how they work with various mattresses during their testing,” Van Elslander says.

Similarly, the value of sleep protectors always is brought up. “Most consumers are unaware that their mattress is one of the dirtiest places in the home,” Van Elslander says. “Over a 10-year period, an unprotected mattress can weigh twice as much as it fills with dust mites, dead skin and other allergens.”

Constant improvement

The RSAs’ ability to communicate all of these messages to consumers quickly and effectively doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of extensive training, a process that starts on the first day of employment and continues at every stage of an Art Van career.

“We call our approach Constant Never-ending Improvement,” Van Elslander says. “Our salespeople go through intense training all the time. Our newly hired PureSleep specialists have to pass the ‘Art of PureSleep Certification,’ our own in-house program, and if someone is struggling at a later point, they go through the whole process again.”

PureSleep keeps its sleep specialists up to date on new products, selling techniques and other developments through in-store workshops, sales meetings and self-study modules during down time. Art Van also has its own in-house TV network called AVTV that broadcasts training modules from the company and its vendors.

“Our sleep specialists are constantly refreshing what they’ve learned,” Van Elslander says. He adds that after Art Van’s acquisition of Mattress World, those salespeople also underwent training to learn PureSleep’s unique selling system.

Another aspect of training that sets Art Van apart from its competitors is the fact that every new hire receives basic training on sleep, including a walk through a PureSleep aisle.

“We ask all of them to sign up to be sleep ambassadors,” he says. “Whether they work in finance or in delivery, they’re encouraged to ask the customer about the age of their mattress. If it’s older than 10 years, they suggest that it might be a good time for a replacement and remind the customer of the wide range of sleep solutions we offer at PureSleep.”

This approach results in a significant amount of add-on sales, where a customer who has just bought a bedroom set, for example, realizes that it also would make sense to replace a worn-out mattress set.

Art Van also promotes PureSleep regularly in its TV, radio and direct-mail campaigns. Much of the advertising focuses on the format’s quality sleep message, with tag lines such as “Give us five minutes and we’ll give you the best sleep of your life. That’s the PureSleep promise.”

Art Van PureSleep mattress headboards

Art Van develops its own point-of-purchase materials for its beds. Each headboard contains specific information about each model. All the materials are developed by its in-house design team based on information provided by the vendors.

Building the brand

The company always refers to its sleep program as Art Van PureSleep, leveraging the high-name recognition the 54-year-old retailer enjoys in its home state, while also seeking to build awareness of its new brand. “We were already known as the bedding specialists in this area,” Van Elslander says. “Now, we’re taking that recognition to another level.”

PureSleep also has an active presence online at www.artvanpuresleep.com, where it posts testimonials from customers and shares a variety of information about products and services. Among the recent items featured on the site was a video update on a visit the PureSleep team paid to a local firehouse, where they rolled in a diagnostic machine and talked with firemen about the importance of quality sleep. After the session, the company provided all the firemen with new mattresses.

“In the video, which also was broadcast on TV as an infomercial, we returned to the firehouse to see the impact these mattresses had on their lives,” Van Elslander says. “The firemen talked about how these new mattresses enabled them to sleep better and get more rest during their off-times so that they are more alert and productive during their shifts.”

In 2014, Art Van plans to feature its diagnostic capabilities even more prominently in its promotions. The campaign still was being determined at press time, but Van Elslander said the basic theme would be: “Take the test or take your chances.”

“Our diagnostic system and the professionalism of our staff are key points of differentiation for us,” he says. “When a customer buys from us, they know they are getting the very best sleep system for their particular needs.”

Van Elslander adds that PureSleep has an exclusive deal with Kingsdown on the use of its technology in Michigan. “There are other retailers across the country that are using it, but I’m not sure they are as dedicated and disciplined about it as we are. Done right and executed properly, this is a very powerful tool.”

To get the word out to more consumers about the benefits of the PureSleep approach, Art Van will be using social media more actively in 2014. While the focus of its online efforts will remain on driving consumers to its store, the company also will update its commerce functionality in the coming year to make it easier to place orders. “We think shoppers ought to come to our stores for the full experience, but if somebody wants to buy online, these changes will simplify the process,” Van Elslander says.

According to Van Elslander, closing percentages on mattress sales reach as high as 75% to 80% at PureSleep’s freestanding stores. Sales per square foot also are way above the norm—in excess of $1,000 a square foot across the entire PureSleep group and nearly double that in one specific location.

PureSleep keeps its store floors humming by offering a steady drumbeat of special incentives, such as $100 gift cards for taking an online sleep survey or visiting a store, and free 42-inch HDTVs with the purchase of select king or queen sets. On slow days, such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the company often offers 50% off deals with zero-
interest credit through email blasts to its VIP list of active customers.

Backing up the sale

There are several other key elements that Art Van promotes on its website and in its advertising. They include free next-day delivery, guaranteed low prices and a Total Satisfaction Guarantee, which allows consumers to return beds that don’t meet their needs.

“We ask that consumers sleep on the bed at least 30 days before they return it, because it often takes the body that long to get used to a new sleep surface,” Van Elslander says. The window for returns extends up to 60 days from the time of sale.

Customers also like the fact that Art Van offers free setup and removal. The company owns its own mattress shredder, so every used mattress it removes from customers’ homes goes through a recycling process instead of being taken to a landfill. That includes mattresses from the company’s new out-of-state stores.

Another factor that sets Art Van apart from the competition is its deep involvement in its local communities. The company always has been an active giver, but it raised the bar to new heights when it launched its Million Dollar Charity Challenge as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. The challenge started with Art Van donating $1 million to 50 charities throughout Michigan. Individuals, businesses and nonprofits were then challenged to raise additional funds, with special incentives for those charities raising the most money through their own efforts. Over the years, Art Van has steadily expanded the program to include more recipients and larger gifts. Since the program’s inception, the retailer has donated $4 million, with a total of $17 million being raised across the entire initiative. The drive now supports 150 Michigan charities.

“My grandfather instilled in my father the philosophy that if you’re fortunate enough to be successful, it’s your responsibility to give back,” says Van Elslander. “We continue this legacy willfully and gladly and it is very rewarding for us to see the impact communities can have when they work together.”

Turning ‘Dreams’ into reality

Dreams LLC, a new company formed by mattress industry veteran Scott Miller and Art Van Furniture founder Art Van Elslander, is developing a complete line of sleep products set for launch in early 2014 under the HGTV Home brand.

Art Van PureSleep will be the first retailer to carry the HGTV Home Sleep collection, which will include specialty and innerspring beds in middle to upper price points, crib mattresses and pet beds, flat and adjustable foundations, decorative bed frames and metal support systems, pillows, mattress toppers, pads and protectors. Van Elslander’s mattress manufacturing plant in Michigan will produce innerspring beds for the brand.

“We are very excited about this opportunity and we are looking forward to bringing this award-winning (HGTV) brand to the sleep products category,” says Miller, president of Rochester, Mich.-based Dreams LLC, a design, marketing, sales and distribution company that will source and sell the new line throughout Canada and the United States.

Miller has more than 20 years in sales, marketing and product development in the mattress manufacturing industry. While at Simmons, he helped develop the BackCare brand and launched the Heavenly Bed for Starwood’s Westin hotels. He also has worked with IBC, Natura World and Southerland.

Dreams LLC plans to exhibit at both the Las Vegas and High Point markets and is in the process of opening a showroom at its new Rochester headquarters.

HGTV Home, based in Knoxville, Tenn., offers a full range of home furnishings, fabrics, lighting, carpet, flooring and more.

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