There is good reason why college students have taken to Jerry Phlippeau's airy line of inflatable furniture. Not only is the price right, but a sofa, easy chair, ottoman and faux plants all fit in the trunk of a small car. First, of course, you have to let the air out of the ensemble.
``It's very, very hot right now,'' said Phlippeau, president of Flipo Enterprises in La Salle, Ill. ``The most popular market is college students.''
During the past year Flipo has sold about 10,000 pieces of the blow-up furniture, Phlippeau said. The heavy-duty PVC products are produced in China and largely sold by catalog or via the Internet at www.flipo.com.
A number of specialty stores also sell inflatable furniture, including the retail chain Urban Outfitters in New York. Vava, another New York-based major distributor of inflatables, and Estran Corp. in Two Rivers, Wis., an inflatable furniture manufacturer, did not respond to requests for information.
Flipo's clear ``Inflatature'' product line includes a couch, armchair, footstools, children's furniture and inflatable tulips.
Retail prices range from $60 for the sofa to $15 for a footstool, to $5 for tulips, said Phlippeau, who founded Flipo in 1990 to sell personal-security and novelty items.
The kitsch furniture is selling well. The company has 20 U.S. employees and does about $3 million in annual sales. This year it will realize a third of that from the manufacture and marketing of its inflatable furniture line, Phlippeau said in a telephone interview. He recently formed a joint venture in Dongguan City, China, Flipo Group Ltd., to make the products.
Phlippeau said that the PVC products are made by hand and heat-sealed at the Dongguan operation, which employs 100.
The larger items come with a foot-pump, and Phlippeau said a patch kit is included with all his products. There is no charge for the air.