Going to the mattresses (a bleg)

Why are the cheapest, most comfortable mattresses all in Africa?

We’ve been shopping for a bed for our New York apartment. I can’t help but marvel: the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever had is the firm foam number bought in a Ugandan shop. I think I paid $10.

Why aren’t these on sale in the US? Why do foam mattresses cost four gazillion dollars?

If the global economy works like I think it should, somewhere in New York these mattresses are sold. A free blog subscription to any reader who can point me there…

22 thoughts on “Going to the mattresses (a bleg)

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  6. I’ll second the IKEA recommendation. They have a wide variety of foam mattresses with different thicknesses and levels of firmness, and they’re far cheaper than all that ridiculous fluffy crap. I bought one a few years ago as a starving grad student, and it’s still fine. Plus, they come rolled up in super vacuum compressed tubes, so you can easily fit them in a trunk or backseat.

  7. I would like to add my voice to the opponents of foam mattresses. I used them for 2 years in Rwanda, and went through 3 mattresses in that time. They gradually deform and you end up in a hammock-like pit.

    If you like them, I suggest you look for ‘Memory Foam’ mattresses. Similar concept, but (I would claim) far superior quality.

  8. Texas in Africa is right – you’ll be needing a new one every few months. I’m not sure of the exact timeline for their expiration, because the ones I’ve slept on (for a few weeks, the stack of 3 I slept on to combat the problem) have all been pre-flattened into uselessness by previous occupants.

  9. Senegalese traders in Harlem are your best bet. Otherwise, I think I spotted some in Sunset Park in Brooklyn (on 5th ave somewhere between 45th and 50th streets)

  10. urrgh, I hated foam mattresses and its been one of the joys of being back in Canada not to have a foam mattress, I can’t abide by them, they are either too squishy or too hard, never the right amount of give.

  11. Econ 101

    Mattreses are bulky, require expensive storage (e.g. in NYC) and have low sales turnover – ergo there is not much room for many suppliers and those that exist make money by selling expensive mattreses. At $10 you’ll sell all the mattresses in one day and be out of business the next.

    So what do you do?

    You avoid dedicated mattress sellers in the US – which due to the economics of the business are expensive – and go to a supplier for whom mattresses are but a complementary good to their main line of business; one that has plenty of storage space and high turnover to boot. You guessed it, theprovider with the best and cheapest mattresses is IKEA.

    So, why are they so cheap in Africa? Because the market cannot support a dedicated wholesaler like Mattress Discounters, costs are cheap, and second hand is all the rage.

    • I think you are wrong. Mouka (http://www.mouka.com/) has been doing whole sale materess producing and distribution for a long time in Nigeria now. The market does certainly support it. I think the answer is basically in how American beds are made. They use metal bases (springs) and those are more expensive to make and less comfortable to sleep on.

  12. Ooo… I got so frustrated mattress shopping that I decided not to bother (at least for a while). I think this sums it well (and makes perfect economic sense):

    “The secret to mattress shopping is that the product is basically a commodity.[…] Mattress makers rename identical products for each different retail store. Different labels, exact same guts. Why? Obfuscation. It’s hard to shop for the lowest price when you can’t compare apples to apples.” (http://slate.com/id/93956/)

    Good luck in your quest. You might want to consider shipping one back from Uganda – it’s probably cheaper.

  13. I don’t have the slightest idea, but in my experience, those firm foam numbers have a very limited lifespan. As in, “once I spent the summer in Congo sleeping in a pit that had formed in the middle of the so-called ‘firm’ foam mattress.”