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Yogibo, a startup that sells beanbag furniture, takes the hands-on route

By Staff | Aug 26, 2012

NASHUA – It is possible to build a new business based on updated versions of beanbag furniture, but as the folks behind Yogibo have found, you can’t do it like a tech startup.

“Salesmanship is very important with a product like this. You have to experience it,” said Yogibo CEO Eyal Levy, of Nashua, watching a visitor settle into a Yogi Max, the beanbag chair/sofa/recliner/what-have-you that is the company’s signature product. “You can’t just see a picture online.”

Yogibo can’t even sell through existing retailers, the usual choice for new, small manufacturers.

Attempts to peddle Yogibo’s updated versions of beanbag furniture through stores like Bernie & Phyl’s flopped because, Levy says, they don’t dedicate sales staff to the product. “They put it in the corner. People walk by and don’t really understand it.”

So although Yogibo is less than 3 years old and self-financed, it has opened nine self-branded stores throughout New England, with the latest in the Burlington (Mass.) Mall. The bulk of the company’s 70 employees are dedicated to the time-consuming process of demonstrating and selling items, one at a time, often at craft shows and fairs.

That sounds slow, but Levy said the firm has grown 200-300 percent annually. (Like many private companies, Yogibo doesn’t release sales figures.)

Even the biggest Yogi, the Max, which sells for $229, can be stored upright and manipulated into shapes ranging from an upright chair (well, upright-ish) to a recliner to a bed.

The heart of products from Yogibo – a name with no meaning that Levy made up – are tiny plastic beads, made in Manchester to the company’s specifications, smaller than similar items used as packing material, that allow them to hold an overall shape better and mold closely to your body.

“You’ve seen things that look like a Yogibo, but there is nothing that feels the same” is a company slogan.

The company also makes accessories such as pillows, snuggable person-sized rolls, and computer-tablet trays.

Levy and his wife, photographer Noa, live in Nashua with their three children, ages 9, 7 and 1 1? 2.

The company located in Nashua almost by coincidence, since the right space was available at the right price. “The commute is nice,” Levy admits. No local or state incentives brought it here.

Ironically, perhaps, there’s no Yogibo store in Nashua, even though stores exist from White Plains, N.Y., to Portland, Maine. The only New Hampshire store is in the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem.

The company leases about 7,000 square feet in two sites in an industrial condo just off Charron Avenue, near the airport. This is its manufacturing facility, where beads are placed inside bags of spandex-polyester material made in China. That material, designed by and made for Yogibo, is fire-resistant and strong while remaining stretchy, which is important for a product whose major market is families with active children.

“Type Yogibo into YouTube and you’ll see people doing everything to these: leaping on them, throwing them around,” Levy said. “They take a beating.”

One company partner, Giora Loran , is a textile engineer.

Once filled with beads, the bags are covered in brightly colored cotton-spandex material, made in Israel, that can be removed for washing, and – voila, a piece of furniture.

The idea is based on squishy furniture that is popular in Levy’s native Israel.

A mechanical engineer by training, the 37-year-old Levy worked for Intel and then Viaflow (now Integra), a maker of lab equipment that brought him to New Hampshire. Like a lot of engineers, he had the entrepreneurial itch, and he noticed the interest that American friends showed in his furniture from home.

And while beanbags seem a world away from computer chips, Levy says skills he learned at Intel about overseeing operations, setting goals and optimizing supply chains make all the difference for a startup – especially the supply chain. Getting good components cheaply and on time is often the thing that makes or breaks a startup.

Yogibo targets families with kids and college dorms, both obvious places for beanbag furniture, but also as tools in physical therapy and for people with sensory issues.

“Children with autism get very excited, very focused with these,” Levy said.

Yogibo is also looking to expand beyond its own products, selling some related items such as rugs and putting its brand on other firms’ lifestyle products such as candles.

A model is Life Is Good, the Boston-based company that created a vibe, which turned T-shirt hawkers into an $80 million-a-year lifestyle business.

David Brooks can be reached
at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Follow Brooks’
blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).


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