Monday, May 20, 2013

Where to buy a mattress in Houston

We found the idea of buying a new mattress to be a daunting proposition and so it became a decision that we literally put off for a few years.   But finally we could not tolerate our twenty-three year old (!!) mattress any longer, and so we had to climb that learning curve and get the buying job done. 
There's a wonderful CarMax TV commercial airing these days - an absolutely brilliant marketing campaign - in which a white animated line appears and guides prospective buyers and sellers toward the information they need to make their decision. 

Unfortunately, no such magical line appeared for us when we asked, "Gee, where to start?" when it came to mattress-buying. 

TV commercial thumb screengrabbed from Google. 
Being Houstonians, we started in the only logical place, which is Gallery Furniture.  Even if we don't end up proceeding with a purchase here, the GF reality check feels like an obligatory step in any furniture-buying process. 
I've always been a Gallery Furniture fan and, in fact, several major pieces in our house were purchased there (including this one). 

But here's the thing: Jim McIngvale got his legendary nickname "Mattress Mac" many years ago.  Much has changed since then, and his store no longer has an overriding focus on mattresses. 
Thirty years after it first opened, GF is more about solid wood than sawing wood

Houston freeway billboard pic screengrabbed from a Reddit post
Oh, they do still have quite a mattress selection - don't get me wrong.  But buying a mattress isn't a matter of stylistic taste so much as function, and in a mega-store which is now dominated by a fantastic selection of highly taste-specific furniture, I found the focus to be a little wonky when we transitioned into the mattress section.  The atmosphere wasn't conducive to concentration, and concentration is what we needed to muster in order to cope with the avalanche of functional choices in modern-day mattresses. 
There's plenty at Gallery Furniture to entertain - or distract, depending on your goals and how you experience the place. 
So we did inspect all of the mattresses at Gallery Furniture, and it was indeed the culturally-enriching experience I've come to enjoy over the past 20 years.  Perceiving that we were serious high-end prospective buyers, the sales staff was all over us in their trademark style, which led to an entertaining exchange, as follows. 

At one point as a salesman was elaborating with great verbosity on a particular mattress model, I caught a glimpse of Mr. McIngvale as he walked briskly behind a showroom partition. 

"Elvis is on the lot," I quipped with a raised eyebrow and an exaggerated expression of sagacity on my face, echoing the title of McIngvale's 1996 book of the same name, which of course I own a copy of. 

Downsampled screengrab from this Amazon site.
"Huh?" the salesman replied, mildly startled by my non sequiturial interruption. 

"He's on the other side of the wall.  I'm referring to the book," I explained with great amusement. 

"Oh yeah - I read it," the salesman hastily interjected. 

"Maybe you ought to read it again," the hyper-vigilant Mr. McIngvale growled from behind the partition.

Hilarity aside, we did not proceed with a purchase from Gallery Furniture that day.  We came away from that initial shopping experience feeling that we needed additional retail data points for reference.
Having not purchased a new mattress in many years, we had no idea going into it what to expect in terms of either mattress technology or pricing.  There are many choices including conventional inner spring mattress, memory foam mattress, and adjustable mattresses.  Did you know that mattresses range in price from about two hundred dollars to ALMOST TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS?!  HOLY CRAP!!  IT'S A MATTRESS - NOT A MOTOR VEHICLE!!
From Gallery Furniture, we proceeded to our local Sleep Number store. 
Here's where personal needs and preferences start entering into the analysis pretty strongly.  I personally prefer a very firm mattress - as firm as possible without causing discomfort.  In principle, a bed with adjustable firmness is a really good idea, especially given that my fantastic husband doesn't want quite as much firmness.

However the problem for me with a Sleep Number bed is that the numbers don't go high enough.  It didn't seem logical to spend all that extra money on an adjustable bed only to leave the firmness setting on 100 all of the time.

The other issue I had is that the memory foam offered by the Sleep Number store was not sufficiently dense, and we knew that we did want a memory foam topper at the very least, if not the whole mattress.  So even though I could make the bed a 100-level firmness, the top layer was still too soft.  If they had offered a range of choices in the top foam density, we probably would have proceeded with a purchase of one of these.  But they told us that they had no foam choices. 
From the Sleep Number store, we proceeded (gulp) to our local Mattress Firm store.
Up until this shopping trip, I had never set foot in one of these places, nor would I even have considered it.  This is just my personal opinion, but these stores look SO JUNKY to me!!  Cheap mattresses screaming sales prices piled outside, as if it were La Pulga or something!!  Is it too much to hope for just a tiny bit of class in a shopping experience??  A retail esthetic that does not totally grate on a person's artistic nerves??
And all that garish neon hype plastered all over the windows... "no credit check, no quality" is what messages like this suggest to me. 

By the way, you can see the iconic NASA Value Center reflected in these windows. 
But if you can actually muster the intestinal fortitude to walk inside the store, it's a different story:
To my surprise, the interior of the store approached the ideal.  Everything was arranged in an orderly manner (and I'm very big on order) - logically and color-coded so that you could actually focus on the functional aspects of the different mattress choices, without distractions, and without unnecessary hype. 

I got the feeling that this captured the complete, all-in-one-place data set that I had been missing from both Gallery Furniture and the Sleep Number store.  I got the feeling that all of the objective information I needed to make the best mattress decision was right there assembled in one convenient streamlined place.
I had always wondered why in the hell Mattress Firm stores and their imitators were popping up like weeds all over the retail landscape.  I can think of at least seven just within Clear Lake alone!!  Seven mattress stores in a single suburban enclave?!  What is up with that?!
These are just the local Mattress Firm stores - this doesn't include the knock-offs. 

Screengrabbed from the Mattress Firm website.
NOW I know the answer to that question: because this really is the best way to sell this particular item, and so the resulting sales volumes are probably supporting all those stores. 

The Mattress Firm sales people were extremely nice - helpful and responsive but not pushy.  We actually focused on a pair of Mattress Firm stores - the clearance center in the NASA value center, and the mainstream retail outlet which is directly across the Gulf Freeway on its east side (in a strip center north of the Webster Cinemark; store numbers 2 and 3 on the map above).  The clearance center sells new mattresses but re-stocks are also offered at a reduced price. 

We ended up choosing a brand new mattress rather than a re-stock, as we were emboldened by the store's "Happiness Guarantee" of full money back if we ultimately decided not to keep it. 
This one, actually.  Neither my husband nor I had slept on a memory foam mattress before, and it's a big financial decision that a person has to live with for years to come.  The idea of full money back gave us the confidence to try this route.

Note that "extra-firm" in Tempur-pedic terms doesn't mean the same thing as "extra-firm" in innerspring mattress terms - it's actually softer (in my opinion).

My recommendation if you become a Tempur-pedic owner: spend the extra money to get the matching pillow because they work together (memory foam goes with memory foam).  We got two Symphony pillows in addition to this mattress. 
Anyway, it has now been a few months since this purchase, and we are completely satisfied.  I've come to realize a couple of things:
  1. What I thought I wanted in a mattress wasn't exactly what I needed in a mattress.  As noted above, the Contour Select is not the firmest mattress on the market, but somehow it seems to work. 
  2. The best measure of a mattress might not be "how good it feels", which is an instantaneous response to a device that you actually have to use for six to ten continuous hours each day.  It's analogous to taste-testing soda pop: if all you get is one sip, you might prefer the sweeter one.  But by the time you drink your way to the bottom of each glass, you might find yourself gravitating toward the less-overwhelmingly-sweet brand instead.  Similarly, the measure of a good mattress might be the degree to which it doesn't intrude upon your daily life.  If you stumble out of bed in the morning without a single reflective thought (negative or positive) about your mattress, it's probably doing its job. 
 So there you have one middle-aged woman's highly-opinionated commentary on the subject of local mattress vendors.  Good luck with your shopping! 


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  4. Comment spammers please proceed straight to hell.

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  8. John Patinson is a COMMENT SPAMMER. Keep your crap off my website.

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I'm forced to moderate comments because the spammers have become too much for me to keep up with. If you have a legitimate comment, I will post it promptly. Sorry for the inconvenience.