Considering how much of our lives we spend sleeping, it’s surprising how little time most people devote to picking the right mattress and pillows, says Kim Mortensen, managing director of Tempur Japan, a subsidiary of Tempur Pedic International, which is headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky.
Tempur mattresses were born out of NASA research and are widely regarded around the world as being top of the line. The mattresses, made of viscoelastic memory foam, react continuously to your body’s unique shape, weight and temperature—making for a good night’s sleep.
Tempur Japan was established in 1999 in Kobe where Mortensen is currently based, though he commutes to Tokyo on a regular basis. Born in Denmark, he has had a relationship with Japan since 1990, studying at Keio and Sophia universities, working as a translator, doing consulting, working as regional Asia manager of Royal Copenhagen, as Trade Commissioner in Kobe for the Danish Foreign Ministry, followed by a short period with the embassy in Tokyo. He joined Tempur in 2007.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Mortensen at the Tempur showroom in Ginza.
Did Tempur have a hard time when it first came into the Japanese market?
Yes. The managing director at that time visited department stores in Tokyo but it was an unknown mattress brand, the pillows looked strange and they cost a lot. So no one was interested. However, the business grew faster in Kansai, which is more progressive, in my opinion, about trying new things. I still think Kansai is more progressive when it comes to developing business.
When you joined Tempur in 2007, were you familiar with the brand?
As a matter of fact, I was already sleeping on a Tempur mattress. I have been doing martial arts for 30 years and I had back pain for 10 years. By chance, I met the Tempur managing director and he recommended I try Tempur. I thought it was too expensive and it didn’t feel like a mattress but he convinced me and after two weeks, my back pain went away.
Where are your products sold?
We have accounts or stores – about 600 around the country. Some are our own stores, some are in department stores, some are furniture and bedding stores. We are in all of the big department stores, which is our biggest business. Furniture and bedding stores are next (about 240).
How is business?
Business is very good. Sales in 2011 were up double digits over 2010. The first two quarters of this year are showing the same double-digit growth as last year. In the current business environment, we are doing really well.
To what do you attribute the growth?
We changed our strategy to become known as a mattress company and not just a pillow company in Japan. Globally, we are in more than 80 countries. In most markets, Tempur is known as a mattress company. But in Japan, we had a pillow image. So I decided to change that image, even though our pillow business is quite significant. And it has been successful. Every month we track our public awareness degree and it has gone from a few percent for mattress awareness four years ago to 57%. That boosted sales.
How do you market the brand?
We advertise in magazines, newspapers and online. We have been very good with our cross-marketing campaign which has drawn people to our website. That has had a significant impact on sales this year, even though we have not expanded the number of stores much.
Much of the growth was due to a new line-up of mattresses. When I joined the company, we only sold one kind of mattress in Japan. I was told that Japanese only like firm mattresses because it is a futon culture. I said let’s test the market. We did a test for a couple of hundred people in Tokyo and it turned out that 30% like soft, 30% like medium, 30% like firm – just like Europeans. So we added soft mattresses and it took off.
What about pricing?
When we started out with pillows, a normal pillow was 2,000-3,000 yen. We came to stores with a 15,000 yen pillow. Nowadays, it is not strange for a Japanese to buy good pillows for 10,000-20,000 yen. For mattresses, it is still strange for a Japanese to pay more than 50,000 yen. Our cheapest one starts at 120,000 and our top of the line is about 500,000 yen. But our mattresses are far superior. In our surveys in Europe, one person who buys a Tempur product will recommend it to 7 others. In the U.S., it’s 14 people.
What makes Tempur mattresses so good?
It gives you a better night’s sleep. We strongly believe that, because at the beginning, this product was developed for hospitals to relieve pressure. It means you have a more natural blood flow and you do not have to move that much. If you toss and turn a lot during the night, then you are not sleeping that deep.
When most people go into a mattress store, they don’t spend much time choosing a mattress. They are going to invest in something they will have for up to 15 years, and yet all they do is sit on it or feel it with their hands. A mattress purchase can be a large sum but it is a long-term investment. Make sure you get the right one.
How about your pillows?
A Tempur pillow is also pressure-relieving, which helps you to avoid stiff neck and shoulders. Sleeping on futons is not good for one’s neck and shoulders.
Do you sell any products specifically for Japan?
We have futons only for Japan, but otherwise the mattresses and pillows are the same. The only difference is in mattress size.
What areas are you looking to expand into?
In terms of expansion, it is not so much in outlets and channels but rather in growing what we have, especially e-commerce and there is significant potential in furniture and bedding stores.
What about hospitals and hotels?
We are in some hospitals but the business is fairly small. We have a lot of specialized products for operating rooms but in rooms, they don’t spend that much money on mattresses. We are in about 300 hotels, but that is mainly pillows.
Speaking of pillows, were you able to send any up the disaster region last year?
We tried to donate 10,000 pillows through an agent but local officials said that logistically they couldn’t handle it in the immediate aftermath. We didn’t know if we could transport them ourselves because no one knew what the road situation was like. It was very disappointing because I saw evacuees on TV sleeping in shelters with hardly any pillows.
How often do you travel?
I am based in Kobe but I come to Tokyo almost every week and I visit other stores throughout Japan regularly.
How do you relax when you are not working?
A lot of running, swimming and working out for 2 hours on Saturday mornings.