Water beds coming of age

Water beds, never the mainstay of any sleep-shop line, are slowly inching their way to becoming best sellers for many US mattress-selling companies. The prine reason rests (and that's the word) in newfound tranquil comfort for restless customers. And this discovery has been professionally backed up with top-flight merchandising methods by the Waterbed Manufacturers Association.

Its efforts, along with customer acceptance, have produced a solid sales picture of $750 million for 1979, to a point where, according to association figures, 5 percent of all US sleep-rest products sold are water beds -- now called comfort flotations systems.

Long identified with the flower-children crash pads of the '60s, the water-filled mattresses have been redeveloped with engineer-improved features. Many, like Sears' top-of-the-line Bella Notte, have a built-in air tubes to reduce water motion. Foundation supports are stress-calculated with guarantees, and all units come complete with bacteria water conditioners plus easy-to-handle drain-and-fill kits. Many are covered with heat-holding foam and quilted padding for insulation; with others, interior heating elements are available to keep the mattresses at comfortable sleeping temperatures.

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The main water bed sales over the years were originally made in the medical rehabilitation field.

Today, most flotation units cost $200 or more. They are available in twin, full, queen, king, and super-king sizes. All use ordinary sheets, blankets, and spreads. The best regions for sale of the comfort-ladden flotation systems are medium-size metropolitan centers like San Francisco; Miami; or Phoenix, Ariz., according to association figures.

One key merchandising technique used to reassure the watered-buying public has been the advent of all-coverage water bed insurance, sold along with the special merchandise at nominal extra cost. This has tended to remove many of the former objections to possible leakage or floor stress damage.

Water beds under their new name are becoming featured units in many old-line retailers' showrooms. And California and Florida are watching the upstart growth of several exclusive new chains of water bed stores.

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