Specialty bedding refers to anything outside of the standard innerspring mattress. While this is a fairly new term, specialty bedding has been around a long time -- starting with latex mattresses back in the 40's and 50's (Sears made a latex mattress back then that people still talk about), and continuing through the waterbed craze of the 60's and 70's (although these old waterbeds are very different than the technologically superior waterbeds available today).
But while specialty bedding has been out there a long time, it hasn't been till the past 10 - 15 years that it has become a substantial part of the bedding market. It has become so significant, in fact, that specialty bedding now is the fastest growing segment of the mattress industry.
And the acknowledged leader in the specialty bedding industry is Tempur-Pedic®. Tempur-Pedic® has grown into the fourth largest mattress manufacturer in the U.S., and its success has spawned a host of competitors. Memory foam, an esoteric product 15 years ago, is now available in every leading brand and is becoming a huge import from China as well. What you need to know, though, is that memory foam can vary tremendously in quality and comfort.
While memory foam is the largest segment of the specialty bedding market, the fastest growing trend is in latex. Latex has been gaining a great deal of market share in Europe for some time, but only lately has it become a growing trend in the U.S. Recently Sealy has made a huge investment in latex, setting up their own manufacturing facilities. It remains to be seen, however, if Sealy or any other manufacturer will pour money into advertising latex in the way Tempur-Pedic® has done (over $100 million dollars in advertising a couple of years back).
The other segment of the specialty mattress industry that has grown rapidly over the last few years has been the air bed industry. Largely driven by Select Comfort, air beds are currently the 2nd largest segment of specialty bedding. But with Select Comfort facing serious financial difficulties (their stock has gone down 80% or so over the last few years), air beds popularity may have peaked. It remains to be seen whether Select Comfort can right the ship and continue to find the money to fund its advertising that drives its sales.
Air beds are complex compared to other mattresses, with moving parts (pumps), bladders and all sorts of other comfort layers. Technologically they are the most confusing, and quality can vary tremendously. So it is important to know what to look for when buying an air bed. If you are interested in an air bed because you like the flexibility they offer (you can change the firmness of your sleep surface at the flick of a switch).