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Sleep on it

In Focus
NAME:Tony Pearson
LOCATION:Sydney, Australia
Sleep is a matter of wellness, says A.H. Beard CEO Tony Pearson, and the Australian manufacturer of quality mattresses is poised to wake up the industry with its new offerings in the space.

The mattress market has changed significantly since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people found themselves housebound at the height of the pandemic, a situation that caused significant consideration to making larger household purchases. Mattresses were among the most popular upgrades.

The renewed global emphasis on wellness – and sleep as a major contributor to good health – has shone a new light on premium mattresses, lifting the industry’s value to more than US$50 billion in 2022.

Experts predict that value will reach an eye-opening US$78 billion by 2030. Clearly, people are aware that sound sleep on a quality mattress matters.

Health Prophets

If the industry is looking to thank anyone, it should be those who were sounding the clarion call even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. For years, A.H. Beard has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of sleep as the third pillar of health alongside nutrition and exercise, and continues to do so under its Premium Sleep campaign.

“We always think about our business as being in the sleep wellness industry,” A.H. Beard CEO Tony Pearson tells The CEO Magazine. “After we launched our Sleep Wellness Centre in 2022, we were able to further promote the importance of sleep and inform great sleep habits.”

A lack of adequate sleep costs more than just your health. Pearson says 7.4 million Australians aren’t getting enough sleep, which costs the economy over US$41.7 billion.

“There’s a larger conversation to be had,” he says. “The mattress is one of the least understood products out there. The vast majority of the population uses them, but very few really understand them. That’s why we spend so much time and attention promoting that understanding through building and designing products that will increase the likelihood of improving life through better sleep.”

“Lack of sleep can have a huge impact on the way society interacts.”

Getting that message out there has been easier now, where a pent-up demand for purchasing has resulted in a boom for A.H. Beard.

“For a long period of time, people were physically not able to go out and purchase the products they wanted,” Pearson says. “Approximately 10 percent of Australian households are in the market for a mattress at any given time. That’s pretty stable and it didn’t go away during the pandemic.”

What has changed is a desire for experiences over products.

“We’re at a moment when the cost of living has made things a bit difficult, but spending still occurs and people are finding creative ways to be able to spend on things important to them.”

“Retail spending is high, higher than pre-pandemic. Travel is up. We have a product with wellness benefits people are just starting to become aware of, and we’re seeing that reflected in sales.”

Shifting Consumption

And that goes beyond borders to overseas markets that A.H. Beard has long been a part of, but where perceptions of the meaning of the mattress are also beginning to change.

“Just last month we celebrated our 10-year anniversary with our partners in China,” Pearson says.

“They understand how to communicate with the Chinese consumer and educate on the importance of premium sleep, the most restful, rejuvenating sleep of your life. We’ve seen a movement in the Chinese market to both premium luxury and a refocus on health and wellness, so A.H. Beard has been first to provide solutions in both those spaces.”

Despite reports of a slowdown in the Chinese economy, Pearson says he’s yet to see an impact in A.H. Beard’s sales.

“Our products in China are almost exclusively ultra-premium, and that segment of the market hasn’t significantly changed its spending patterns.”

“We’re surrounding ourselves with sleep experts.”

The mid-pandemic quiet afforded A.H. Beard time to reflect on its customers, working with social scientist Dr Ross Honeywill. “He did a 10-year study of buying behaviors that found there are really only two buying types: the traditional, conservative, begrudging buyer who just wants to save money because they don’t really want to be spending; and then what he labeled the ‘new economic order’ [NEO],” he explains.

This NEO buyer chalks up the cost of a product to the price of love for the brand and what it’s going to do for them.

“They’re the most resilient buyer. They’re the first to recover from any economic slump,” Pearson says. “They’re also 48 percent of the population.”

When it comes to understanding a product’s benefits, NEO buyers are an ideal customer. “They’re interested in authenticity and transparency, and they’ll take the time to do the research and really discover what it is they want,” he says. “So we spend a lot of time making the value of our products, in every sense, easy to understand.”

Holistic Sleep Solutions

Part of this mission was a rebranding exercise that realigned A.H. Beard’s business strategy to sit firmly in the wellness camp. “It’s more than just changing a logo,” he says. “You have to determine who you are and what you stand for – in our case, for over 123 years – and what we want to stand for in the future.”

Armed with this new sense of self, A.H. Beard has marched headlong into an opportunity many would see as a hurdle. “We’re in a market that traditionally has never sold direct to consumers, so the way the products are marketed is typically out of control of the people actually producing them,” Pearson says.

“That’s been a barrier, but now there are better ways to engage directly with consumers.”

For A.H. Beard, that’s meant cracking the commercial market by demonstrating the value of a good night’s rest for employees. “We recently won one of Australia’s largest commercial pieces of business involving 11,000 ensembles,” Pearson says.

“It’s not about commercialization. It’s about a genuine commitment to create a level of awareness that sleep should be considered as important as exercise and nutrition.”

“They had difficulty attracting and retaining staff in a remote environment, so they were looking for a partner that could enhance the experience of those employees.”

What A.H. Beard provided characteristically went above and beyond. “We didn’t provide mattresses or even ensembles, but sleep-tracking devices that show not only how long you sleep but how well you sleep, as well as sleep-enhancing lights and sleep education. It’s a total sleep solution within the wellness space.”

It’s an area in which Pearson is happy to walk the talk. “We’re surrounding ourselves with sleep experts. I personally sit on the business council of the Sleep Health Foundation Australia to ensure I can stay informed by experts in the field.”

Such is the interest in sleep’s regenerative powers that Pearson predicts A.H. Beard’s Sleep Wellness Centre will eventually eclipse the mattress manufacturing side of the business.

“It’s not about commercialization,” he says. “It’s about a genuine commitment to create a level of awareness that sleep should be considered as important as exercise and nutrition.”

Community Engagement

Part of that awareness campaign is taking the message directly to the business world through sponsorship of The CEO Magazine’s 2023 Executive of the Year Awards.

“Personally, I get so much out of being at events such as the Awards and sharing stories with other executives,” Pearson says.

“A lot of CEOs don’t get to spend a lot of time doing that, so the opportunity to partner with The CEO Magazine and share my experiences with some of the most influential players in Australia’s business community is priceless.”

While much has been said on the importance of eating well and staying fit, Pearson says there’s much to be done around the value of slumber.

“Lack of sleep has a very significant impact on mental wellness. It can have a huge impact on the way society interacts,” he says. “We have a huge issue that needs to be solved, and A.H. Beard is committed to that.”

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