Following the mattress market? Don’t sleep on the rise of Kansas City

Kansas City – I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. At least, the Kansas that the DTC-gone-physical industry seems to ignore in favour of traditional bicoastal markets in the United States. With a building boom, a planned airport and the upcoming creation of an Innovation District, Kansas City is one the fastest growing cities in the American Midwest. Compare that to what’s happening in Brooklyn, as the former magnet for the young and visionary suffered its first population decline in more than a decade. Part of the reason? Remote-working millennials who now have families are fleeing the two shining seas looking for more affordable housing markets.

That explains why Tuft & Needle, one of the largest online DTC players in the sleepless mattress industry, decided to open one of its first brick-and-mortar shop there. With an annual revenue of €148 million in 2017, Tuft & Needle’s bread and butter is the T&N Mattress, a two-layer polyfoam concoction that rates high on comfort and spinal support at about half of their competitor’s asking price. It’s catnip for quality-obsessed but cash-strapped millennial consumers, who have made sleep hygiene part of their wellness concerns.

How do you make a firm impression with this unexpected geographical incursion into phygital retail? Local design studio Hufft decided to go for a residential scale: the team went for a set of semi-private rooms devoid of harsh fluorescent lighting, where customers can try out the mattresses free from the pressure of sales staff. What’s more: there’s actually no stock on site – anyone hoping to take a T&N or a Mint mattress home would have to order one from an available iPad on the nightstand, or directly from their website. ‘It’s a relaxed shopping experience, designed to embrace a home environment and feel more residential than commercial,’ explained principal Jesse Hufft.

Disenchanted coastal transplants are increasingly populating second-tier cities throughout the country, bringing their click-and-mortar preferences with them

Apart from the Seattle store, there are no coastal physical locations in the company’s store lineup – the rest are in its home state of Arizona and also North Carolina, two spots that wouldn’t necessarily be on top of anyone’s retail wish list. And yet, disenchanted coastal transplants are increasingly populating second-tier cities throughout the country, bringing their click-and-mortar preferences with them. Since its foundation in 2012, having grown from a €5,000 investment between its two founders to the behemoth it is today, along with a Serta Simmons merger, Tuft & Needle has certainly made some savvy financial decisions. The strategy to open store-rooms in these underserved locations seems to be another one: the rise of Kansas City and its ilk certainly won’t catch them sleeping.

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