November 12, 2009,
By David Gill
Stretch and Cover, the slipcover manufacturer based in Hingham, Mass., has a unique product and an equally unique business model.
The product is a slipcover that can be made in a variety of fabrics--ranging from twills to suedes and jacquards--that is expandable to stretch and recover when needed.
This model also entails just one full-time employee--Bert Shlensky, Stretch and Cover's president and former president of Sure Fit, which has long been the dominant company in the slipcover marketplace. Stretch and Cover's manufacturing takes place in China and its call center is in Uruguay, and there is fulfillment staff in Spain, Russia, New Jersey and New York. All of these operations are on a contract basis. "We are a virtual organization," Shlensky told HFN in a recent interview.
Ernest Cohan, an inventor and entrepreneur from Uruguay, founded Stretch and Cover in 2002. He took the product line exclusively on the Internet in 2005 and enjoyed annual sales growth of 25 percent a year, according to Shlensky. In May of this year, Stretch and Cover was acquired by Evercel, a holding company that owns businesses in a variety of industries. Once the deal was closed, Evercel put Shlensky in charge.
The Stretch and Cover line includes covers for sofas, loveseats and chairs, along with coordinating items. "We make the covers look more like upholstery fabric by using less stretch and heavier-weight fabrics," Shlensky said. "Our competitors have stretch fabrics that fit tightly, but they're more like nylon stockings."
Another point of distinction is the covers for the seat cushions. "We use separate covers for each cushion," Shlensky said. "Others use one cover for all the cushions. The combination of stretch and separate cushions is what makes us fit better and look better."
Stretch and Cover's Internet-only sales model allows for greater flexibility in product development, according to Shlensky. "Not having a retailer in the equation is a big advantage," he said. "I can design a product for a consumer without the three- to six-month waiting time that it takes for a retailer to make a decision on what products to put on their shelves."
In October, Stretch and Cover launched a redesigned version of its Web site. Shlensky said the new site has a lifestyle, casual and decorating-oriented approach.
The site includes Stretch and Cover's entire line in slipcovers, decorative pillows and accessories, and fabric swatches. It includes a clearance section with products that can be purchased for 70 percent off.
The slipcovers come in a variety of chair styles--including sofa, wing chair, recliner, barrel and dining-chair. Covers for seat cushions and ottomans can also be found in this section. Slipcover prices range from $29.99 for a barrel slipcover to $99 for a sofa cover.
The site also positions itself as a full resource of information about slipcovers. It includes a Help & Sizes page with information about measurements, instructions for putting a slipcover on, articles about slipcovers, testimonials, videos and decor ideas. There is also a page for corporate accounts, targeting the hotel/hospitality trade and providing contact information and a sign-up form.
As to the future, according to Shlensky, "this is a business with incredible potential. I've been doing entrepreneurial things in recent years, and this is right up my alley."