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

GreatBeanBags, a Midlands-based British Bean Bag manufacturer founded in 2005, has developed a vast collection of products, including 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.

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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Company profile:  GreatBeanBags™ is a British Bean Bag manufacturer and online retailer that is a subsidiary brand of the highly regarded UK textiles manufacturer, Precision Stitching Ltd which was founded in 1992.  The brand has become trusted by thousands of consumers and B2B customers across a wide range of sectors including events, medical, care and education. The team at GreatBeanBags has developed a huge collection of products, including ranges for gamers, pets, outdoor use, medical environments and schools.  All of GreatBeanBags products are handmade to premium British quality standards, by the company’s skilled designers and production team in the Midlands. 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 for fast delivery and no wasted surplus products.  Ray Armstong bio: Ray Armstrong is the Founder and Managing Director of Precision Stitching Ltd, and a number of other brands the business has founded including GreatBeanbags, PSL Medical and Hot Pog. Ray is a dab hand on a sewing machine and handles much of the company’s production/prototyping work.  Prior to founding Precision Stitching Ltd, Ray was an Parachute Regiment Soldier in the 80s, he then went on to join the Red Devil’s Freefall Team as a Display Team Member, Instructor and Parachute Rigger until 1988.  Alongside running Precision Stitching Ltd, Ray has continued his skydiving career on the side, he currently works as a Freefall Instructor for The Parachute Regiment, a role he has held for over 16 years, and also regularly works as a Sky Dive Instructor, and TV And Film Stunt Man.  You can learn more about Ray on IMDB: Patrick Tonks bio: Patrick Tonks is an entrepreneur, expert in product design and the Creative Director of GreatBeanBags, one of Britain’s biggest bean bag retailers. Patrick who began his career as primarily a product designer, joined Precision Stitching Ltd in 2004 as a Business Development Manager and within two years, was promoted to Creative Director of the various brands under the Precision Stitching Ltd business. Patrick was key in spotting a niche market which led Precision Stitching Ltd to set up GreatBeanBags in 2005. Over the last two decades, Patrick has used his passion and joy of creating innovative designs and discovering upcoming fabric trends to continue to develop the extensive range of bean bags the business offers, to meet the varying demands of consumers and business customers.

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