Can you put a price on a good night's rest?
Betting weary-but-wealthy baby boomers are willing to do just that, mattress companies are fluffing up their selections of ultra-luxe beds that retail for more than the cost of cars, college tuition and parcels of land.
With a heart-stopping price tag approaching $50,000 -- $49,500 to be exact, although the price will climb to $59,750 in April -- the Vividus bed launched last year by the Swedish manufacturer Hastens is among the most expensive sold in the United States.
But the Vividus, which means "full of life" in Latin, is just the latest bed to target a growing consumer appetite for high-end beds made from materials such as latex, flax, memory foam, silk, cashmere, lambswool and hand-tufted horse hair.
"If you could have beautiful, incredible sleep, what's that worth?" said David Perry, bedding editor of the trade publication Furniture/Today. "The whole idea is pamper yourself, you're worth it, go for it, live the dream, sleep on a cloud. That has some appeal."
A booming business
Since 2000, the market value of the wholesale mattress industry has increased nearly 40 percent, climbing to $6.4 billion in 2005, according to the trade group International Sleep Products Association.
But it's the luxury market that's behind much of the trend. Premium-priced mattresses -- those costing more than $1,000 -- were 21 percent of sales in 2005, the latest data available, up from 14 percent in 2000.
Furniture/Today says the figure may be even higher. According to the magazine's survey of shoppers, about 56 percent of dollars spent on bedding went for products that cost more than $1,000. That's up from 37 percent in 2000, according to the magazine's survey.
Meanwhile, the average cost of a queen-size bed has grown to about $700, up from $600 five years ago, experts said.
But some people are willing to pay much, much more.
Less than a dozen handmade Vividus mattresses have been sold worldwide since July, but customers are increasingly buying "cheaper" models that cost up to $20,000, said Mary Pat Wallace, owner of Hastens' Chicago store that began selling the Vividus last month. The company opened U.S. stores five years ago and has had a 66 percent increase in sales annually the past four years.
Hypnos, a rival British company that touts its lineage as the official bed supplier to the royal family, sells beds for between $8,000 and $20,000. It expects U.S. sales to continue growing at a rate of about 20 percent a year.
"We've been looking for an opportunity to get into this market, but up until five years ago, we didn't see there was a desire or a need for the upper-end product," said Adrian Jones, director of sales for Hypnos USA, which has its U.S. factory in Gallatin, Tennessee.
The cost of comfort
But does paying a small fortune for a bed ensure the perfect snooze? It depends who you ask.
Chicago attorney Charlotte Wager, 42, has spent more than $13,000 in the past three years to buy Hastens mattresses for herself and two of her children. Wager said she likes the beds and their 25-year warranty so much that she's considering buying two more for her older children.
"You want to be able to go to bed at night and rejuvenate and rest and recuperate," Wager said. "And to me, the mattress is an investment in that."
Michael King, a mattress buyer for the Macy's department store chain, attributes the fivefold increase in the price of top-end beds sold by his company to consumers' heightened awareness of the importance of rest.
"They're investing more in their home in general and they're thinking about sleep in a different way," King said. "It's connecting health and sleep in one, instead of just looking at sleep as something they do every night."
The luxury bed sector is poised to become even more important for big-name mattress companies. They see a handsome profit on lower-priced luxury alternatives that can still cost thousands.
The trend has been in the works since the early 1990s when Lexington, Kentucky-based Tempur-Pedic International Inc. introduced its memory foam bed.
"Once the mattress manufacturers realized that consumers would pay thousands of dollars for a mattress, we saw other companies rush to enter the market with their own versions of premium bedding," said Morningstar analyst John Gabriel.
Sealy Corp., the nation's largest wholesale mattress maker, unveiled 36 new models earlier this year -- nearly three-quarters of which sell for more than $750, the company's standard for a premium product. Sealy beds, including the high-end Stearns & Foster line, can sell for $4,000.
Sealy's treasurer Mark Boehmer said the company, in Trinity, North Carolina, expects about one-third of its future growth to come from its higher-priced offerings.
At Serta International, a Vera Wang-branded line announced last year has helped the private company post double-digit growth. The mattresses, which include aloe vera "enhanced" fabric, sell for up to $4,000. And this month, the Hoffman Estates-based company also will begin selling its "Serenity" collection -- springless beds made with latex that will cost up to $3,000. Plans are also in the works for more expansions to the No. 2 bedding brand's premium and luxury lines.
"(Customers) aren't as sticker-shocked as they might have been three to five years ago," said Maria Balistreri, vice president of brand management.
But to people like Wager, it's all about the slumber.
"It's more than just a bed," she said. "What you're buying is a peaceful night's sleep."