As they launch their inflatable Air Puff, the dynamic entrepreneurs behind beanbag empire Ariika narrate how they disrupted the furniture sector, unveil their titanic strategy, and explain why they continue to wager their bets on Egyptian manufacturing despite the odds.
Hot off the press: the intrepid trio behind Ariika is now launching a patented product that not only elevates the standard of Egyptian products but also sets out to conquer the Gulf, introducing their trademark inflatable bean bag, called "Air Puff," which can be folded and conveniently stored. The team, which already dominates the market, built their beanbag empire in five short years, despite having to weather the 2011 revolutionary storm and battle the waves of political instability and economic ups and downs.
Khaled Attallah, Shahir and Hassan Arslan started off with one machine and 2,000 LE each, setting up a tiny workshop on the third-floor spare room of a textile factory in Obour. Unexperienced but tremendously eager, the 20-year-old students got involved in every single detail of the manufacturing process of bean bags, a product they had seen while travelling abroad and were striving to bring to the Egyptian market. They set up the website, designed the pieces, and even delivered each product themselves. Five years later, they had entirely disrupted Egypt’s furniture market and sold 65,000 items.
Their factory, which once produced three beanbags a day, now manufactures 300 items daily, catering to giant corporate clients that range from multinational hotel chains, to beach resorts, to international corporations such as Coca-Cola, Heineken, Google, PepsiCo, Emaar and even Cartoon Network. “Producing for corporations was extremely challenging at first because we didn’t know how to print logos on the beanbags, but we soon realised that opportunities were huge,” says Shahir.
The sons of Syrian textile producers, Shahir and Hassan Arslan had met Attallah at university, where the idea of setting up their first startup was conceived. “We used to participate in several extracurricular activities at the American University in Cairo (AUC), and as we needed funding, we had to approach corporations; that gave us very valuable experience in talking to them,” Attallah says.
Today, their inventive series of beanbags colour the beaches of 90 per cent of Egyptian coastal developments, and their trademark quality stands as a statement to elevate the Egyptian national industry. “Perhaps things would be easier if we produced in China, but that’s against our vision to create a high-quality affordable Egyptian product,” says Attallah, as he recalls the hurdles they had to face when manufacturing in Egypt.
The path to reinvention
Instead of sitting on their success, this hyperactive squad strives in the constant pursuit to reinvent themselves. In 2013, they made a bold move as they split ways to get hands-on knowledge on the processes of global corporations, as Attallah took on a corporate job while Shahir went on to work in Qatar and Dubai to devise an “overall picture” strategy that would gear them up to run a business like giants do.
“We believe we have an edge, because Easterners are good at production but not so good at marketing and sales; and while Western companies are good at marketing, they are not efficient because production costs are very high,” Hassan adds. “We believe with these conditions, despite it being extremely hard to produce in Egypt, we can create higher quality and more affordable beanbags in global markets,” he explains, as he unveils their project to penetrate the GCC market with the launch of their newly-released Air Puff, an inflatable bean bag suitable for both land and water.
“We are estimating that, once we launch international distribution for the Air Puffs in 2017, production will multiply,” adds Hassan. The team is preparing to aggressively enter the regional market, as this type of beanbag dramatically reduces the cost of shipping because it's foldable.
In parallel, in a nonchalant display of multifaceted talent, the team developed two other companies: Easy Pan together with Doha Tantawy – an e-commerce platform that delivers recipes and ingredients for homemade meals – and Rolling C, a retail site that sells cabinets and furniture online. “Easy Pan came out of a real-life issue we had, as a newlywed friend of ours found herself turning the kitchen into a mess because she couldn’t manage to cook. We always have the passion to find problems and solve them,” says Shahir.
In the five months since its launch, the company created over 50 recipes and developed their own production and photography studio, which crystallises the recipes they develop once a week. “It’s the power of duplication,” says Hassan. “They are all e-commerce platforms. With Ariika, we already had the production system, the website, and the cars delivering beanbags, so we came up with the concept,” he adds.
Tapping into a 1.4 billion dollar e-commerce industry, the entrepreneurs talk of their goals with a confidence as contagious as their passion. “Our vision for the next 10 years is to have multiple brands that will target all aspects of everyday life,” says Hassan. “We are going to own a big chunk of the market, but not like Souq or Jumia; each brand will have their own platform because our passion is to build brands,” he says. “It’s not about margins,” adds Attallah, “It’s about seeing your baby grow. We know how we can build our advantages. That’s why we believe in it."
As they consider the lessons learnt throughout their five-year entrepreneurial journey, this power squad appears as an injection of drive and inspiration. But do these intrepid business shapers fear anything? “I have so many big dreams that I am just afraid I’m not going to be able to reach them,” says Shahir.
“My biggest fear is political instability in this region,” Hassan adds. “We are working very hard, but the only obstacle is the lack of information and help from the government. We want to grow in this region and flourish, but after the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, we can’t even import high quality raw materials,” says Hassan, who has spent the past two months sleeping at the office in preparation for the launch of their new product.
“We are working 12 hours each and every day as if it were our last day, in order to be on top of everything and meet our customers’ demands. That’s my biggest fear: not being able to meet their expectations,” says Attallah, as he recounts the Facebook group they’ve created specifically to get customer feedback on every single detail in their products. “We believe that the consumer is our boss; so we didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” he adds. “That’s what keeps us innovating and makes us successful.”
You can check out Ariika on Facebook here or follow them on Instagram @ariikacomfort.
Photography by @Mo4Network's #Mo4Productions.
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.