■ Find more information about EcoSak’s ecologically friendly furniture on the Web at www.ecosak.com.
■ To learn more about local SCORE resources and free business counseling, call Randy Rudasics at 970-870-4491.
Steamboat Springs Many people who start their own business do so after a quirky idea or moment of inspiration.
The Gardels took a much more pragmatic approach.
“Search engine research,” Holley Gardel, of Steamboat Springs, said when asked about the origin of the couple’s online beanbag chair businesses, www.beanbagzone.com and www.ecosak.com.
When looking for a business idea, Brian Gardel said, he and business partner Barry Bowman researched some key words on Google and found an interesting result.
“We found that beanbags were a high-traffic item that didn’t have a lot of e-commerce competition,” Brian said Sunday at his home on Aspen Leaf Way.
So they started an online business that, after several years, is about to get a big boost in exposure. EcoSak, an offshoot of their original www.beanbagzone.com, sells environmentally friendly beanbag furniture online. EcoSak products will appear on the Nov. 7 episode of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The episode details the rebuilding of the Lighthouse Preschool in Nashville, Tenn., according to a news release. The preschool was destroyed in the city’s flooding in May. EcoSak beanbag chairs are planned for use in five rooms of the new preschool.
“I’m excited to see (the show) because kids go bananas around these things,” Holley said about the soft, flexible furniture.
Holley said they’ve sold about 300 EcoSaks, with the majority of those sales in the past 12 months. She said the idea for that product came after a friend made a comment about beanbag furniture’s tendency to fill up landfills.
“It definitely hurt to hear that,” said Holley, who has a master’s degree in restoration ecology from Colorado State University and has traveled to Antarctica as part of scientific research teams. “I had some guilt about selling beanbags. … From that conversation, the concept of EcoSaks developed.”
She said EcoSaks are made of 100 percent certified organic cotton. Liners allow the cotton covers to be removed and washed. The foam inside the cover and liner is post-manufacturing waste, she said, meaning leftover material from the production of furniture cushions and other similar products.
The beanbags range in price from $109 to $329, depending on style and size.
Holley acknowledged the foam interior could be better — it’s urethane foam, which has uses from mattresses to insulation and does not meet her 100 percent earth-friendly goal.
“I feel like it’s a good step toward that, and it’s something I want to improve upon,” she said.
EcoSak supports several “green” organizations and contributes 1 percent of its proceeds to environmental nonprofit groups through 1% For the Planet, a global effort that said it has more than 1,100 contributing businesses in North America alone.
Holley said EcoSaks are manufactured in Georgia and ordered through a call center in Utah.
She and Brian, a Web developer, work from their home as part of the Yampa Valley’s growing location-neutral business community.
Holley said her next step with EcoSak, and her biggest business challenge, is securing funding to increase inventory and get EcoSak into retail stores.
She’s received business counseling from Yampa Valley SCORE at Colorado Mountain College’s Small Business Resource Center. Rich Lowe, former president and CEO of an international print paper and packaging company with about $8 billion in annual sales, was her counselor there.
“I think it’s a great business opportunity that has some significant potential, if she can figure out how to get the brand going … around the country,” Lowe said about EcoSak.
Lowe said the Gardels’ hurdle to achieve growth is one he often hears from small business owners.
“I think some of the common challenges folks have is once they get to a certain size or scale, then they need to be looking for new or additional partnerships for manufacturing their product and also distributing their products,” he said.
That takes an ability to get a loan — no simple task in today’s economy.
“Certainly, in this environment, that’s a real challenge for anybody,” Lowe said.
Holley said she and Brian have appreciated the local support they’ve found since moving to Steamboat from Fort Collins. That move came after Brian was a house-sitter here during the big-snow winter of 2008-09.
“For me, as a small business owner, I feel like there’s a lot of resources here,” Holley said. “People have been really great about chatting with me.”
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail email@example.com