Mattress Boulevard You might find yourself getting sleepy on St. James Street, with no fewer than 20 mattress stores in a five-km stretch

Just call it Mattress Boulevard.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/12/2018 (1505 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Just call it Mattress Boulevard.

In just a five-kilometre stretch of St. James Street from Portage to Dublin avenues, there are no less than 20 retailers aiming to sell Winnipeggers their latest pillow-tops, and there used to be even more.

That may seem excessive for a product that consumers rarely buy.

In recent years, as Internet mattress sales have boomed, and as the city has grown, the Winnipeg mattress market has spread out.

That’s according to Best Sleep Centre’s David Keam, who for a quarter-century has been telling Manitoba shoppers “you’ll find us.” But whereas three years ago he could be found in seven locations, Keam has since closed all of his rural stores, leaving only four brick-and-mortars in Winnipeg.

The slogan still rings true, Keam insists. “Only you might have to drive another 50 miles to find me,” he says. “A jug of milk needs to be available nearby; a mattress doesn’t anymore.”

Many consumers have turned to e-commerce mattress companies, such as Caspar or the Canadian Endy, which was recently purchased by Sleep Country, retail bed-in-a-box options to millions of consumers nationwide. Craig Patterson, the founder of the website Retail Insider, says online sales account for nearly 10 per cent of total mattress purchases in Canada, and Endy expects to make $50 million through its bed-in-a-box products this year. At least 100 online mattress start-ups exist, he says.

So how has such a high number of mattress stores persisted in an area such as St. James Street despite a seeming migration toward the Internet and away from showrooms? “Because mattresses are very much a tactile thing,” Patterson says. “And brands cluster where consumers are.”

Graeme bruce / Winnipeg Free Press Map includes locations along St. James Street where you can buy a new mattress.

Keam says buyers often hop between stores, not dissimilar from car dealerships in an auto park, to try to get the best deal. Fifteen years ago, when he opened on the street, St. James was the best place for that, Keam says. “We wanted to be near our competition.”

And there is no shortage of that: chains such as Leon’s, Ashley HomeStore, the Brick, Dufresne, Jysk and Sleep Country — the industry leader — are a stone’s throw from Keam’s front door. But several, such as United Furniture Warehouse, Simmons and Mattress Genie, along with industry titan Sears, have shut down, leaving a lot of sales up for grabs.

Sleep Country has six stores in Winnipeg, and has plans to open more in future developments that have yet to break ground, says Stewart Schaefer, the company’s chief business development officer. One of the company’s top-selling mattresses is Bloom, a bed-in-a-box model. But brick-and-mortars are still the company’s bread and butter; Fifteen stores are opening this year across Canada.

“We love being near our competition,” he said, so a store on St. James made sense when the company entered Manitoba in 2005.

This year, Sleep Country experienced double-digit growth in the province, and has seen a similar pattern nationwide for five years, but the St. James store, which was closed for renovations for a stretch this year, grew at a slower single-digit rate, Schaefer says.

While St. James used to be the place to shop for a mattress, Keam says, it isn’t the case now. “In the past, location drove traffic to us. Now, I have to drive traffic to the location,” said Keam, who wouldn’t provide sales figures.

“The world changes,” says Keam, who abandoned radio ads this year in favour of more television and internet marketing. “You either become like Sears and disappear, or you adapt.”

For Keam, that’s meant cutting back on physical real estate and putting additional resources toward web-based sales. “There’s nothing more important than the internet,” he says. For nearby EQ3, it’s meant partnering with the new kids on the mattress block.

Since May, the Winnipeg-based furniture mainstay has been partnered with Casper, the American e-mattress start-up, to sell its products in store. “We were thrilled to partner with a company that reinvented the mattress industry,” said Jill Winograd, EQ3’s vice-president of sales and merchandising. “Customers are gravitating to online shopping, however there is still the desire to touch and feel the product.”

Casper, which expanded to Canada in 2014, has since aggressively pursued the market and butted heads with Endy and Sleep Country. Part of Casper’s growth has led them to physical shops, with one store opened in a Toronto mall.

Mattresses, Mattresses: 

Sleepwell Bedding, 1570 St. James St.

Mattress Plaza, 1391 St. James St.

Ashley Homestore, 1000 St. James St.

Best Sleep Centre, 853 St. James St.

Surplus Furniture and Mattress, 1200 St. James St.

Sleepwell Bedding, 1570 St. James St.

Mattress Plaza, 1391 St. James St.

Ashley Homestore, 1000 St. James St.

Best Sleep Centre, 853 St. James St.

Surplus Furniture and Mattress, 1200 St. James St.

Furniture Villa BrandSource, 1070 St. James St.

Heart Mattress Stores, 895 Century St.

Dufresne Furniture, 1750 Ellice Ave.

Foam Solutions, 1440 Wellington Ave.

Sleep Country, 1038 St. James

Leon’s Furniture, 1755 Ellice Ave.

The Brick Outlet, 1250 St. James St.

The Brick, 1065 St. James St.

Aviva Natural Health Solutions. 1224 St. James

Furniture & More, 1725 Ellice Ave

EQ3 Winnipeg, 1545 Portage Ave.

Bed Bath & Beyond 140-600 Empress St.

Hudson’s Bay Home 710 St. James St.

Hudson Bay, Polo Park

Walmart, 1001 Empress St.

Jysk, 1320 Ellice Ave.

Canadian Tire, 750 St. James St.

Primary Direct Liquidation Centre, 250-1395 Ellice Ave.

Costco, 1315 St. James St.

“We knew there were Canadian consumers who’d want to see and feel the mattress before purchasing,” said Nicole Tapscott, Casper Canada’s senior director and general manager. Tapscott said the company is expecting to expand its brick-and-mortar locations across Canada, but wouldn’t share whether Winnipeg would be getting a dedicated Casper shop. Hudson’s Bay Home on St. James also carries Casper products, she said.

Schaefer called Casper’s partnering with retailers “a complete 180” compared to the company’s initial anti-brick-and-mortar posturing. “I guess mattress stores are the way to go,” he said.

That a company that made its bones on the internet is purchasing physical real estate is evidence to Keam that consumers prefer to see and feel a mattress before buying. “The concept of buying anything sight unseen, especially something as complicated as a mattress, doesn’t make much sense to consumers,” Keam said.

While companies like Best Sleep Centre are learning how to operate in a changing industry, smaller local entities have found if their model isn’t broken, they should be in no rush to fix it.

Paul Bansal of Sleepwell Bedding says his company has been doing sales between $750,000 and $1 million for close to 25 years, and that despite the shifting marketplace, he doesn’t anticipate that will change.

Sleepwell makes all of its mattresses in a 5,000 square-foot warehouse on St. James, and does very little marketing compared to competitors. Bansal is satisfied with sales as they are.

Bansal, who’s been in the business since 1983, says he’s seen the area shift in the same way as Keam. As people move into newer developments, retailers pop up, meaning St. James isn’t the same destination it once was. But Bansal’s company, which has only five employees, and makes about 15 mattresses per day, has purposefully barely changed its output or profit since 1992.

“We do have an online store,” he says, which does quite well. “But online you can’t really get a feel for a mattress. People still want to lie down.”

Schaefer said another potential issue with new industry players — Casper and Endy aside — is wondering how long they’ll be around, putting warranties, a mattress necessity, in question. “Are they even going to guarantee you 10 years?” Of course, in 2008, few Sears shoppers could’ve predicted that company’s demise, Schaefer concedes.

“Nothing’s written in stone,” Schaefer said. “If you don’t evolve, you’re dead.”

And as long as you’re living, you’ll need a mattress.

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.


Updated on Friday, December 21, 2018 11:01 PM CST: Fixes typo.

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