Xorbee Chair Business GrowsBy Jane Whitttington on June 14th, 2016 /
We all know the adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. In the case of Jeremy Leffring, necessity was indeed the mother of his invention of a new product, a new business and a whole new direction in life.
Leffring attended Maranatha Baptist Bible College majoring in education and theology, and his dorm room furniture was hardly luxurious. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, his couch was nasty. It was stained, lumpy, uncomfortable and even a little smelly. Leffring set about improving his environment. Using a sewing machine borrowed from his sister, left-over scraps of foam from his father’s business Muskegon Foam, and six dollars’ worth of fabric he constructed a bean-bag like chair that become the envy of his dorm mates. In fact, they began asking him to make his chairs for them.
“It was a pretty rudimentary design. It didn’t have a zipper or a washable cover, but it was comfortable, easy to move around and much better looking than many of the chairs and couches my friends were using,” Leffering said.
During college and even after graduation, Leffering continued to make the chairs for friends. After graduation, he did some substitute teaching and then took a job at Mona Shores High School in Muskegon teaching PE and coaching soccer.
“I was torn. I didn’t know if I should continue teaching or move into the chair business full-time,” he said. “I was trying to do both, and it was just too much.”
While still pondering his options, the decision was made for him when Mona Shores discontinued the program that employed him. In 2007, he went into the chair business full-time.
Six facilities later and several bumps and bruises along the way, the business is flourishing. Leffering says that at one point, the facility they were using for the product burned to the ground and they had to start over entirely from scratch. Another time, someone they hired to do marketing took off with the designs, the plans and the name starting a competing business. But Leffering carried on.
“Over time, we changed the design, adding a zipper, an inner covering and a removable, washable outer covering,” he said. “From furniture manufacturers, we buy furniture grade foam scraps they have left over from their projects. Our chairs come in a lot of different colors and sizes. We use different fabrics as well, ranging from twill to microsuede to a newly developed fabric from Wooly Threads.”
He goes on, “We don’t really consider them bean bag chairs; they are actually frameless furniture, much sturdier than the typical bean bag. Since they are filled with high grade foam, they conform to the body, don’t roll around and don’t flatten out over time.”
Their chairs come in a wide variety of shapes ranging from three feet wide to eight feet wide. Some of his earliest customers were youth pastors who needed comfortable, portable and cleanable seating for kids. In fact, Leffering still goes to conferences for youth pastors where he finds an appreciative audience for his products.
This year, Leffering is trying something new. Working with Michigan State University, he has sent flyers to all new students offering his original six foot roundish, perfect-for-the-dorm model complete with Spartan embellishments to reflect Sparty pride. He and his staff will be at MSU on move-in day for students and parents to pick up their pre-ordered Xorbees, and they will also have models on hand for sale. Leffering says they plan to work with other universities on similar ventures.
There are now nine employees busily constructing Xorbees. Chairs can be purchased online, via Amazon, the occasional kiosk at area malls and, in the fall, at MSU.
Leffering felt the need to contribute to a charity, and he participated in the Autism Speaks campaign funding that organization. He and his chairs were featured on a WZZM TV in Grand Rapids news segment focusing on the benefits of the chair for autistic children. This news segment can be accessed at www.wzzm13.com/news/local/xorbee-pillow-chair-calms-children-with-autism/147728136 (You can also catch a glimpse of the Spartan chair being sold at MSU.)
Leffering is justifiably proud of his company, and happy to report that it is a 100 percent made-in-Michigan product.
For more information about the company and its unique products, visit their website at www.xorbee.com