Transcript: Space4U podcast, Jill Johnson & Allen Platek

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello. I am Carah Barbarick with the Space Foundation, and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s space exploration possible. Today we are joined by Jill Johnson from Tempur-Pedic and Allen Platek from Tempur-Sealy.


As VP of brand management for Tempur-Pedic Jill serves as a senior leader on the Tempur-Pedic marketing team. In this role, she draws on her technical background and business mindset to oversee brand and product strategy across Tempur-Pedic’s premium range of mattresses, adjustable basis, pillows and toppers.


During her tenure on the Tempur-Pedic brand, she has overseen the development and launch of the brands, highly successful Tempur-Pedic adapt and breeze mattress collections. Jill began her tenure at Tempur -Sealy as a new products program manager. And over the past decade has served in a range of brand and marketing management positions, helping to drive product strategy and bring new sleep solutions to life across the portfolio of brands.


Alan leads the new product development team at Tempur-Sealy with a focus on bringing consumer benefit, driven innovation to each product development cycle across all brands for the company in his current role, Alan runs the new product development group innovation office. Analytical labs, prototype labs and product test labs and oversees all major product development efforts from the product concept phase through commercialization, his teams establish the platform strategies, objectives, and design principles, and are responsible for leading and providing technical support across the product portfolio for Tempur-Sealy worldwide.


Thank you both for joining us today. You’re welcome. Glad to be here. So I’m sure after that delightful introduction, some of our listeners are wondering how Tempur material is connected to space. We at the Space Foundation are proud to have Tempur material and our space technology hall of fame because of your work with NASA and the shuttle program.


Jill, do you think you could start us off with a little history on Tempur material and its connection to space? Tempur material is really unlike anything else. And it has unique material properties that makes it body responsive. And that body responsiveness ties back to the roots with NASA and the space down nation.


So, Alan, you want to talk about the space connection? Yeah, that would be great in a scientific sense. It’s a visco-elastic foam that delivers both on conformance. That’s the visco part of it and support that’s the elastic part of it. But the tie in with space goes like this back in the 1960s, NASA was working on a material that would reduce the effects of G-forces on the body when astronauts were launched into and when they returned from space.


And that’s really where the story begins. In the 1980s, some Swedish scientists got ahold of this material and they thought, Hey, let’s build on this pressure relieving idea. And they perfected it for the sleep experience, doubling it, Tempur material. They started to make mattress overlays at that time with the material.


So they could deliver that conforming, supportive sleep to consumers all over Sweden. From there. I think it was around 1992. If I’m not mistaken. A gentleman named Bobby Trussell visited Europe, looking for horses. Now, Bobby was from Kentucky. So of course he was in the horse breeding industry. But while he was there, he slept on a mattress that had the overlay of the Tempur material on it.


And he became instantly hooked and inspired by that experience. Instead of bringing horses back to the States, he brought the Tempur material technology back to the States. And he started trying to sell a three-inch topper and the Swedish neck pillow, which is still in our line, but he failed. I mean, he wasn’t an abysmal failure when he started at it, but he never gave up and he got the idea of going into chiropractor’s offices, striking deals with hundreds of chiropractors across the nation.


If they would display his pillows in their waiting rooms. And from there, it just took off. And now we’re at a point where we sell over a half million mattresses a year in over 70 different countries around the world. I’ll go, Alan. The reason Bobby never gave up is because he believed in that magic of the Tempur material.


So anytime he took that topper or pillow and then followed with mattresses and had someone lie down and experience the way that the material interacted with their body, really relieving pressure. And conforming precisely to their weight, their shape, and even their temperature to give them that relaxed experience.


Then he knew that it was magic and he had to keep progressing the business opportunity. And then it continued to grow as more and more people experienced that Tempur material. Now, Jill, as a engineer, I object to the word magic. But I think you’re right in this sense, I call it the Tempur melt, you know, a lot of memory foams out there.


There’s a lot of memory foams out there and they almost all instantly conformed to your body, but that Tempur material, it conforms over a period of time and it responds perfectly to your body weight, your temperature and your shape. And so. You mentioned that I work for Tempur -Sealy and I’ve worked for Sealy before the merger for 17 years, we merged with Tempur in 2013.


And I can absolutely tell you that Seely chase, that Holy grail for the 17 years, I was there of trying to create Tempur material. And we were Epic failures. We never were able to do it. You say it’s not magic, then it has to be science. Without giving the secret away. What is a little bit of the science behind it?


How, how exactly does that material work? That’s a good question because you know, it’s almost like the formula. We never give the formula because the formula is like the formula to Coca Cola. Well, it’s a highly guarded secret, but that said, it’s that combination of the bonds that are developed with the formula we use and how we call the measurement of how the foam conforms and the time it takes to conform the creep.


And that’s what we work on that is very different compared to all those other memory foams that are out there. Basically as a consumer, the way you experience it, when you lie down on a Tempur-Pedic you feel down to kind of the molecular level, the material, reacting to your weight, shape and temperature.


And it’s not doing that instantly, but kind of over time to give you that melt sensation as it forms to your shape personally, and gives you that pressure relief and deep relaxation. Excellent. So really it’s the length of the time it takes to melt that just really gives the better experience. Yeah. The length of time and then the temperature curve and weight as well.


Our force. Exactly. And the depth of the melt as well. Interesting. I’m so intrigued.


I think I do so most people, when they hear your name, they immediately go to the mattresses that kind of is their, their go-to product. But you really started with the pillows and you have this whole broad range of other products. Can you tell us a little bit more about what else is in the product line?


So we go to market with Tempur-Pedic in the U.S. with mattresses. Adjustable bases, pillows, toppers, and some other comfort accessories. Within our mattress portfolio, we have Tempur adapt mattresses and Tempur breeze mattresses, and those are really grounded in consumer insights around the need for that pressure relief, adaptive support.


The Tempur adapt collection offers and breeze is all based on the needs of hot sleepers. And over 62% of households in the us have a hot sleeper. And so Alan and his team can talk further here in a moment about the science behind our Breeze mattress line. In addition to those very successful mattresses, we have adjustable basis, and we’re really proud of our Tempur Ergo collection and really the growth of the adjustable base category that Tempur-Pedic has driven over the years.


And really that product is focused on giving consumers our range of personalized options and positions to really enable the best ergonomics for them. Either while relaxing in bed, watching TV or throughout the night, maybe with their feet elevated to increase blood flow. For example, our pillows is definitely part of our roots and in fact, that Swedish neck pillow is still in our logo today.


And that was one of the first products brought over to the U.S. and that really is again, an ergonomic solution, enabling your head and neck to be properly supported, whether you’re on your back or your side when sleeping. We have a broader range of pillows. That again are really grounded in consumer needs.


Whether you want a softer pillow, a lower profile pillow or something, a little higher profile. And then we also have cooling pillows as well under our Tempur-Breeze line. Additionally toppers is still a key part of our portfolio to increase the comfort of maybe an older mattress or more temporary sleeping environment, et cetera.


And then we have some extra comfort products, whether they’re a travel product or a nice office chair, cushion, et cetera, and Jill, those toppers are great, great accessories for college students to take off to school on those horrible borne mattresses. Yeah, Alan has a lot of experience, I think was college dorm.


I mean, temporary living spaces and probably his kids are most popular because of their camper coffers. Now did I see that you have some sort of stuffed animal in your product line? That’s true. So Tempur material is extremely comfortable and people want to interact with it. And so we actually created a Teddy bear.


Oh, well, back through our partnership with the pancreatic cancer network, as it really a form and product to show our advocacy and awareness. For their network and great nonprofit association. And then we’ve expanded our Teddy bear assortment. I think we have a stuffed dog as well, a little puppy dog, and those are a favorite in my house with young kids, but continue to be a fun way to introduce Tempur-Pedic to a broader range of consumers.


It’s a great early age marketing tool while they’re young and then they’ll buy the topper for college and just keep moving up. Right. I love it. So you have this huge broad range and really it’s all focused about that sleep process and really reinventing the way people sleep. From the original technology to today. How much of that original technology do you have in the products?


A lot’s happened over the past 25 years and, uh, a lot of what that technology is has changed, but it’s changed a lot for the better. And I, I guess the analogy or comparison I can make is with, with space technology, you know, the technology that’s used in space exploration today is very different than the technology that took us to the Moon.


But the essence is still there. And the passion, the passion for excellence is still there as well. For example, one of the things we’ve done is that we’ve taken that original Tempur material and changed it to meet consumers, growing concerns about being environmentally friendly and how that’s evolved over the past 25 years.


So now. All Tempur mattresses are certified, pure us certified and cert appear as a third-party independent organization that certifies foams for, to meet strict environmental standards. So we also have mattresses with cooling washable covers that meet consumer needs to sleep cooler and sleep clean. You know, I think Jill mentioned it earlier.


We have breeze mattresses that deliver all night cooling because. Like she said 62% of the households in the United States have at least one person in that household that has a hard time that sleeps hot. And now we have sleep tracker technology that consents, if you’re snoring and automatically adjust the head of your bed to align your windpipe better, to alleviate that condition.


And that technology also provides customized feedback on your sleep environment. So I think while the technology has changed, And maybe there’s, you know, other than the secret sauce of that Tempur material, a lot has changed very much like NASA and like space technology, the passion and the drive for excellence and to improve remained the same.


I can hear the passion oozing from you, Alan. It’s amazing. I love it. I get excited for a long time. I think underlying with all of what Alan mentioned is a deep understanding of consumers and not only our categories, but also macro trends. You talked about health and wellness initiatives and clean and hygienic.


Those are definitely spaces of interest and where we’ve really delivered and continue to deliver innovative solutions. Another fun one. I mean, we have an extremely passionate team, not only in marketing, but especially in the technical side, which Alan leads. One of the latest material innovations of Tempur-Pedic is our new Tempur APR foam formulation.


And this is a true advancement in Tempur material that not only delivers that kind of long slow melt that we described over time, reacting to your weight, shape and temperature, but it performs superior in pressure release to other formulations. Alan’s team not only can develop technology, but they also recommended a name of Tempur APR standing for advanced pressure relief.


So as marketers, we usually like to name our own things, but we let even the technical team not only develop the formula for that one, but we let them name it. Well. Yeah, but what Jill’s not telling you is we named it. Amazing pressure relief marketing. I like them both. I just hear this beautiful blend of science, driving your innovations, but really people and what people need driving those innovations.


How do you blend those two and really who’s on your team of sleep experts to make that happen. That’s a good question. And that runs right into the innovation product that Tempur-Pedic and everybody is on the innovation process team and anybody that has a good idea. It can be, we look at innovation from an inside out approach and from an outside in approach.


So what does that really mean? It means we’re combining what we’re really good at, which is the inside out. With what consumers really want. And I can’t emphasize it’s what consumers really want. And that’s the outside in a lot of what we do is based on consumer research, but we look for ideas everywhere, suppliers, customers, consumer research industries, outside of our own industry.


And then just getting together in a room and doing some good old-fashioned brainstorming. And you’ll see when we have a brainstorming session care, we’ll have people there from marketing. Sales, the technical community sourcing we’ve even brought in people from finance, accounting, human resources, because everybody has good ideas.


And then the process itself is it’s a matter of expansion and contraction. First, you expand your thinking. And basically at this point, the only bad idea is one that’s left on set. After you throw all these ideas out there, you start to contract and focus your thinking on the ones that really focus on the consumer problem you’re trying to solve.


And from there, you’ll expand again, but only on the ideas that are left over. And eventually through that iterative process, you distill the ideas down to where you want. You get that one great idea that delivers the consumer benefit you were looking for. You are speaking my language as, as a former educator, just hearing you say every, every thought counts and every person.


Can be included. That really is just a wonderful thing that you guys are doing. I so love hearing that. And I think other people are recognizing the great products that you’re pushing out and that kind of engineering and process that you’re pushing forward. Can you tell us a little about your recent award with popular science?


Sure. Can I start with how we got there to begin with? So we got a recent award from pop-up Wheeler science that was awarded to our Tempur Luxe breeze mattress. And we had got the best of their what’s new awards in 2019, but it just doesn’t happen that way. In Trinity, North Carolina, where I’m based, we have a state-of-the-art lab that’s dedicated to sleep climate research.


And we’ve literally invested millions of dollars in equipment to measure things like the air flow and conductivity of foams, the heat in fabrics and the effects of temperature and humidity on that microclimate between the mattress and your body when you’re lying on the, on the mattress. I mean, we have things like sweating, torsos that accurately simulate the interface between your body and the mattress.


And we actually have a sweating head that does the same thing between your head and the pillow. So we approach climate research in much the same way that space exploration is approached. We do it through scientific method and through experimentation, we don’t leave it to chance. And I believe we’re the only people in the industry that are approaching sleep science this way.


And that’s how with that commitment, how do we develop that Luxe breeze mattress that sleeps up to eight degrees cooler than a non-Breeze mattress? 2019 Popular Science comes around and say, wow, that’s pretty cool. And you think about that. Imagine that a mattress. Winning an innovation award from a science publication.


Got to tell you I was pretty pumped up when I heard we won that one. I can only imagine, not again, like you said, you really are just bringing in that scientific process and I’m kind of in awe thinking of mattresses and labs is, is mind blowing. So we need to get you a Tempur-Pedic and a trip to Trinity North here.


I know I have my shopping list and now I have my travel list. It’s pretty incredible that facility, um, and continued expansion of technologies. And, you know, if there’s not an ASTMs standard test, then Alan’s team goes and works with universities to develop a specific test, to make sure that we’re measuring and optimizing to the right material properties, to the right thermal properties, et cetera, to truly deliver those breakthroughs in science and technology.


That’s a great point, Jill. There are a lot of tests out there where we don’t believe that the standard test methods used in the industry adequately simulate what’s happening on a mattress. So we’ll go out and invent more rigorous tests that do that. Nothing, but thorough also done that Alan on the consumer side of things.


And I think one of, many of our team members, savory phrases, the feel is the deal feel is something that’s a little bit subjective. And so in addition to characterizing field of a mattress with some more technical tests of an Allen’s lab, we also over the years have really perfected. Robust consumer research methodology that allows us to have a tool to really measure every generation and improvement and Tempur product to ensure that it’s superior and really received high marks from consumers on those core core measurements that consumers really validate us by comfort support, conformance, ease in and out of the bed, et cetera.


So that’s another great tool that we use really independently created to ensure that we’re continuing to deliver. Improved product year over here. And Jill, that tool, something that a new product development uses as our guide, if you would, even as our Bible to develop products that are going to be winning with our consumers, given that perfect marriage of the consumer and the science.


So Jill, I know Alan kind of touted the award from popular science, but have you guys been receiving other kudos for, for more your side of the house? Yeah, I think the last few years we would say are the years of kudos. In addition to getting awards from the experts in science, popular science, we’ve also received the JD power award, which you could say is the expert consumer voice Tempur-Pedic was rated number one in customer satisfaction with retail mattresses in 2019.


And not only the consumers that are surveyed and recent owners that the JD power team. Surveys award us with high ranks, but I think ongoing consumer feedback, whether it’s the reviews on our website, social media posts, et cetera, that positive feedback and really own her love. We dug Tempur love, really fueled that innovation and enthusiasm and passion that we have across our teams within Tempur-Pedic and Tempur-Sealy corporation.


Additionally breeds, you know, not only recognized for the science, but we’ve also. Racked up other kudos for that product from good housekeeping to Newsweek and Tempur-Breeze is actually now our most awarded product yet. So really proud of the performance there. I think popular mechanics was the last one.


Zillow. Wow. Well, I would say huge. Congratulations to you guys. Your people are definitely recognizing all the hard work you’re putting into the products. Yeah. And specifically for breeze, this isn’t our first generation of Tempur Breeze product. It’s actually ours. Third and because of the continued investments and ongoing innovation within the thermal labs, as well as with consumers and understanding kind of behaviors of hot sleepers, we’ve been able to develop this third generation of breeze product.


It’s not only loved by consumers in market today, but also seeing prior breeze, generation consumers, wanting to have that next advancement in cooling technology from the trusted brand. Tempur-Pedic. Yeah. And marketing, I have to tell you, they gave us a challenge with this third generation of breeze because the first two generations of breeze helped you get to sleep.


But they didn’t help you stay asleep all night long. You know, marketing came to us and it was probably what, four years ago, Jill, when we first started working on it and said, we want a mattress that keeps you cooler all night long. And we just kind of said, yeah, sure. Start all day long, eight to 10 hours out.


And not just one to two, three to four. No, no, no. All night long. We succeeded. It took a huge effort. We spent a couple of years developing more breathable foams that still gave you that temporary experience we spent. I can’t tell you how many untold hundreds of hours in that lab testing sleep systems to see where we got there.


And what ended up happening is you have the Luxe breeze mattress, and you know, it, it delivers cooling all night long, um, eight degrees cooler, in fact, wow. That’s a significant drop. It is. It is. It’s very significant. And one more thing on my shopping list. I love it. So I have to say, you know, space is one of my first loves.


So I’m deeply curious with all the plans of heading back to the Moon and heading to Mars. Do you see any future space applications coming from temper? Wow. I don’t know. That’s a, you got that one. I could see our products being used in, in space for sure. If there was a call to need and, and, and we would certainly be interested in, in working on that.


Excellent. Well, I just keep thinking the microgravity that changes everything, but just super curious. So before we wrap up today, I really would like to know what is your Tempur material? Go-to product. And why is that one may be your favorite? I’ll lean in to breathe again. Here, let you breathe from, is my top tech, not only is it the essence of that Tempur pressure relief with that Tempur APR foam formulation that we described earlier and offer that conforming support that only Tempur delivers, but it also has all the breeds benefits and that sleeps up to eight degrees cooler coming from a hot sleeper.


It’s definitely a solution and top ticket at my household. I also like the breeze neck pillow that goes along with it, especially, it’s kind of like a side and back sleeper. That’s a really great solution that offers that cooling feel, but also that ergonomic support for your neck and head while you can fall asleep, mine’s a little different, but it’s, and maybe due to be my long history on the inner spring side of the business, but for me, it’s the Tempur Pro-Adapt hybrid.


And the hybrid mattress combines the best of both worlds. It has the push-back supportive that inner spring in it, and it has little bounce to it, but it has the conformance and comfort of Tempur material. And for me, that’s Nirvana for me. And I also sleep on a Tempur-Breeze pillows. So Alan’s not alone.


The Tempur Pro-Adapt medium hybrid continues to be a popular one with consumers over the last two years. So great. Two different types of sleepers and they found their nirvana in different things. Awesome. Well, is there anything I left out you guys wanted to, to add to today’s conversation? The one thing I would like to talk about a little bit of is, you know, what’s going on?


What are we looking toward in the future? We’re constantly developing new foams and new benefit driven feature that deliver on our purpose of delivering better sleep, to more people all around the world every night. So it might not be just mattresses and it might not just be pillows. It might be futons and mats and part of Asia where a large part of the population doesn’t sleep on sleep on a mattress.


But right now our focus is really in three areas. And I think we’ve touched on them, all customization, climate and hygiene. We look at it this way. Can we develop products that a consumer can easily customize to meet their needs? A lot of partners compromise on the bed. Uh, she wants a softer bed. I want a firm bed.


We’re going to go with something in the middle or they go with something. They absolutely don’t like it only, only pleases one of the partners. So we’re looking at how we can overcome that. Can we design a mattress? That has asthma and allergy friendly. There are so many people in the world with respiratory problems right now.


Can we do that and help them sleep better? Let’s face it. This is the elephant in the room with COVID-19 prompting us. Can we develop a mattress that can be cleaned and disinfected easily, or even self-disinfects going back to sleeping hat. Can we deliver a sleep system that senses and responds to the microclimate between your skin and the mattress and adjust the temperature and humidity automatically without the consumer having to do anything.


So those are the kinds of things that we’re looking for in the future for the future. Those are pretty audacious goals. I’m impressed. Thank you. Are you already in progress? Some of those, are they just kind of on the drawing board at this point? Yeah. Uh, some of them are in progress already. Yes, absolutely.


Yeah, I think it’s part of our process. We want to make sure that we’re filling the funnel per se, with longer-term as well as more near-term innovation opportunities. You know, at minimum three to five years ahead of where we’re going with with innovation and with new products and, you know, from now, which is 2020 through maybe 2025, and that pipeline has to keep continuously being replenished.


Excellent. I think you guys have got it down to a science and certainly are doing great work. Thank you. Thank you both for joining us today. I’ve loved hearing how space technology has really driven the new science of, of sleep climate and the results of that. And that concludes this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast.


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Space4U Podcast: Jill Johnson and Allen Platek — Tempur-Pedic