Necessity is often the mother ofinvention, which is how Cynthia Talley arrived at her sleeping and chair bagbusiness, Happi-Nappi.Eighteen years ago,Talley leftbehind her corporate sales job to be at home with her two young children.
It was during the Beanie Baby craze that Talley began seeing women sewing tiny sleeping bags for the popular plushtoys. Then, at the school where she was a substitute teacher, Talley noticed kids shivering on the floor during nap time. She had an epiphany: she would start a business stitching sleeping bags for children. “I’ve always been very mechanically inclined. And I knew one day I wanted to start my own business,” she says. “I wanted to prove to myself and my dad that I could do it.”She started out small, in a room of her home, and focused on chair bags and sleeping mats.
When she made sales calls, she brought her kids along. While she pitched her product to day care directors, the children played on the playground; at conventions, they helped out or tucked under the table to play games while their mother worked.
Eighteen years later, this Mississippi-born entrepreneur employs a staff of nine who work at the 4,000-square-foot factory she maintains near the airport. She proudly buys U.S.-made fabrics for the goods they produce. “It’s about keeping jobs in America,” she notes. Happi-Nappi serves more than 4,000 customers nationwide.
So how has her small company survived in this tough economy? “I’m frugal, I watch my expenses,and I don’t get over extended,” she says matter-of-factly.
Ultimately, Talley remains committed to personal service, and still delivers products locally. If you’re looking for a durable chair bag or a sleeping bag, Happi-Nappi has you covered.
"The Daily News"--- Memphis, TN
Happi-Nappi Finds Niche in ‘Nap Bag’ BusinessMonday, September 27, 2010, Vol. 125, No. 187 C. RICHARD COTTON | Special to The Daily News
Cynthia Lea Talley and Happi-Nappi staff
Photos: Bob Bayne
Peggy Schoggen recognized the quality of Happi-Nappi products after she began washing her grandchildren’s school nap bags on weekends.
The Southaven speech pathologist was impressed by the quality of the quilted, colorful bags the children sleep in during school nap time.
“They are certainly high quality,” said Schoggen. “They are wonderful.”
In fact, she decided to get her grandchildren chair bags – cloth bags hung on the back of a desk chair to hold books and other personal items – so began an Internet search for them. Schoggen was pleased to discover that Happi-Nappi, the South Memphis manufacturer of nap bags, also makes chair bags. So she made a trip to the factory at 3874 Viscount Ave. in Oakhaven’s Millennium Business Center.
“You can monogram the cover flap with their names but make sure you don’t sew it to the bag,” Happi-Nappi owner Cynthia Lea Talley explained to Schoggen – who paid $22 for two denim bags – over the whine of several sewing machines operating nearby.
Surrounded by some of her eight sewing employees and stacks of chair bags, brightly covered mat covers and nap bags, the 49-year-old Talley said she got into the niche market through a series of events.
To begin, she earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design at the University of Mississippi, a degree path that included “a lot of sewing.”
“I worked in interior design two months and I hated it,” said Talley, a Memphis native who was raised in Corinth, Miss. She sold pagers for a while and later worked for a large, national waste disposal company.
About 15 years ago, she saw a nap bag and figured she could make them better, so she made a few; they featured the top and bottom sheets sewn together so they can be handled and washed as one piece rather than two. Then she set about a one-woman marketing effort.
“I started by going to daycare centers at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and setting up a card table with the nap bags on them,” said Talley. They sold.
Eventually, Talley found it necessary to contract the sewing out because she alone could not keep up with demand for the bags. Then she hired three full-time sewers and set them up inside her home, where she had more control over the finished products than she had with the contractors. The home-based enterprise lasted 13 years.
Two years ago, Talley moved the business out of her house, leased the three-suite Millennium Business Center space and installed primarily Juki professional sewing machines. She also brought all the sewing in-house.
“I always said, ‘There’s no way I will have my own factory,’ but now I have a factory,” said Talley.
She produces primarily five products: the Happi-Nappi nap bags ($29.95 retail), chair bags ($10.95), mat covers ($19.95), crib sheets ($9.95) and cot covers ($19.95).
“We have 60 of the cot covers,” said Michelle Childress, preschool teacher at Avondale Elementary School in Marion, Ark. “They’re wonderful because they’re so easy to clean and the children love them.”
The cot covers are also two pieces sewn together for convenience and fitted with elastic bands at the corners that secure the covers on the legs of the short plastic cots schools and daycares buy from education goods suppliers.
Childress said Avondale’s cot covers have been in constant use for at least six years and still have plenty of life left; an occasional replacement of an elastic band is the only maintenance, besides washing, they’ve needed.
Talley estimates that 90 percent of her sales – she doesn’t sell retail or through catalog – comes from the personal contact she makes with teachers and administrators attending education conferences. Each year she sets up a booth at seven or eight of the conferences nationwide.
Happi-Nappi makes and sells 30,000 to 40,000 items annually, but Talley sees the enterprise as more than just a supplier of bags.
“This is about giving people employment and a nice place to work,” she said. “My sewers can set their own schedules, which they do. Two of them work at night.
“It’s very important to me they enjoy their job and have a safe place to work.”
Employee Deloise Matthews sews nap bags at Happi-Nappi’s Viscount Ave. headquarters.