Mar262013

“Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s okay to fail at something, as long as you fail forward.”

Tyler.Shearburn
Tyler Shearburn
Comfy Sacks, LLC
CEO

Tyler Shearburn is the CEO of Comfy Sacks, LLC, based in St. Louis, Mo. ComfySacks.com sells ultra-comfortable foam bag chairs. These foam bag chairs range in size from 3.5 feet up to 8 feet in diameter, and they’re perfect for home theaters and basements. Foam bag chairs have been growing in popularity since early 2001, becoming a $40 million-a-year industry.

MO: As the President of Comfy Sacks, how have you seen your business change since its founding in 2005?

Tyler: A lot has changed since our company started. When we first launched, our primary sales tool was eBay. Now, the majority of our sales come through our website, ComfySacks.com. Customers who buy online are very savvy shoppers, and they demand a product that is not only of incredible quality, but is also competitively priced.

One of the reasons we have grown significantly over the years is because we’ve never sacrificed the quality of our products in order to offer a lower price. We have seen many competitors come and go over the years. Something we’ve always told our customers is that while you may find products less expensive than ours (and more expensive, too), you won’t come across a product of higher quality and comfort than the Comfy Sack. Many of our customers, including Apple and Zappos, will attest to our quality and comfort.

MO: Truth time: How many Comfy Sacks do you have in your office and home?

Tyler: To be honest, I’ve always owned every size Comfy Sack we sell — which is currently 12 — in order to make sure I know each product in detail. One of the most important things in any business is to have a great understanding of every product you sell. In the early years of the company, I was the main contact for customer support, and I wanted to make sure I could answer any question that came my way about any size or material. One thing a lot of companies lack these days is an intimate knowledge of their products. Customers can tell when they contact your business and they’re dealing with someone who really doesn’t have much knowledge about the product.

MO: What made you interested in entering into this industry? Why beanbags?

Tyler: I get asked this often. What always cracks me up about this question is the facial expression that accompanies it. People have looks on their faces that say, “Why would anyone get excited about selling beanbags?” If there’s a Comfy Sack within reach, I usually first ask them to plop down in the Comfy Sack before I answer the question.

The same thing happens every time: They jump in the Comfy Sack and smile. They look at me and say, “Holy crap, this is really comfortable. I thought it was going to feel like the beanbag I had when I was 9!” I then walk through my journey of looking for a comfy piece of furniture for my home theater and my dissatisfaction with the options available. I always thought theater chairs would be awesome to have one day, until I finally tried one out at a home theater store and realized they weren’t really that comfortable — they just looked cool. I looked at furniture offered by what are now a couple of my competitors, but I was very unhappy with the quality of foam, the selection of sizes and fabrics, and the extremely high price tag.

I searched and searched, and I wasn’t able to find a company that offered a very soft foam bag chair, in the color I wanted, for a reasonable price. It just didn’t exist. It was that day that I decided if it didn’t exist, I would become that company. Hence, the Comfy Sack was born.

MO: What is your favorite thing about owning and operating a startup in St. Louis?

Tyler: I think most people know the Midwest as very welcoming and a great place to raise a family. What they may not know about St. Louis is that there are tons of entrepreneurs who are very passionate about their businesses. I grew up in St. Louis; after college, I returned because of the great people. While places like Silicon Valley have a very high concentration of online entrepreneurs, something that makes St. Louis special is the community of entrepreneurs we have. People are never afraid to share knowledge that could help your business. We know, as entrepreneurs, that we are a “different breed” of people, and being able to share our challenges and opportunities with others is truly something that makes St. Louis great!

MO: What industries or institutions would benefit from an oversized beanbag? How have you seen this product affect people’s lives?

Tyler: When I started Comfy Sacks, the main use for our products was strictly to provide comfort at home. We wanted a foam bag chair that was so incredibly comfortable that you would replace your couch or La-Z-Boy you used to watch TV or play video games. We knew the comfort of our product blew away other foam bag chairs, couches, and theater seats on the market, and it was our goal to share this with everyone.

While that is still a very large percentage of our business, very early on, we had several large corporations take note of what our products could add to their work environments. We have also been very active with the autism community; I have seen firsthand the benefits our products can provide to individuals with autism and other special needs. Our product is able to accomplish several things in the area of sensory needs that other products have traditionally provided, with a much more cost-effective and complete solution. We have worked with the awesome folks at TouchPoint Autism Services here in St. Louis for many years, and we’re happy to be associated with their organization.

MO: If you could go back in time and teach yourself a lesson when you were starting the company, what would it be?

Tyler: Many business owners are worried about failing. Often, opportunities are missed because of this constant worry of failure. In the early years of Comfy Sacks, I have to admit that I, too, had that same fear. We definitely missed out on some opportunities that could have been great for Comfy Sacks because of that fear of failure. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s okay to fail at something, as long as you fail forward. If you’re able to learn something during the process, have you really failed?

MO: A few household brands, including Apple, Amazon, and Zappos, have purchased Comfy Sacks for their corporate offices. How have they benefited from these products, and why should other companies look into providing more comfort for their employees?

Tyler: What we are seeing in the corporate world is a shift from the old days of establishing the office as an overly formal and professional atmosphere to a more laid-back work environment. Many companies have realized that, by allowing employees a little more freedom, they have actually created happier employees; in return, they’ve boosted their productivity.

These days, companies are allowing their employees to do things like bring their pets to work, eat free lunches, and even take naps during the day in specially designed “nap rooms.” When working directly with Apple, Amazon, and Zappos, the goal was to provide a product that somewhat mimicked the environment they had at home while they were at the office. Our products were used in conference rooms, nap rooms, and even think tank rooms to help spark creativity.

Our products are also easily moved for impromptu team meetings, and they add some nice, vibrant colors to an ordinarily dull office environment, which we all know most businesses are guilty of creating. Something they shared with us was how much more relaxed prospective employees were when interviews were conducted in the Comfy Sacks! While these companies are huge, hundreds of smaller companies have seen similar benefits from our products in the workplace.

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