The 'bag' man
Byron Young, co-owner of Corda-Roy's, makes and sells bed-in-a-bean bags all over the world.
Published: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 3:44 a.m.
President, Corda-Roy's Originals
Engaged to be married
2004 Ford F150
"Siddhartha," by Hermann Hesse
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" with Jim Carrey
Do it yourself. The experience you gain even if you fail, the next time you try, you will be able to restart from a different level.
Every day is Saturday.
About five years ago, he developed, produced and marketed a familiar product, but with a slightly different spin: bean bags. Now, these are not your shiny vinyl bean bags from the 1970s, filled with crunchy BB-sized polystyrene beads that eventually break down and need to be replaced. Nor are they simply a huge ball you can comfortably plop down on.
Corda-Roy's products are a bed-in-a-bean bag. And if Young has his way this year, they will be available at a mall nearly anywhere in the United States. And Canada. And Australia. Next year: Europe.
While not officially a "bean bag," because the furniture is filled with shredded high-density polyurethane foam, Young uses that term because customers are familiar with the concept. Other brands on the market are Foof chairs, foam-filled bean-bag chairs and what an elderly woman in Jacksonville once called "marshmallow chairs," Young said.
Young remembers late 1999, very early in his Corda-Roy's career, when he rented a small space in a strip mall in the Northwood shopping area. He distributed Corda-Roy's flyers all over town and then settled in to await the rush of customers.
"I knew people were buying bean bags out of my house, so I just needed a spot to sell them outside. I painted the place and made it look all funky, with all different colors of bean bags. Nobody came. Not a soul. I went home and got a can of spray paint and made a big 'bean bag' sign with an arrow pointing toward my place. Then I sold out everything I had."
He hadn't planned on getting into this business. A Jacksonville native, he graduated from the University of Florida in 1992 with a degree in building construction, spurred by his family's interest in the industry. "But I found out it wasn't my passion. After exploring myself, I discovered my passion was inventing. I wanted to come up with something and take it to market."
A few early attempts fizzled or "were stolen," he said, including a litter box that attached to the outside of a window that would not only keep the odors out (he had three cats at the time), but give the cat a little outdoor patio.
It was when he was working as a furniture salesman in Mississippi that his life turned around.
"There were 12 of us in the store, so there was a lot of time in between customers. I spent that time writing up a business plan, something promotional for the Gators. My boss was a Gator fan, and was willing to kick in $10,000, a third of what I needed, but said he would only do so if I could find two more investors. I immediately trashed the idea, and thought maybe if my product involved furniture he would be more willing to kick in more," Young said.
"It took two seconds: I would create reasonably-priced furniture. I had a bean bag when I was 16, and had met an elderly lady in Jacksonville Beach who made these 'marshmallow' chairs with foam in them. I wondered why nobody else was doing that. I decided I would make the nicest bean bag anyone has seen in their lives. And then I was wearing a corduroy jacket, and people were always coming up and feeling it. OK, I thought: make corduroy bean bags," Young said. "The ironic part of it is, the man for whom I came up with the idea, I haven't spoken with him about it to this day."
Bean bags were de rigueur - if not campy - for decades, so he had to come up with something unique, which is where the bed-in-a-bag came from. Unzip the cover, and you find a 12-inch-thick mattress or two folded inside. The chairs contain a child, full, queen or king mattress; the sofas have two king, queen or full-size mattresses hidden inside. "They're perfect for guests, for slumber parties, for camping," he said.
Young came back to Gainesville and turned his garage into a cut-and-sew factory. He built a big plywood table, bought two sewing machines, and learned to sew. "But I was doing it badly. Mine were like grandma's cookies; they didn't look real good, but they held together."
He and his partner, John Gasser, have since moved the manufacturing operation to a 65,000-square-foot cut-and-sew operation in Pelham, in south Georgia. Last year between 35,000 and 40,000 individual pieces were manufactured. The corporate offices and warehouse on NW 10th Avenue handles the Internet orders (www.cordaroys.com).
The furniture covers - from doggy beds and footrests to the king-size sofas and floor pillows - were made exclusively of corduroy.
"At first, it was ingenious, the name Corda-Roy's, and we thought that would limit us. But we're not letting it," he said. Items now also are being made out of of denim, ultrasuede, chenille and faux fur. Prices range from a $40 pet bed to a $400 king-size sofa.
He opened his first kiosk near the center court at The Oaks mall in 2000, where there is a fairly brisk business, particularly on weekends and evenings. The kiosk's success led to Young's branching out to other malls. He currently has kiosks in nearly 40 locations around the country, from Minnesota and Texas to Maryland and Jacksonville. He is now advertising through speciality retailing magazines to find more kiosk operators to expand to more than 100 locations by the end of the year. The kiosks will not be franchises, but will be operated via licensing agreements.
Corda-Roy's had more than $2.5 million in sales in 2003 and $3.5 million in 2004. "This year we are hoping to go up dramatically. Kiosks is where we will be making our money," Young said.
He has also expanded his market to Canada and to Australia, from where he just returned last week.
While his interests are international, Young, 35, intends to remain firmly rooted in Gainesville.
After he graduated, "I did go through a phase. I wasn't in college, and I wasn't quite grown up. A lot of people left, and I was in a no-man's land. I thought, 'I've gotta get out of here, move to Atlanta.' But the more I traveled and the more I got involved in this business, I decided I love Gainesville. I don't want to live anywhere else. I absolutely love coming home here."
Not a small part of his attachment is Sara Clendenin, to whom he just became engaged during the trip to Australia. "She picked me up in a bar," he laughs, explaining she actually came to his rescue when literature and cards for Corda-Roy's dropped and scattered through a rowdy crowd as he was hawking his furniture on the top floor of an open-air bar downtown.
That was 5¶ years ago. Since then, the couple has opened up another business, etc. boutique, in the Thornebrook Village Shopping Center. "She's running the whole show," Young said proudly. "Everything, taxes and all. It's running her ragged."
In his spare time Young - who is self-taught - practices his acoustic guitar and hopes to record a CD in the next couple of weeks.
Tony Hernandez, chief operations officer at Premier Productions, which creates marketing items such as brochures and banners for Corda-Roy's, described Young as "a real fascinating man. Very talented, creative, the perfect description of an entrepreneur. He's always thinking of the next best thing for his business, his people, even people outside of the business.
"He started as a client of ours, and now I don't think of him as a client, he's a friend," Hernandez said.
Marina Blomberg can be reached at (352) 374-5025 or email@example.com
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