A BEAN BAG CHAIR that wraps itself around you turned out to be a hot item for people holed up at home during the pandemic.
To tap that market, Yogibo had to rethink how to sell them.
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the Nashua company had to close all its retail stores, a shutdown that lasted about four months.
Yogibo’s products were available online, but its best sales tools were high touch.
At its shops, customers could plop down in chairs made with stretchy fabric that contours to their bodies — the comfort that founder Eyal Levy was seeking when he made his first bean bag chair for his then-pregnant wife.
The challenge: recreate that feeling in the virtual world.
“We invested a lot of money in rebuilding our website — with more solid infrastructure, our whole e-commerce — to increase both traffic and conversion,” Levy said last week at the company’s headquarters. “People were shopping more online, and we really enhanced the online experience.”
Yogibo’s corporate space is located in a nondescript office park, but inside you can’t miss the company’s sense of whimsy. Licensed Star Wars and Disney products line the hallways. To reach Levy’s office you have to walk by a Yogibo Baby Yoda.
Since the company’s founding in 2009, Yobigo has grown to more than 150 stores worldwide, including 20 in the United States. It employs about 200 people. Yogibo’s New Hampshire stores are at the Merrimack Premium Outlets and the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem.
Yogibo permanently closed some of its U.S. locations during the pandemic, but in recent months retail sales have picked up, said Levy, who returned last week from a tour of the company’s stores.
“It was so great to see that things are back to normal. Here and there, people are still walking with masks, but the foot traffic is as it used to be pre-pandemic,” he said. “People are not afraid to try, they’re not afraid to touch things.”
Over the past couple of years, Yogibo has shifted its wholesale strategy, which used to focus on mom-and-pop specialty stores. With so many retailers sidelined during the pandemic, the company struck deals with e-commerce players like QVC and Pokemon. It recently signed a one-year deal with actress and daytime talk show host Drew Barrymore to promote the company.
It also changed its product mix. Traditionally, Yogibo’s flagship bean bag chairs and sofas retail for $100 or more. In 2019, Yogibo began making smaller-ticket items to sell in Japan, one of its strongest markets.
“We were starting to work on a lot of small novelty items for the Olympics, also a lot of products for the stores at lower price points,” he said.
Once it became clear that the 2020 Olympics would be delayed, the company instead began to develop products it could sell online for $50 or more, abandoning plans to make cheaper impulse-buy items.
“We developed a whole bath collection so people can stay at home, order it online, and be comfortable in the bathtub with a bath pillow or a bath tray,” Levy said.
The company’s new product line also includes Jogoball, an audio gaming console with pre-loaded content designed to promote family time. Levy says he was inspired to create Jogoball to curb how much time his children spend staring at video screens.
Hobby to business
Levy moved to Nashua from his native Israel in 2007 when his company transferred him to operate its U.S. subsidiary, which manufactured laboratory equipment. He left two years later after his hobby of making bean bag chairs for friends and family seemed primed to become a business.
“I was finishing up setting up the operations for the company that brought me here, and I didn’t want to run day-to-day operations,” Levy said. “More and more people kept asking us, and we thought, let’s see if this is an idea for a business.”
For the first year, Levy worked on Yogibo a couple of days a week, selling the bean bag chairs online and at fairs. A year later, he was ready to make the leap and quit his day job.
In the early years, Yogibo could not attract funding from banks, relying on crowd-funding style financing and other nontraditional sources.
“We had a very out-of-the-box financing method without raising big money,” Levy said.
Two years ago, Yogibo began working with Bedford-based Primary Bank to finance the company’s growth.
“They were so understanding of the potential and that we’re very stable,” Levy said. “And they saw the bigger things that normally bigger banks cannot see.”
Growth plans include buying equipment so Yogibo can manufacture the polystyrene pellets used to fill its products in-house and not have to worry about supply-chain delays. The company’s main products are assembled in Nashua with imported fabrics. It’s smaller products, such as those Baby Yoda dolls, are made in China.
Yogibo works with KultureCity, a nonprofit that helps people who have autism and others with sensory needs. Levy also has consulted with occupational therapists as the company develops new products.
The comfort that Yogibo’s bean bag chairs offer make them standard equipment for sensory rooms in public places, including NBA and NFL arenas, that offer respite from noise and crowds.
In high school and college, Levy volunteered to work with kids with autism and others who had special needs.
“Even though I was studying engineering, that was always a big passion of mine,” he said.
Levy learned about Yogibo’s usefulness as a sensory device only after parents of children with autism started writing letters to the company a year after it opened retail stores.
“It completely conforms to your body with no pressure points,” Levy said. “They feel more secure and relaxed.”