CordaRoy’s Originals is 25 years old, and business is booming.
Byron Young started CordaRoy’s in 1998, but he had already been making bean bags.
While working at a furniture company in Mississippi, he created a business plan for a University of Florida-inspired product to try getting an investment from his boss, a UF alum. Though Young’s boss agreed to fund about a third of the project, Young decided to scrap the idea and come back with a furniture product that his boss could not only help finance but also sell.
Bean bags came to mind.
Specifically, Young thought of an old woman in his hometown of Jacksonville who made bean bags filled with foam instead of something like an expanded polystyrene bean (EPS), which eventually goes flat. The foam was the same as what might be found in a mattress, but shredded, and it would not go flat.
When Young began making bean bags in a garage in Gainesville, he was cutting all the material himself, leaving his arm sore every day. He realized if he changed the shape of the filling inside the liner he could cut straight lines instead of circles, so he adjusted the design.
One weekend, Young had unexpected guests stay the night after a Gators game. Young did not have a spare bed for the two guests, and the sofa was awful, he said.
“As I was going down the hallway I said probably the most important thing of my life,” Young said in a phone interview. “I said ‘hey, there’s a big square thing in there if you want to sleep on it.’ And that became the patented bed inside, which has been the backbone of the business for 25 years now.”
The guests slept soundly and told Young in the morning that the bean bag’s filling made a great bed.
When he heard his guest’s reviews, Young realized a bean bag bed could be marketable and he changed the trajectory of his business.
In 2013, Young and his wife appeared on Shark Tank, a reality TV show that allows entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses to investors, or “sharks.” Young said he did not know what the show was and did not care much about it, but his marketing agent told him he needed to make himself more visible and sent him to a live casting call in Orlando.
Young showed up late to the casting call with one green bean bag and a stained shirt. He saw that he was at the back of the line and decided not to go through with it, but when a woman jumped into his bean bag, he decided he might as well sell a few while he was there.
While Young was demonstrating the bean bag bed to people in line, a member of the casting team asked him how long he had been in business, what his sales look like and whether he had a patent. He told her and asked to go home, but she bumped him to the front of the line for an interview and cast him for the show. Young said he was the only person at that casting call to make it onto the show.
In season four, episode 19 of Shark Tank, Lori Greiner agreed to pay Young $200,000 for 58% of his company. She said she wanted to control the company so she could do the work of increasing visibility and sales. The other “sharks” expressed surprise that Young would easily give up a company he had been working on for 11 years, but he told them he wanted the company to succeed and become a household name.
Young left Shark Tank with Greiner’s phone number, but he never called her.
Eventually, she called him and the two agreed to meet up in Chicago. Greiner brought a check to follow through on the deal, but Young turned her down. When she asked if he had only made the deal to be on television, Young explained that he had determined not to leave the show without her phone number.
Greiner and Young renegotiated to leave 100% ownership with Young but give Greiner a percentage of the profits. Young said he and Greiner worked together for years after that and are still friends, but she is no longer involved with CordaRoy’s.
Going into his Shark Tank experience, Young said CordaRoy’s was making about $1.5 million in total gross sales. After his appearance on the show, business skyrocketed. Last year, the company made nearly $30 million.
“That’s not all from Shark Tank, but it definitely catapulted us,” Young said. “And you could argue that a lot of that, even if it was not directly from Shark Tank, it probably wouldn’t have happened unless I was on Shark Tank.”
The CordaRoy’s motto is “Comfort for Life,” a nod to the lifetime guarantee attached to all of its products. Young said he originally began the lifetime guarantee to reassure new customers who were used to bean bags that pop or deflate. He said he knew his would not go flat, but the best way to build that trust with a stranger was to guarantee their purchase.
Now, the lifetime guarantee helps keep CordaRoy’s accountable to its high standard of quality.
“Let’s face it, we like to think we’re a comfort company,” Young said. “And call it whatever you want, but, you know, it’s still a bean bag, and people probably never take a bean bag too seriously. But we do.”
He said CordaRoy is old-fashioned in a way because it posts its phone number for easy access and trains customer service representatives to do everything they can to help resolve complaints. He said he wants people to call the number and find an answer to any problems.
CordaRoy’s has customers who still use their beanbags from 25 years ago. Every so often, one comes in for a replacement cover, which Young said is not a problem because the design is still the same.
Though the company has introduced new types and sizes of bean bags and comfort products, Young said the bed inside a bean bag is the core of the company.
“We’re really in the shredded foam business,” Young said. “And the more foam we can process and make into cool pieces, the better off we are. When we start trying to venture out too much and get too far away from what we’re good at, it doesn’t work as well.”
Young said he had another opportunity to sell the company last year, but he refused. He said he kept the company in large part because the employees are his friends, and they are still excited about the product.
“As far as what I’m looking forward to, well, more of the same, really,” Young said. “Really just more of the same. We always have good stuff going on.”