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SoFloat: The New Zealand-made beanbag furniture floating to the top of the luxury market

Think of the Kiwi summer, and one of the first things we think about is lounging by the pool, or possibly in it, under cloudless skies with a beverage in hand while sausages sizzle on a nearby barbecue and our mates toss around a rugby ball while Flight of the Conchords plays in the background.

The folks at SoFloat know this, too. And they’ve added another essential ingredient to the Kiwiana Summer Stew: floating beanbags.

The Tauranga-based company is primarily a direct-to-market online business, selling large beanbag furniture that floats on water but can also be used on land. Founder Dave Roberts says the idea for the business came about almost purely by chance. “I was over in Nice in the south of France chilling around the pool, and there was a beanbag next to the pool. I thought to chuck the beanbag into the pool and see what happens, and it turned out to work really well. And that’s kind of the idea. We could make a product that has all the beanbag goodness, but is a little more harder-wearing than your standard beanbag.”

Roberts isn’t exactly new to the entrepreneurship game. After completing a Diploma in Landscape Design and Certificate in Small Business Management in Auckland, he moved to London, working for a leading product development and e-commerce company, Root7. In 2011, Roberts lived and worked in Irving, Texas for another product development company where he gained valuable insights in to the US market. And in 2013, SoFloat was born.

Producing a range of outdoor and floating beanbags, SoFloat’s products are specially-designed to deal with harsh UV conditions. Furthermore, the company’s loungers and beanbags use materials including Sunbrella marine grade fabric, “V” bonded nylon thread, rust-proof YKK zips and stainless ring grips – all things which help with being able to withstand the harsh combination of bright sun and near-constant exposure to chlorinated water.

Currently in use at high-end hotels – such as the Fairmont in the US state of Arizona and the Hilton in Taupo – the company launched in New Zealand, but the Land of the Long White Cloud is just a small part of the company’s worldwide business. Among its main markets are Australia, South Africa, Dubai and Singapore.

Roberts says the company has a very specific type of consumer in mind – but it’s a target market that is willing to pay for luxury items. “Our products are premium products,” he explains. “So our consumers usually have a bit of disposable income.”

Targeting high-income consumers also helps because of the realities of the size of the floating beanbag market, Roberts says. “The floating beanbag market is growing, but it is still very small. But the outdoor furniture market is much bigger.”

Still, Roberts has high hopes to grow SoFloat’s Kiwi consumer base, because of a simple fact he’s more than happy to point out. “New Zealand has the most pools per capita.”

SoFloat’s certainly not the first to find promise in the high-end outdoor leisure market. Coast New Zealand originally got its start in 2003 making outdoor furniture for luxury yachts, but now has also moved into luggage and textiles.

While he says increasing business would be nice, Roberts is also quick to point out how surprising the SoFloat journey has been so far. “It started with just me and a crazy idea and a beanbag and a pool in France,” he says. “So it’s been really cool.”

And his advice for other entrepreneurs? Know when to “switch off” to achieve a better family life and work-life balance.

“I make sure I’m home at half-five every day.”

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