Big Interview: Mark Cort, Commercial Director & Henry Swift, CCO, Bensons for Beds

Innovation has driven the bed market to transform itself and break free from some of the wider changes facing the industry, the Retail Gazette spoke to Bensons for Beds to find out how they are changing along with it

897

Consumer spending in the UK endured the largest reduction in over half a decade in the first few months of 2018, and face-to-face high street spending has dropped for 10 months in a row.

The UK’s reluctance to spend and general concern for the wider economy has already claimed numerous retail casualties this year, and big-ticket items like furniture are often the first to be struck from the shopping list when money’s tight.

But necessity breeds innovation, and this innovation has driven the bed retailing market to transform itself and break free from some of the wider changes facing the industry.

“It feels like the bed market in particular, there are a lot of new start up business we’ve seen in the last few years, for the first time in as long as I remember its quite a cool industry to be in,” Benson’s commercial director Mark Cort told the Retail Gazette.

Just as the grocery sector has been forced to change thanks to new innovative entrants like Aldi, Lidl and Ocado, the bed market has seen new entrants like Eve, Simba and Made.com force its current big hitters reassess their position in the market and consider what they need to do in order to maintain it.

In order to get the wider market to come and shop with us we need to try something different, and this is our first step to showing them

Unlike many established retailers who are content to rely on their loyal customer base for revenue, Bensons has wasted no time in exploring new ideas and introducing change into its operations.

Over the next few months, Bensons is due to launch a brand-new range of beds and furniture representing a significant departure from both its usual style and target audience, showing a “side of Bensons you’ve never seen before.”

Chief customer officer Henry Swift explained: “We have a segment that is our core Bensons customer, they’re very loyal and we’re pleased to have them.

“However, we hugely over indexed in that section when you look at our profile versus the proportion of people in the market.

“In order to get the wider market to come and shop with us we need to try something different, and this is our first step to showing them.

“We wanted to show the world that Bensons is changing and is beginning to adapt. What we are very, very clear on is that in order to keep that going you’ve got to keep innovating.”

Though this Bensons may be entering into untested waters with its new range, and has not established its reception via pilot testing, it is far from a shot in the dark.

Over the last year the brand has focused on consumer research, piling time and resources into learning everything it needed to about its audience, hoping to establish what they wanted and why.

“This is really the first time, I think it would be fair to say, that we’ve truly understood the market, segmented it and been very clear about our target market: Our growth opportunity is a younger more style-led audience,” Swift added.

Through this research Cort and his team have been able to hone in on exactly their new target markets demands and considerations, using this information to craft its new product line.

Cort added: “What we’ve done for the first time as a business was to actually use the brief from a lot of this data, to actually select our product ranges.

“We’re targeting a specific look, a specific style and a specific price point. This isn’t a trial, we’re confident in what our findings are and how we’re going to push it through.”

One of the key findings of its research has been understanding the lifestyles of this younger audience, who are largely caught up in “generation rent”.

Price pressures have meant that fewer and fewer young people own their own homes, and the realities of renting have meant that room sizes have shrunk.

Not only has this meant that keeping prices low was a big factor for Bensons, but space and storage considerations were key.

What’s very clear is there is that awareness of health is changing, and sleep is an incredibly important component of living a healthy lifestyle

“Storage for us as a business is probably now the most important thing that we try and put into every bed that we do,” Cort continued.

“Rooms are smaller, and we have to cater to that both at the bottom end and the top end of our ranges.”

Perhaps more importantly however, was the discovery that both largely explains the big shifts in the bed market, and why Bensons is not likely to be the next retail casualty.

Young people are increasingly interested in their own health. Walk down any high street and the volume of vegan restaurants, gyms and athleisure shops lays bare just how lucrative this market is.

As Swift explains: “What’s very clear is there is that awareness of health is changing, and sleep is an incredibly important component of living a healthy lifestyle.

“A mattress and bed is innately linked to that. That’s a trend that we know is growing, and we need to be providing the right products and the right expertise.”

Click here to sign up to Retail Gazette‘s free daily email newsletter