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Anatomy: How Choice Hotels Find the Right Pillows

In 2010, Rockville’s Choice Hotels set out to replace 1.2 million pillows in 1,900 Comfort Inns and Comfort Suites. Because bedding drives customers’ physical and emotional experience, finding pillows that score high on comfort and visual appeal is crucial to a room redo. Here’s how Choice’s pillow team made its selection.
Illustration by Todd Detwiler.

Starting with 100 pillows from a variety of vendors, the team’s objective was to provide guests with a choice of two pillows, one firm and one soft.

The team quickly eliminated the very soft and very firm pillows that would suit only extreme preferences, narrowing the selection to six pillows in the midrange.

Hotel pillows are stuffed with hypoallergenic polyester filling, which can be blown in separate pieces for a softer feel or spun like cotton candy into a form that tends to keep its shape.

To make its choice as objectively as possible, the team developed four tests that would distinguish soft from firm:

  • How quickly does a pillow regain its form after being pressed down with two hands?
  • When pushed against a hard surface as far as it goes, is there any cushion left?
  • For sleepers who like to cuddle their pillow, is there something there when you hug it?
  • How does it feel where the rubber meets the road?

The two pillows chosen were then field-tested—subjected to repeated washings to test resistance to shrinkage and sent to 20 company hotels in different regions to test them under varying conditions and climates. After laundering revealed dissatisfactory shrinkage, the pillows were treated to reduce the effect of hot water.

The rollout of the new pillows took place over the last two years, sending 1,000 tons of pillows across the US; stacked on top of one another, they’d measure 150 miles—more than halfway to the International Space Station.

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