From Couch Potato to Furniture King

This entrepreneur started his furniture company on a whim, but this one-time joke biz has become a runaway success.
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Description: Modular furniture manfacturer with more than 50 sales outlets
Founders: Shawn Nelson, 28
Location: Salt Lake City
2004 projected sales: More than $30 million
http://www.lovesac.com

A Bag Is Born: At age 18, Shawn Nelson was watching TV on the couch when he decided "a huge beanbag thing" might be more comfortable. He bought 14 yards of vinyl, cut it into a baseball shape, and spent three weeks filling it with anything soft he could find. The finished LoveSac was 7 feet wide, and everyone who saw it tried it out--and loved it.

Pocket Power: When neighbors started placing orders, Nelson decided to start his company almost as a joke. With free help from his friends, he made the LoveSacs in his parents' basement and sold them at trade shows, events and even the drive-in. Business was moderate at best, until he got a call on his cell phone that changed his life: a quarter-million-dollar order from Too Inc., which was looking for a back-to-school offering for its Limited Too stores. "I answered the phone and said, 'Twelve thousand LoveSacs? Sure, no problem. That's what we do; we're the best in the world at it,'" remembers Nelson.

Hard Road: Undaunted, Nelson amassed $50,000 in credit card debt building a factory. He worked 19-hour days and slept at the factory. "It nearly broke me emotionally, physically, mentally," Nelson says. "My hands were cracked and bleeding. We finished the order [for Too Inc.] but ate up all our profits." Just when things seemed darkest, a deceptively simple idea presented itself: Open a mall store. Not just any store, but one designed from the beginning to look like an upscale chain--even before it was a chain. It paid off: With some 55 stores, about half of them franchised, LoveSac is looking at sales topping $30 million this year.

Looking Forward: "We're headed toward owning [the market for] oversized living," says Nelson, who dispenses with all modesty where his business is concerned. "We're going to have a catalog that'll be three inches thick, selling everything that's over-the-top, bling-bling, LoveSac-get-out-of-our-freaking-way."

Unstoppable: No one fully expected LoveSac's success-not even Nelson himself. He says being committed to solving any problem is vital to his--and any entrepreneur's-success. "Decide that there is always a way," he says, "and you'll find that there is."

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