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Taking the plunge: from making parachutes to becoming one of the UK’s biggest beanbag retailer

GreatBeanBags, a Midlands-based British Bean Bag manufacturer founded in 2005, has developed a vast collection of products, including beanbag ranges for gamers, pets, outdoor use, medical environments and schools. But that’s not where the company’s manufacturing journey began.

The online retailer is a subsidiary of highly-regarded UK industrial and performance textiles manufacturer Precision Stitching Ltd – founded in 1992 by Ray Armstrong. Ray launched the business after leaving the Parachute Regiment’s world-renowned “Red Devils” freefall skydiving display team and working as a Parachute Regiment Soldier in The British Army. He had been enamoured with air sports and skydiving since he was 13 and did his first parachute jump on his 16th birthday.

Ray started his business journey by making and repairing parachute equipment. This work – which began in Ray’s spare room – quickly expanded into the business of making and repairing other military equipment.

Once Ray established a factory for manufacturing, the self-contained textile company was approached by Peak Performance to manufacture sports and kayak equipment for them and was soon manufacturing Gore-Tex mountain biking clothing for Polaris.

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Over the following years, Precision Stitching made clothing and textiles for an eclectic mix of B2B customers in different industries, including fishing, medical and aerospace, counting the NHS and Virgin Atlantic as some of its customers. As word began to spread, so did demand, and the business eventually grew into a 40-person team. It’s these complex projects and the expertise learned along that way that led the company to where it is today.

In 2005, using their expertise to design, make and trial products, the team created some one-off bean bags for friends and family and received positive feedback. Patrick Tonks, who joined the firm the same year following the completion of a Product Design Degree, realised the potential for growth in the bean bag market – and convinced Ray to set up the subsidiary brand GreatBeanBags.

In 2007, Ste Barnes joined the team as IT Director and has helped to grow the eCommerce business to a whole new level. Since then, they’ve focused on establishing a presence as an online British bean bag retailer over the last two decades.

Ray Armstrong, Founder and Managing Director, explains: “Our business journey at GreatBeanBags has certainly been interesting. I would never have imagined that we would go from making and repairing parachutes to being the UK’s biggest bean bag retailer. We’re incredibly lucky to have worked with a huge mix of customers, including well-known companies like Channel 4, Paul Smith, Deliveroo, Vans, Everyman Cinema and Innocent Smoothies to name a few.”

On a mission to offer the biggest and best range of bean bags in Britain, the company has since developed hundreds of products in different styles for varying consumer and sector uses – all carefully handmade to order by their team in Nottingham.

Despite the rise of cheaper imports and online marketplaces, GreatBeanBags has established a firm reputation in the UK due to its products being handmade to premium British quality standards and a team of skilled designers and production staff. In addition, the business adopts a ‘Just In Time’ manufacturing process, meaning all products are made the same day they are ordered and sent out using a next-day delivery service. This also ensures that there’s less surplus material used and waste created.

Precision Stitching is still heavily involved in supplying parachuting equipment across an array of industries – they even manufactured the ejector seat parachute assembly for James Bond’s Spectre film in 2015.

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