Spain's total bed industry sales were worth €513 million in 2016
If the UK bed industry thought it had a tough time following the economic collapse of a decade ago, then spare a thought for Spain, which is still recovering, writes NBF bed specialist author Jan Turner.

Global economics heralded a not-so-sunny time for Spain when the worldwide crash saw the country’s mattress industry plummet, at one point, by more than 50 percent.

Despite best efforts, Spanish bed manufacturers still have a long way to go, as a presentation to members of the European Bedding Industry Association (EBIA) by Asocama, the Spanish trade association for the mattress industry, revealed at the EBIA’s annual General Assembly this autumn.

Asocama represents Spain’s main bedding brands including industry giants Pikolin and Flex who, between them, account for more than half of the sector’s value. According to El Pais, the widest read newspaper in Spain, the total bed industry — bed bases and mattresses — was valued at around €513 million annually in June 2016, with Pikolin accounting for around a third of the market and Flex about a quarter.


Flex has around 24 percent share of the market
Considering that Asocama valued the market at €789 million in 2007 even a decade on, the Spanish mattress market remains far short of the levels it enjoyed before the economic collapse.

Today the country’s industry faces challenges which will resonate with its UK counterparts, most notably from an ‘underground economy’. The difference in Spain is that unemployment remains a significant problem. Official figures show that in 2007 just 8.6 percent of people were out of work. This rose to an alarming 25.8 percent in 2012 and — while the figure has dropped to 18.8 percent in 2017 — the number of people officially out of work remains worryingly high. Just as problematic is the ‘temptation’ it engenders with some smaller companies – particularly in the regions – to tap into the large pool of ‘available’ workers and, by not registering them with the social security system, effectively making them illegal employees. It deprives the Government of taxes, but also saves it a fortune in unemployment benefits.

Sales invoicing (or lack of it) is another issue, along with misleading advertising and the all-too-familiar-to-Britain problem of rogue traders. The latter cash in on the fact that Spanish consumers are even more cost driven than British bed buyers. A massive 83 percent of the population cites price as the main driver when it comes to buying a new bed or mattress, the average spend being just €415 (€333 if purchased online).

No surprise either that — as with rogue traders who target bargain-mentality Brits — an underground mattress market has sprung up in Spain. In towns and cities across the country, anyone wanting to do business in a particular vicinity must apply for a licence but can still trade while they are waiting for the application to be processed.

This has led to groups of travelling traders aggressively leafleting the designated area, offering apparently ‘huge discounts’ on what are often questionable quality mattresses sold at pop-up sales venues. By the time the bargain-driven buyer realises they have been scammed, the temporary traders have moved on to another location.

As well as unemployment figures and rogue traders, Spain’s economy has been hit by the pre-crisis legacy of credit-fuelled consumption among households with limited disposable income. It meant that when the economy collapsed, household spend plummeted.

An increase in exports — mainly to France and Portugal — is helping to ease the crisis in the mattress sector with exports rising from 5.8 percent of production in 2007 to 16.1 percent in 2016. France is far and away the main importer of Spanish mattresses, accounting in 2016 for 54.5 percent of the total by value.

When it comes to Spanish consumers themselves, the nature of the country, its climate and lifestyle are reflected in both the products people buy and their sleep patterns. For a start, the traditional afternoon siesta is nowhere near as common place as it once was, as Spain adjusts to more global business habits: yet eating late at night (the result of siesta days) remains a strong tradition.

Large furniture stores are far and away the most popular place to buy beds and mattresses. Some 28 percent of all purchases are made from such retailers while general furniture shops and large department stores each account for 19 percent of sales. Interestingly, only 15 percent of purchases are made from specialist bedding stores – just 1 percent ahead of the share of market held by hypermarkets. Online sales account for just 9–10 percent: very low when compared to the UK. This may be influenced by Spain’s ‘cash is king’ mentality, with cash accounting for nearly 60 percent of transactions.

Mattress shop Madrid FW

Just 15 percent of sales are derived from specialist bedding stores
Less surprising is the fact 72 percent of Spaniards consider heat to be one of the most decisive factors determining the quality of rest, and possibly explaining why the Spanish buy mainly sprung mattresses, rather than foam. This consideration falls only slightly behind stress which leads the rankings at 76.5 percent. Bedding equipment was considered important by 61.5 percent of the population: though despite this only 48 percent had purchased a new mattress in the last 10 years and nearly half (46 percent) didn’t even both to try it out before they bought it.

These attitudes, along with the challenges of the ‘underground market’, have prompted the Spanish bedding association to target the consumer market with similar messages to those put out by The Sleep Council and the NBF in the UK. It tells Spanish buyers to buy a new mattress at least every ten years; to give the purchase serious consideration as a third of our lives are spent in bed; and to only buy a new mattress from a respectable place.

Rather like the UK, the Spanish industry is also busy lobbying to ensure that it is well positioned when extended producer responsibility (EPR) initiatives are introduced that will specifically affect them. But unlike the UK, Spain’s mattress market remains a beleaguered force, severely weighed down by the economic crisis of a decade ago.

Prospects going forward may be much more positive but there is no doubting that Spain’s bedding industry recovery has been a long and painful haul with a considerable distance still to go.

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