Of Beans & Bags
Shahir Arslan wants you to be comfortable with his bags. Beanbags, of course.
This week we got nice and comfortable with Shahir Arslan - one of the fabulous founders of Ariika, Egypt’s first dedicated beanbag brand. Available online at www.ariika.com and at Blend Furniture’s gorgeous showroom, Ariika beanbags have been flying off the shelves, gracing over 4000 homes in the year and a half in which the local company has been operating. The brainchild of Arslan and three other young entrepreneurial partners, Ariika is changing the way we sit. Which doesn’t sound that innovative but, when you think about the state of Egypt these days and the lack of things to do, aren’t you sitting on your backside for most of the time? We get cosy with Arslan to talk about the business of beanbags, Ashton Kutcher and worldwide domination…
Are you the villain from The Little Mermaid?
Hahaha… Arslan, not Ursula.
Does the fact that you look like a Turkish soap opera actor help you out in business?
No, I don’t think so.
Would you ever be interested in acting in a Turkish soap opera?
What if someone told you we want you to star in a Turkish soap opera and in every shot there will be an Ariika beanbag?
Hahaha, then maybe!
So how did you start Ariika beanbags?
The idea came from friend of mine, Khaled Attallah, while we were still at university (AUC). I studied construction and engineering and just graduated last semester, but were always thinking of starting our own business because we wanted to help our parents in contributing to fees. We had a lot of different ideas but we settled on beanbags.
What were those other ideas?
Well, a lot of them were cliche. You know how everyone jumps on the bandwagon in Egypt. We thought of doing custom, high quality chocolates like Chocoholic, but obviously someone was already doing that. Khaled – who is now one of the partners in Ariika – went to Wales on a study abroad program and told me there were beanbags all over his uni, so we started think about it. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure there was a market for it. But when we looked into it, there were just a few traditional furniture store selling a couple of dusty beanbags in the corner as an afterthought, and no real beanbag brands.So we started from there. We spent 5 months building a brand before we’d even built the product and launched in May 2011.
What was the most difficult part about launching?
Well, starting your own business for the first time is very hard. Khaled was abroad so I was alone on the ground, trying to design shapes and find suppliers.
What does Ariika mean?
It’s Arabic for sofa or couch. It should be just ‘Arika’ but that URL was taken…We used an Arabic word because we wanted a really local business. Everything is made to order in Egypt.
If you were a beanbag, which one would you be?
I’d be the pumpkin shape in orange leather. Very fancy.
Have you ever thought about making a Morsi beanbag so people can sit on his face?
Hahaha, yeah that’s a good one. I’ll think about that…
We’ll take a commission on that. How many beans are in your bean bags?
I’m not sure.
You don’t seem in tune with your product; if we find one bean less than there should be, we’re calling you for a refund.
If you can count them, let me know how many there are!
Has anyone ever inquired about alternative uses for beanbags?
They are mainly for sitting on! But they do float on water too.
What makes your beanbags better than any others?
We are the first brand of beanbags in Egypt and we’ve focused on making them really high quality and super comfortable. Now we’ve had some success, we’re also looking into becoming a brand for comfort products as a whole – neck pillows and laptop pillows are just some of the things we’ve moved into.
Has a girl ever nicknamed your testicles Ariika beanbags?
Hahaha no, not yet.
We understand you also make custom beanbags. What are some of the coolest design requests you’ve had?
We’ve done a lot of corporate ones with logos like Google, Cartoon Network, Vodafone, Danone, Heineken and Coca-Cola, as well as some cool themed ones.
If the Ikhwan came up to you wanting custom beanbags with their logos, would you make them?
50k a bag? And guaranteed entry into heaven?
No, no, no. Actually, maybe, if you mean dollars!
So you’re basically Ikhwan. Boo! If you were to wake up tomorrow and you were a beanbag, which celebrity home would you like to be in?
I don’t know, Aston Kutcher?
He’s a handsome man to be fair, but it’d be nicer to have Mila Kunis sitting on you. Are you planning on branching out of Egypt?
Yeah, actually we’re thinking about taking Ariika to the USA. I’m moving there soon, so I might study the market and see how it goes.
Do you get high on your own supply? How many beanbags do you have in your house?
Only one. I used to get them all the time and my house was used as storage but my Mother got frustrated and said she didn’t want to see another beanbag in her life!
Do you always give friends and family beanbags as gifts?
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs in Egypt?
My advice is they shouldn’t over-plan. There’s a lot that happens when starting a business and you can’t predict everything. If you have an idea and you believe in it, just plan a little bit and go step by step because you will face so many problems at different stages. You’ll learn as you go along.
Roughly, how many beanbags have you sold to-date?
More than 4,000
So you’ve sold about million pounds worth of beanbags?
Can we have ten pounds to go to the kiosk?
Get your butts in Ariika Beanbags now and head to Blend Furniture, 8 Hafez Ramadan St., first right off ff Makram Ebeid St., Nasr City, Cairo.