Monday, May 25, 2015

Honoring the true spirit of Memorial Day: Everyone bought a mattress, right?


Shaun Hiltner, manager of the Rockville Pike Mattress Warehouse, begins his Memorial Day commemoration by posting sale signs in Rockville (MD). Darting through traffic to post signs, says Shaun, is "the most deadly part of being a mattress salesman," which is widely known to rank with tight-rope walking, bomb defusing, and census-taking as one of the highest-risk occupations.

by Ken

As the Memorial Day weekend draws to a close, most Americans staring at themselves in mirrors or selfies will be asking themselves the question that looms so large for us during this holiday season: Did I buy a mattress over the weekend?

The Washington Post's Monica Hesse was all over the story ("It’s Memorial Day weekend, and these mattress salesmen will not rest").
Early on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, at approximately the same time that a Rockville mattress salesman named John Pattammady was telling himself that the decision not to hire the cheerleaders had been the correct judgment for this particular mattress event, another Rockville mattress salesman named Shaun Hiltner was blowing up a 35-foot-tall inflatable vinyl giant whose official name was Mattress Man.

“Nice,” he said, appraising the figure, which dominated the front of the Mattress Warehouse where he was store manager.

Already this morning he had darted into traffic to stake six dozen “sale” signs along the highway exit. (“The most deadly part of being a mattress salesman,” he said.) Already he had lofted a promotional weather balloon 40 stories above the shopping plaza. John, for his part, had spent the previous evening staking his own signs in front of his store, Mattress Fame, as well as acquiring many small American flags for appropriate festivity. (“You can get them down at the dollar store,” he said.)

It was one of the mattressiest weekends of the year on one of the mattressiest stretches of the region. A three-mile strip of Rockville Pike contained Shaun’s store, John’s store, a Sleepy’s, another Sleepy’s, a Mattress Discounters, another Mattress Discounters, a Savvy Rest and a Healthy Back, and every store was competing for the customers who trudged between them carrying holiday circulars or humming jingles. . . .
Those trudging customers are, of course, the living embodiment of the Spirit of Memorial Day. But the true mattress professional that those trudgers can never be taken for granted. "If the weather's too nice," cautions John Pattammady of Mattress Fame, "everyone will go to the beach." And John knows, reports Monica Hesse, that among the Memorial Day observers who shun the beach,
when it came to mattresses, you never could guess with a customer. He had seen men driving Jaguars and wearing $300 shoes come in and demand to spend no more than $200 on a mattress.
John's Rockville competitor Shaun Hiltner of Mattress Warehouse also knows the rigors of dealing with participants in the Memorial Day mattress ritual. Here's Monica again:
To be a mattress salesman over Memorial Day was about being an educator and a therapist, Shaun believed. Peering behind what buyers said they wanted, into the depths and desires of the long-weekend suburban American psyche.
This is clearly not a vocation for the faint of heart. Brian Foley, the assistant manager at Mattress Warehouse, learns the hard way that shoppers are not to be trusted. He had to seek counsel from Shaun, his boss, to deal with a young couple who --
were trying to make their first joint mattress purchase — a very firm one, please — but they tried several without success, and eventually Brian was stumped. “Shaun?” he called. “Do you have any suggestions?”

Shaun had a feeling, related to a salesman slogan he’d once heard: “Buyers are liars.” It didn’t mean people intentionally lied. It meant sometimes they didn’t know what they wanted until they were lying on it — so he tried the firm-mattress couple on a slightly softer bed.
“Oh, this is nice,” the boyfriend said.

“You want to feel something really nice?” Shaun said, and led them across a few aisles.

“Oh, wow,” said the girlfriend, lying down on the appointed mattress.

“I never expected this out of a bed,” said the boyfriend.
Instead of buying something very firm, they’d fallen in love with a $2,000 “luxetop plush microcoil,” one of the softest beds in the store.
Is it any wonder that Memorial Day is such a fraught holiday? Oh, the horror! The mattress wars are hell, and Monica has many more war stories to share, from just the first day of this year's commemoration. Why, it's a wonder that any of these folks make it through the whole weekend to tell their tales.

What could say "Memorial Day" more than the age-old ritual of the Tying of the Sale-Priced Mattresses on the Car Roof?



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