The common couch might seem an unlikely candidate for an overhaul. But that is exactly what Stamford-based Lovesac founder Shawn Nelson envisioned as a Utah teenager 20 years ago.
Just weeks past high school graduation, Nelson was watching TV in his family’s Salt Lake City home when he had a light-bulb moment. In his words: “What if the couch went from here” — he drew an imaginary line on the floor — “all the way to the TV.”
A trip to the local fabric store set the gears in motion and Nelson produced, in his words, “this thing that I made.” In a similar quest to place a tag on the unique, his business card identifies him as “That Lovesac Guy.” The company is privately held, with sales at “hundreds of units per day,” he said.
Today, after a 2006 corporate reorganization that saw the business move to Stamford, Nelson oversees 60 stores, 400 employees and a product line based on four proprietary and “vigorously defended” patents.
The company recently relocated within the city from 4,800 square feet on Canal Street to 12,000 square feet at 2 Landmark Square. “It’s been a huge upgrade,” Neslon said.
Nelson cited growth as the impetus for the move. He designed the new space, which features natural light, private work nooks when called for and open space the remainder of the time. The space, like the Lovesac line of furnishings and covers, was laid out with what Nelson termed “intentionality.”
“Our new office is designed, first, to make people feel at home and, second, to make sure everyone has a space, but incorporating lots of movement,” he said. “We are very intentional, both with the office and with our products.”
The Lovesac line maintains presences in the region at the Danbury Fair Mall and, in White Plains, N.Y., at The Westchester.
But, company CEO Nancy Shalek said, “We consider our website our flagship store.”
“In the beginning, we weren’t even selling on the Web,” Nelson said. “It was strictly informational.” The first Web sale for Lovesac was in 2002.
Eighty percent of Lovesac’s business is composed of its “Sactionals” – couches that use same-sized bases and different-sized sides and backs to create an endless line of auto-designed couches: from love seats to room-sized wrap-arounds.
To customize furniture, there are “hundreds” of different fabrics. Lovesac also will produce covers from custom fabrics. In a lively demonstration of durability, Nelson trampolined like a child on an unprotected base — the box spring in conventional construction — to zero ill effect.
Nelson is the firm’s chief designer, but he credited Lovesac’s management team for growth that is doubling annually in a price bracket competitive with the likes of Crate & Barrel or Restoration Hardware. “They bring plenty of structure and strategy to guide the innovation,” he said.
Nelson sized up the company’s return business as “big time,” saying, “Once you’re into Sactionals, they make obsolete all other types of couches.” He pointed out the troughs that affect standard seat cushions and said they do not happen with Lovesac’s three-tier cushion design.
The Web is more than a conduit for Lovesac sales. As he disassembled a Lovesac sofa, Nelson said, “You are looking at the first sofa designed for the Internet.” He pointed out the cushions fit into the bases and said major shipping companies such as FedEx deliver his sofas direct to customer’s doors.
Having cracked the equation of easy couch delivery, Nelson said the company’s greatest growth potential is in urban areas. For now, however, “We have success wherever suburban America lives, from Denver to California to Boston.” The Sactionals are also finding corporate settings, including at ESPN’s Bristol headquarters, clubs, movie theaters and even yachts.
“We really do believe we can take a huge share of the couch market once people discover Sactionals,” Nelson said. “They’re like Legos to assemble, but the goal is that they not look like they’re slip-covered and that they not look modular. They look terrific. It’s a great couch with everything that makes it great hiding in plain sight.”