The Australian heritage of the Gig Harbor-based TravelChair company is still weaved into the seams of the outdoor chairs, furniture and accessories in the family-owned business.
Daniel and Holly Roso acquired the company in 2008 from Holly’s parents, who were retiring after they bought the Australian company in 1984. TravelChair celebrated 30 years of family ownership in July.
When they obtained the business, the Rosos made a point of wanting to do more than just sell products. “More” included bringing a line of products with fresh approaches to the market to fit the company’s motto, “where tradition meets innovation.”
TravelChair sells more than 40 products of chairs, cots, furniture and accessories to an outdoor clientele. All are of simple design made of lightweight and durable aluminum tubing for camping, sports or circling up a backyard fire pit.
One of the newest and best-selling products, the “Joey” chair, is a nod to the company’s Australian roots. The chair fits into a compact pouch, much like its namesake, and assembles into a full-size chair. The size of a California burrito and weighing less than 2 pounds, the chair sets up in less than a minute and utilizes the shock chord system found in tents, Daniel Roso said.
The SleepRite cot, another best-selling item, uses the similar shock chord setup. It weighs less than 5 pounds, and the carrying case is almost as small as the Joey chair.
The Rosos see the system as revolutionizing the industry.
“We wanted to be innovative with technology, create cool new products and push the envelope on what was available from our company,” Daniel said. “Since 2009, we have had nine new products and made improvements to seven others in our line. We listen to our consumers and use feedback to tailor our products to their needs to be relevant and keep moving to the next level.”
Sales with the new product line and urban look, notably with the Joey chair, have quadrupled international sales for 2014, and pre-sales in the states have doubled, the Rosos said.
The Rosos grew are both Gig Harbor High School graduates. Holly worked in the warehouse every summer to get to know the family business. Daniel worked as a sales representative.
After Holly earned a doctoral degree in social services, the Rosos wondered if buying the company would be the best decision for their family. The answer on paper was no, because of the economic recession, a new baby, and Holly needing to give up the career path she chose in the nonprofit arena.
“It was a faith-based decision, and we decided to jump into it anyway,” Daniel said. “We looked at it as a door opening, and we would trust the outcome would work out.”
Holly’s parents were happy the couple decided to keep the business in the family.
“Holly and I were in fourth grade together and danced at our senior prom, and now I get to work with my best friend and wife every day,” Daniel said.
The last few years have been a learning experience for the Rosos.
“I wear 20 hats,” Daniel said.
The couple has three kids age 5 and younger and strives to create a work environment that’s fun and relaxed as possible for their 10 employees.
“I believe it’s important to play into people’s strengths,” Holly said. “We each have our roles and know what we do well. Skill sets are transferable, and I took what I was doing in the nonprofit sector and apply it here as well. We cross-train employees, so we all work in our area of strength with whatever project arises.”
As owners, the Rosos want to take care of employees and treat them as members of a family.
“Pets and children are welcomed as needed,” Holly said. “We offer profit sharing and benefits that take care of them, like gym memberships. In return, we see high productivity.”
The company is divided into three primary sections. TravelChair’s products are in retailers, such as REI and Urban Outfitters. There is an electronic side for customers on Amazon and the store site, plus a promotional product division.
The company has worked with most name-brand companies to produce promotional give-aways and logo products for businesses, including BMW, Pepsi and Chevrolet.
The company recently worked to supply chairs for an Addidas youth soccer program and helped the Red Cross with a promotion “donate a pint, get a cooler chair.” Silk screening for the promotional business side is done at the Gig Harbor location.
The Rosos also work on and community outreach. They donate a portion of profits to charity.
TravelChair partnered with World Vision’s “End Malaria” campaign, selling an insect shield chair that emits repellent embedded in the fabric. Part of the proceeds are donated to the campaign. Good Housekeeping awarded it a Very Innovative Product award in 2010.
Each October, the Rosos offer a grey and pink chair with the large pink ribbon, the symbol of breast cancer, as the handle. Part of the proceeds go to a designated charity.
“We inherited a legacy and want to be good stewards of the company and in the world,” Daniel said. “Our goal and focus is to tie in youth, energy and continue to innovate our products but also serve our community well. We try to be more then just selling a product. We want to make a light footprint in the world with products that we develop and sell.”