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Mrs Lanna Switch

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Sleep does not come easily Except for executives in the bedding industry. Both leaders -- Sealy and Simmons -- are working overtime to Pay off enormous debts without losing their competitive benefits.Meanwhile, the remainder of the industry is staying late to take advantage of everything might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunityto take market share.

"We do see issues at the top, and it has created a huge Opportunity for us. So for us, being a shark, we will eat anything," saidone executive to get a bedding maker. "Everyone is watching the situation with concern," Said Roger Jasperson, president of Englander Sleep Products. "They know aslarge as Sealy is they aren't likely to fall off the face of the earth. Exactly the same with Simmons. Nevertheless, theirsituations create opportunities."

Joel Berke, executive vice president of Therapedic International, added, "The reception that our individuals within the field aregetting is a little warmer than it used to be in certain areas. The retailer is not insulated. He's aware of what is going on inthe market, with Sealy and Simmons." First-ranked Sealy, which commands 25 percent of the bedding Marketplace, has been taken private in April 1989 in leveraged buyoutdirected by Gibbons, Green van Amerongen, a New York investment firm. To finance the LBO, Sealy borrowed $1 billion -- $495million in bank loans and $457 million at a bridge loan from First Boston. To be able to secure permanent financing, Sealy agreedin April to provide First Boston that a 40 percent stake in the company.

Sealy hired an industry outsider, Malcolm Candlish, the former Chief executive in Samsonite Corp., to run the company. And, inunder a year as chairman and chief executive, he's turned Sealy upside down. Candlish has made some controversial association changes, Centralizing management of manufacturing centers -- and, some said,smothering the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes the bedding business.

He has also gone away from the industry's old-boysystem to compile a management team, substituting Sealy veterans with outsiders. "You won't stop the conversation in the market," said Candlish. "The only way to prevent it would be to show them that we arelikely to succeed. What we are doing isn't a reply to the business, or to what our competitors are saying that, 'we're takingadvantage of what is happening in Sealy.' "If I had them I would probably be saying the identical thing.

They are going to be casting as much doubt as they can about theleader's ability to continue. The main point is that we've gotten permanent financing in place, we have our marketing in place,and we have a heck of a company out in the field. There's almost no point in reacting to what the industry is saying about us.Actions will speak louder than words" Simmons went through a series of ownership changes in the 1980s.

As the decade drew to a close, the company was owned by anemployee stock ownership plan (ESOP), was $220 million in debt, and has been hit with the loss of $50 million in Sears business.And, together with Ernie Wuliger, former chairman of the Ohio Mattress Co. (currently Sealy), bidding for the company, nobody canaccurately forecast Simmons' future. "While they may sell and send a ton of bedding, I think Retailers might be a little wary of turbulence at the very top," statedone mattress manufacturer. "And Losing Sears didn't help. While they have recouped lots of that business, you do not lose a majoraccount like that, with these sorts of dollars, and not believe it."

Robert Magnusson, who's guided Simmons through the changes, Said, "I think that anytime you're in scenario like ours in whichthere is a level of uncertainty, you are likely to be the topic of conversation, dialogue, and sadly, speculation. We'reconsidering earning an equity partner, such as an Ernie Wuliger, to reduce our debt and improve the worth of the company.

If weare able to improve the appearance and value of this balance sheet, then that is what we should do." Although indicating 1989 wasn't a banner year for the company, Magnusson said Simmons did better than the industry, which saw a 4%unit sales decline. He reported that so far this year, sales are running before 1989. Industry sources estimate Simmons' salesbetween $200 million and $300 million. While retailers are aware of the troubles at the top of this Bedding market, they said companies the dimensions of Sealy andSimmons are not easily written off or taken off the floor. "We have improved the selection of additional suppliers in our Showroom, but both (Sealy and Simmons) have still given us prettyexcellent service," stated one furniture store purchaser. "I am only concerned, like everyone else, about what is going on atSealy and in Simmons." The purchaser to get a New York-based sleep store said, "It's still Kind of wait and see.

 The Sealy and Simmons scenarios haveopened our eyes placing bedding from different manufacturers on the floor." Although the buyer wouldn't disclose what brands wouldbe considered, he'd state the second-tier companies are the most likely candidates. The chance is not lost on Sealy's and Simmons' contest, Which falls into two camps. Serta and Spring Air, rated fourth and third in the industry, Are in one camp.

 With well-known manufacturer titles, supported bynational advertising and promotional campaigns, they are concentrating on securing additional business with major, nationalreports. Bemco, Englander, King Koil, Kingsdown, Restonic, Springwall and Therapedic are in the next camp. They are smaller businessesknown for discovering -- and filling -- niches in the bedding marketplace.

Even though they cannot compete with Serta or SpringAir, the market marketers can build partnerships with regional merchants, support those retailers with advertising and promotions.They also can pick up business by immediately placing their products as comparable, but lower cost alternatives to people fromSealy and Simmons. Serta claimed it could gain an advantage by encouraging the entreprenuerial spirit of its 34 licensees. Since much of theauthority rests with the respective factories, the licensees can custom tailor applications to the needs of merchants within theirtrading locations. "True they (Sealy and Simmons) are two major players In the sector and they do help shape and influence the market requirements.

And we'd respond to that, as we would if they were both healthy, financially sound companies," said Jerry Rotblatt, executivechairman, who came to Serta in 1989 from Ohio Mattress. "It is a component of a competitive syndrome that exists in our business.But we have to build on our current strengths, rather than rivals' weaknesses." Most industry executives agreed that Spring Air has the most to Gain from troubles in Sealy and Simmons. And all signs are thatSpring Air has started knocking the opportunity.

Really, Spring Air is your fastest-growing bedding manufacturer, with 1989 earnings of $213 million, up from $100 million in 1985.Most credit the gains in substantial part to Spring Air's commitment to making its name nationally recognized. A campaign startedin 1986, featuring Vanna White, has been instrumental in increasing the organization's brand awareness from 10 to 50 percent,placing Spring Air in striking distance of the Big Three. Spring Air has also picked up a massive chunk of the Sears' business. "We are just trying to become the biggest and best producer Of mattresses," explained Don Pellegrini, president. "We've met thethird guidepost we set for ourselves (reaching over $200 million in annual sales).

If we could get to the $400 million mark by1995, we'll be where we want to be and where we all believe we ought to be." The second tier of bedding makers, knowing they can't Always compete nationally, have developed powerful regional marketingstrategies. Focusing on markets where their companies are most powerful, they work in partnership with retailers there. More andmore, their plans center on full merchandising programs, not just selected items. "Now is time for us to actually work on relationships With major retailers," explained Jasperson of Englander.

"And by showing themerchant you have programs which have been proven winners, you can make that retailer listen." "I think now that things are unfolding, advertisements and Advertising become very important," said William E. Brey, chairman andchief operating officer of Restonic. Now that retailers might be looking for alternatives to Sealy or Simmons, companies with comparable but lower-priced goods are ingreat position, added Joel Berke, Therapedic's executive vice president. "It comes back to doing the things that we have beenperforming, and with other people keep doing things they are doing," said Berke. "It will make us better by comparison."

 Springwall and Bemco Associates are counting on regional Advertising and marketing to boost their companies. Springwall ispurchasing time on on Cable News Network and Headline News Network to market its mattresses; while Bemco Associates, the officialmattress maker for the U.S. Gymnastic team, is utilizing print and regional TV advertising during the upcoming Goodwill Games toemphasize its own offerings. Restonic is involved at a merchandising program with Consumers Digest, an independent consumer advisory magazine.

All beds in thebusiness's OrthoTonic entrances will be tagged with the publication's Best Buy emblem. Other companies, such as Kingsdown and Englander, are counting on New merchandising programs to gain property in retail. Kingsdownhas Established its Dr. Goodbones merchandising program; Englander has introduced its own Nautilus bedding app designed tocapitalize on the country's fitness trend.