Best of British: Milestones

Ahead of Charles III’s coronation, we look at key events in the NBF’s history since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation

1953-1959

The National Federation of Bedding president at the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was Frank Milton of Price Brothers, manufacturer of Relyon Beds. ‘Amongst the key concerns at the time was the continuing shortage of raw materials. It’s good to know that some things never change,’ says Simon Williams, NBF head of marketing and membership.

In 1955, the NBF relocated from its increasingly expensive offices at 222 Balham High Road, SW12 (telephone Balham 1011) to 157 Victoria Street, SW1 (Victoria 5303), where it would remain until the late 1960s. The same year saw the introduction of BS 1877, detailing the minimum specifications for such items as bed sizes, the number of springs and the quantity of fillings.

NBF members voted to adhere to this new standard, although it was hotly debated, with some arguing that it would stifle innovation. 1959 saw the launch of the Bedding Information Bureau: designed to educate consumers on the importance of buying a good quality mattress. Then NBF president Arthur Robinson of Somnus reported it an unqualified success, one that would give the Federation the confidence to embark on more ambitious public relations exercises in the future.

The 1950s had also seen the emergence of the Dunlopillo latex mattress, a hygienic alternative to the traditional sprung mattress. Consumers could buy a 4in deep single Dunlopillo mattress for £10 and 18 shillings.

‘Announcing total UK bed sales of just short of £25m, the NBF president warned members against conducting a price war. Members who persuaded the public to buy on price rather than quality, he said, did a disservice both to themselves and

the industry. Once again, nothing changes.’

The 60s

The federation performed a dramatic U-turn on BS1877 during an extraordinary general meeting in the Park Lane Hotel, London in 1960. It voted to revoke the stipulation that members must abide by BS1877; members could see the fast-changing fashion and trading conditions facing the industry and the evolution of new materials and production methods.

To meet the demands of consumers, the federation set aside £200 for a public awareness campaign, distributing leaflets on the subject of sleep and health and mattress dumping.

In 1962, the federation celebrated its golden jubilee (pictured) with a supplier’s mart and a livelier agenda than previous conferences which had lasted up to five days. To demonstrate this new sense of purposefulness, it updated its name to the National Bedding Federation.

One major issue in the mid-60s was Retail Price Maintenance, with some manufacturers suggesting withholding supplies from retailers who sold their goods below the accepted resale price. The NBF dropped any objections to RPM, stating that it believed RPM was in the customer’s best interests. In reality, it had no corner to fight: all 11 members who had been using the price mechanism had pulled out of the RPM.

Due to poor trading conditions, amalgamations and liquidations, member numbers were dwindling fast. The NBF relocated once again, this time to trendy Knightsbridge – 251 Brompton Road, SW3 (telephone 01 589 4888). Two highly successful conferences in 1966 and 1967 saw president John Marriott formally thanked for lifting the federation ‘from the doldrums’ as he passed the role to Jim Secombe of Slumberland.

The 70s

Metrification was estimated to cost the NBF more than £2,000, most of it on publicity. New trading conditions and methods in the UK were emerging, with out-of-town developments featuring no-frills units. At an NBF conference in the early 1970s, guest speaker Jennifer Stone, Evening Standard shopping editor attacked the industry’s ‘boring shops, dull furniture and sales staff who tried to sell you HP.’

Fleet Street exposed the scandal of double pricing of beds with the headline ‘Wake up to the big bed con’. It was raised in parliament, with Leicester Northwest MP Greville Janner saying: ‘This American practice that has recently invaded the shops in this country should be driven back across the Atlantic.’

‘If we think today’s inflationary pressures are demanding, back in the 1970s it hit 27%, with one NBF member recalling “We had to change our price lists three times a year.” The gloom was lightened by the media, especially the burgeoning colour supplements and lifestyle sections. Casting around for copy, editors reached gratefully for the latest press releases from the NBF’s publicity consultant Joan Catesby, and thanks to her efforts the NBF became less of a clubby talking shop and more of a dynamic promoter of the bed industry’s interests,’ says Williams.

In 1977, the NBF held its final annual ball, traditionally held at the Dorchester. 

The 80s

There was plenty to celebrate: Live Aid, the ending of the Cold War – and the NBF was three-quarters of a century old. It launched its most ambitious PR campaign to date, to discourage consumers from buying second-hand beds. Publicity costs, rapidly rising rents and pension arrangements for the outgoing director of 26 years, Kenneth Reid, plunged its finances into deficit.

In 1982, as British troops were heading for the Falkland Islands, NBF members set sail for the Channel Islands for conference, where the day-to-day running of the NBF fell to Patrick Quigley.

In 1984, news of plans to create the Channel Tunnel heightened concerns over the quantity of mattresses, exempt from Britain’s Rag Flock legislation, being shipped to the UK. The government planned to repeal the 1951 version of the Rag Flock Act, which was met with lobbying from NBF members and MP Elizabeth Peacock. It was finally repealed in 1997 following the publication in 1991 of BS 1425: Cleanliness of fillings and stuffings for bedding, upholstery and other domestic articles.

In 1986, the NBF held a meeting with the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs on the issue of flammability (following the 1979 Manchester Woolworth’s fire), introducing BS 6087 on the method of testing mattress flammability, which members had agreed to follow. A spate of fires around Christmas 1987 and the subsequent press coverage of ‘killer foams’ led to the introduction of the 1988 Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, which banned the use of standard polyurethane foams. Mattresses, divans and bed bases however, were not brought fully into scope of the regulations. BS 7177 was introduced in 1989 to cover the finished product, and therefore only the filling materials of these items were in scope of the regulations.

In 1986 the NBF produced a ‘Buying a Bed’ fact sheet and following an appearance by Joan Catesby on BBC TV’s Bazaar, more than 10,000 viewers called the BBC requesting a copy. In 1987 Catesby retired and Jessica Alexander joined the NBF as publicity consultant. Together with Ray Cadman, she proposed a generic advertising campaign to mirror the Better Sleep Month in the US, and her vision was rewarded a couple of years later with the birth of National Bed Month in 1990.

In 1988 at a general meeting in York, the National Bedding Federation disappeared and re-emerged as the National Bed Federation.

The 90s

National Bed Month, the NBF’s annual awareness campaign, launched in March 1990 with the theme ‘Time for a new bed?’ At the time, people replaced their beds on average every 20 years. It featured an in-store competition to win a trip to New York in Concorde or on the QEII. To help fund the campaigns, a 10p levy was introduced. Providing the retailer paid a 10p levy on each piece of bedding invoiced, the manufacturer would match it. The levy was the brainchild of John Hancock, Sealy md who referred to it as ‘the magic widget’.

In 1995, The Sleep Council was created as a separate entity to the NBF. It was described by president David Croll as ‘instrumental in the remarkable growth in the bed market in 1996’.

1998 saw the launch of the NBF’s website www.bedfed.org.uk. The Internet opened up a ‘massive issue’ for the bedding industry, according to 2011 president Simon Spinks, because ‘it allowed consumers to shop around.’

2000-2009

National Bed Month and the ongoing consumer activity of The Sleep Council had helped reduce the bed replacement cycle to 10 years. By the middle of the decade, several large manufacturers had pulled out of the levy system and with too few retailers committing to funding, it looked doomed until the NBF took on the running of The Sleep Council.

In 2000, the NBF offices relocated to Taunton and then in 2006, after Patrick Quigley stepped down as director after 27 years, it moved again to its current home in Skipton, North Yorkshire and Alexander became its executive director.

2006 also saw Peter Keen of Hypnos elected as NBF president. Keen was instrumental in the idea for the NBF to hold its own Bed Show, launched in 2010. 

2010 to date 

The launch of the Telford show in 2010 produced a useful new income for the NBF and attracted new companies to join. Today it is firmly established in the exhibition calendar as the must-attend event in the bed industry.

On 11 May 2012, the NBF held its Centenary Ball at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne. 2013 saw the launch of the NBF Code

of Practice, designed to encourage good practice in the industry and reassure consumers that they can buy ‘NBF Approved’ beds with confidence.

In 2014, Simon Williams joined the NBF as marketing manager and helped launch The Sleep Council Sales Academy online training course. The NBF re-branded with a new logo, featuring the ‘NBF approved tick’. The Introduction to Beds online course was launched in 2016, designed as an ideal induction module for anyone new to the industry, whatever their role. To strengthen its code of practice, the NBF introduced a Due Diligence Random Testing Programme, purchasing a number of member and non-member products for independent flammability testing and examination for trading standards compliance.

In 2019, a ‘discovery project’ resulted in the biggest rebrand to date. The NBF’s signature orange-red, white and blue branding is now recognisable across all online and offline channels.

In 2020, to enable it to focus entirely on all-things beds related, the NBF parted ways with the Sleep Council as it merged with The Sleep Charity, with Lisa Artis moving to become deputy ceo.

The NBF launched ‘Bed Advice’ – a separate consumer-facing website and social media presence to promote the importance of buying a good mattress or bed made by an approved NBF member.

In 2022 it launched its Pledge for our Planet, asking companies to take steps to address global environmental damage. The Pledge covered five key areas of commitment for each business who signed up: to become a more sustainable business; reduce their global warming impact; reduce waste; reduce products’ impact on the environment and take responsibility for their actions. To support and monitor progress, Tom Williams was appointed as NBF sustainability and circular economy lead.

In late 2022, after 36 years in the bed industry and 17 years as NBF executive director, Alexander announced that she would be stepping down. In April 2023 Tristine Hargreaves, former NBF technical manager, re-joined the federation as its

new executive director, to lead the NBF into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

NBFGoldenJubilee1962

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