Not lounging around: Charlevoix grads, European partners work at chair venture – Petoskey News

For two former Charlevoix High School classmates and three friends in Europe, an inflatable lounge chair inspires thoughts of sales potential rather than relaxation.

The five have worked to develop, market and sell the Chillbean. This inflatable chair gives customers a surface to lie on when they’re at the beach, on a camping trip, attending a concert or otherwise out and about. Lucas Vagner, the venture’s Swedish chief executive officer, noted a goal to set Chillbean apart from other inflatable seating entries with premium construction and features.

“We don’t want to be the company that sells the most,” the 25-year-old Vagner said. “We want to sell the best product.”

Gene Foley and Andrew Mailloux, who are both 2005 Charlevoix High School graduates, are heading up U.S. distribution efforts for the Chillbean. Others on the international team include Vagner’s girlfriend, Mikaela Hård, also from Sweden, and Bendik Lovás, from Norway.

“We are just a young group of friends from around the world, that decided that we wanted to take charge of our financial futures and kick some major butt together,” said Foley, 30, who met Vagner at a Georgia music festival in 2015.

When Vagner got started with Chillbean in 2015, he brought sales and marketing experience from several jobs — most recently at a BMW/Mini Cooper dealership in Oslo, Norway. To date, he said the company’s sales have totaled about 3,000 units. The partners sell the inflatables at vendor events — boat and camping shows, for example — as well as online, and see sales in brick-and-mortar stores as another possibility for the future. With sales channels established in North America, Norway and Sweden, the company is extending its reach to additional markets such as the Czech Republic and several Middle Eastern countries.

Chillbean points to several attributes — such as quick set-up and take-down, a sizable 550-pound weight capacity and ripstop fabric construction that offers light weight and durability — that help distinguish its products in the marketplace. The Chillbean lists for around $89, with a carrying bag and patch kit included, and an LED lighting upgrade is available for an additional $10. The company has arranged for manufacturing of the Chillbean in Hong Kong, with Foley noting plans for a trip there this spring to help design the company’s next project.

For Foley – who recently moved downstate for business purposes, but still visits Northern Michigan regularly — Chillbean has become a full-time work pursuit.

“Between running the website, fulfilling orders and doing shows and expos, I’m busy every day,” he said.

Mailloux, 29, who currently lives in Park City, Utah, joined Chillbean part time in recent months as a chief financial officer, and also helps in lining up new sales opportunities.

“Taking on a new realm of business has been quite a pleasure,” he said.

Although Chillbean’s team members are based on two different continents, Mailloux noted that technology — such as video chat platforms and mobile apps that allow for free international calling — makes it easy for them to keep one another informed about business needs and activities.

Chillbean plans to have a presence at numerous Midwestern vendor events this year — including a Bay Harbor boat show — and the partners also see sales potential along the east and west U.S. coasts.

“Gene and Andrew have a huge and very important role for the American market, which is a large and exciting market,” Vagner said.

For more information about Chillbean, see its U.S. website at www.chillbeanusa.com.


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