A Behind-the-Scenes Look Inside a Mattress Factory

stearns & foster mattress factory tour
I got the Golden Ticket!

Well … sort of. Full disclosure, Stearns & Foster approached The Manual with an invitation for a writer to visit the company’s Greensboro, North Carolina, headquarters to not only get a behind the scenes look at a mattress factory, but also to “make [our] own mattress.” My editor tossed the story my way, where he received a resounding “huh?” from me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a self-professed design geek, and an issue of Dwell is like soft porn for me, but mattresses? I mean, aside from the obvious, where’s the sex? A mattress is a mattress, right? Boy, was I wrong.

Once Upon a Mattress

At Stearns & Foster’s immaculately decorated headquarters, we were ushered into the company’s product showroom where studio lighting illuminated three beds. Five writers and editors suddenly had performance anxiety, but before long we were contorting ourselves into positions to recreate how we sleep all while the Stearns & Foster product development and marketing teams and a photographer and his assistant looked on. We were encouraged to roll around on the three beds of varying degrees of firmness to find the most comfortable according to our own preference. Oddly enough, we all ended up choosing the same model. It must say something about how writers keep themselves up at night worrying about their stories.

Then there was a quick lesson about springs and pillow tops: Stearns & Foster has a patented “IntelliCoil” inner construction that keeps things … ahem … bouncy, and a collection of other techniques that not only add comfort but also prevent parts of the mattress from sagging over time. Of course the pillow-top (that extra, padded layer on top of many modern mattresses) itself is a masterpiece of modern engineering, and as it grew thicker and softer, we found ourselves getting more comfortable, to the point that we were definitely in need of an espresso.

We Are the Robots

To wake us up, we moved from the showroom to the real guts of the facility, including a testing laboratory where the products are subject to all sorts of indignities. Mattresses are massaged more than 100,000 times by a 240 pound Rollator, punched in the gut over and over again with a 230 pound weight, and repeatedly sat upon by a robot named NOBI (short for “no body impressions”) with a big, wooden butt meant to simulate somebody getting in and out of bed for ten years (that’s 5,000 times, spread across four days, and S&F is the only company that utilizes this technology, by the way).

We were then introduced to a part of the research and development team that uses sophisticated machinery to bend and twist steel wire into convoluted shapes — think 3D printing meets (a very intelligent) pair of pliers. This machine (which we weren’t even allowed to photograph) is used to develop new coil technology and the Stearns & Foster team has even won awards for their engineering proficiency. An adjoining lab subjects fibers and fabrics through tests to assure durability, as well as temperature and humidity resistance.

Burn After Reading

A quick walk across the parking lot and things got really exciting when we went to the Fire Resistance Lab and got to watch some guys set shit on fire.

No, really. This is where mattresses are randomly tested to be sure they are up to Consumer Product Safety Commission standards for fire retardancy. Stearns & Foster’s parent company, Tempur Sealy International, is the only bedding manufacturer to have such a lab on site.

It was at just about this point in the day when I realized I was surrounded by chemical, mechanical, and various other types of engineers, and really started to geek out. As I said, we’re talking mattresses here, but there are almost as much technology and experience going into production as an automobile. We headed onto the actual factory floor where monitors tracked productivity throughout the assembly process. Sensors checked movement to keep traffic flowing smoothly and safely, and even watched trucks to make sure they were locked into place on the loading dock and that no employees accidentally get shipped off! This plant ships 8,000 mattresses a week…and it’s one of the company’s smaller facilities.

A few steps further and we headed into the Prototype Lab, where Master Craftsman, promoted from the ranks of the factory floor for their proficiency and expertise, bustle about like Santa’s elves the week before Christmas. The marketing and product development team have the very latest in technology at their disposal, which is sometimes as simple as a sewing machine but can also involve some pretty heavy duty quilting equipment. Experimenting with various hand-crafting and machined techniques, the team can crank out mattress prototypes, with the benefit of hundreds of years of combined experience to ensure maximum results. Here we each got to try our hand at stitching, tufting, gluing, etc., and really gained an appreciation for the labor and skill that go into creating a modern mattress. It was easy to understand why each one gets a hand-signed label from the craftsman who built the bed.

Sleep Writing

A few weeks later my mattress, from the Lux Estate Collection, was delivered to my home. I can only tell you that since then, I have been sleeping like a baby most nights. One Saturday morning, having gone to bed a little early and with no alarm going off, I was so deeply asleep, the only thing I could compare it to was going under anesthesia.

inside look stearns and foster mattress factory photos 14
The lesson learned here is not only that a new mattress can be life-changing, but that with modern technology, going to bed commands a whole new level of respect. It’s recommended to change your mattress every ten years, so head in for an upgrade if it’s been a decade or so. I would definitely recommend going to a store and rolling around a bit to be sure that you find the right “fit,” but by all means, buy the best you can afford. Your “Zzzs” will thank you.

If a regular mattress and bed aren’t good enough for you though, if you really need something more, this Chinese super-bed may just be what you’re looking for.

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