When you go to a concert or a hockey game, you probably do not give much thought to the seats in which you are sitting – unless, of course, they are uncomfortable. But Series Seating has made your comfort its business. Now, combining its ergonomic, award-winning patented seating with the addition of a 203,000 square foot North Carolina plant, the company is bringing its manufacturing and distribution closer to its customer – a win for everyone.
Series Seating was founded by Mauricio Olarte in Colombia, South America in 1982 to design and build innovative office furniture. Realizing that future growth depended on the United States markets, in 2000, he moved company headquarters to Miami, Florida and focused his creativity on designing and manufacturing theatre seating for cinemas and performing arts centers.
Since that time, Series Seating has manufactured seats for over one thousand venues from its Columbia manufacturing facility, and its products have been shipped all over the world. The company’s revenues have reached $50 million, and it has won numerous awards for innovation because its products have no glue or staples. They are constructed from all steel frames with no springs, so they are strong, durable, and take up a small footprint.
“Our product is not just the way it looks; it’s the way it works,” said founder Mauricio Olarte.
The company specializes in creating comfortable, low-maintenance seats that are easy to replace and recover. The products also create more space in venues, one of the benefits of which is huge cost saving in clean up after an event. They are also safer because they provide more room for exiting in an emergency.
“All of the designs I do are based on being very efficient with the space. I have to provide a lot of quantity of chairs in a minimum amount of space available,” said Olarte. “The benefit is always to put more chairs in the space available, so you can have more theatre space and less aisles. That’s what we have been doing to be able to solve that problem. Always making the design simple, very comfortable, and very durable.”
Olarte has a degree in industrial design from the Pratt Institute in New York, so the focus of the company has always been very design-oriented and innovative.
“We’re one hundred percent vertically integrated, so we manufacture all of our components and install them. We can design for the client’s needs, so when we need to solve a problem for them, that brings out our creativity and innovation,” said Olarte.
In addition to the theatre and stadium seating, it also designs high-density stacker chairs. Thirty chairs can be stacked and, uniquely, are still comfortable because they are fully-upholstered and foam-cushioned, and the fabric can be changed, unlike most high-density stackable chairs which are usually made out of plastic.
Through all of its products, the company is always conscious of waste and keeping its carbon footprint minimized in the manufacturing process. “The philosophy of the company has been to be very green and respect the environment, and it’s kind of fun to design products that don’t have any issue from that perspective,” said Olarte. “From the way we purchase our raw materials to the way we manufacture, it’s part of the culture of the company to be very aware of the products we use.”
It also wants to ensure that the products are reusable so they do not just get thrown out when the fabric wears. “More than recycling, we believe first in reusable. Reusable, for us, means that the chair has to be friendly enough that people can fix it or reupholster it,” said Olarte. “The quality of our product – the way that it’s manufactured – the foam in the chair can last thirty-forty-fifty years, so you don’t want it to be thrown out and recycled. It can be reupholstered in three or four minutes by anybody.” It has chairs in venues in the U.S. that are already twenty years old and are still in perfect condition..
The company has also been founded on loyalty to and respect for its employees. It currently has 325 staff members in numerous worldwide offices. “Most of our employees have been with us for thirty-five years, and the people we hired in the U.S. have been with us since 2000, so they really like it,” said Olarte. “We really take care of everybody in the company. We make sure everybody is safe, and they have a good atmosphere of working. It’s like a little family, so I think they are really happy to work at Series because they really stay with us for a long time. We have very little turnover.”
Olarte also has two sons and his brother working with him, so it has really become a family-run business now.
To accommodate the growth that it has been experiencing, the company has streamlined its operations so that all materials and manufacturing can be done in-house. Last year, it began constructing a new 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in North Carolina which will open by the end of 2018. At this facility, it plans to focus its manufacturing efforts on chairs for the sports and education market. It also hopes to be able to hire an additional hundred people.
“As an industrial designer, you are educated in a way that you have to respect nature, so I’m very aware of not hurting the environment. So, when I started the factory, that was one of my concerns,” said Olarte. “The factory in Columbia is in a mountain area surrounded by gardens, and eighteen years ago, we used to manufacture foam, and there was a big change not to use any fluorocarbons, so all our foam has been done with water. So it’s like a super green factory. We don’t have any leftovers. We don’t have any chemicals. All of our paint now is water-based. We’re very, very strict with the manufacturing procedures that we have so we don’t create any pollution. The small pieces left over are recycled, so we don’t produce hardly any garbage so we’re very, very green.”
Once the new manufacturing facility is functioning, it hopes to be able to do all of the manufacturing in the U.S. within two years, and then it plans to start focusing on new products for new markets.
“Now that we have the U.S. manufacturing plant, we have the opportunity to come out to new markets. Before, we were not able to go to new markets because the manufacturing plant in Columbia was one hundred percent working 24/7 – three shifts working all the time – so we couldn’t manufacture enough to open new markets. Now, with the new factory, we have the opportunity to be able to manufacture more, and the idea is to produce big volumes for the sports and education market. Before, we didn’t have enough space, and the logistics were difficult.”
Like any manufacturing company, it is not without its challenges. Because it sells worldwide, exchange rates are volatile. Import laws are changing regularly, and there are tariffs on imports and exports. It is also competing with fewer but larger companies which can offer lower priced products, but Series feels that it is important not to cut corners for its customers, and so maintains its prices because it manufactures with more durable, superior components.
“This year, I am launching five new products by the end of the year for the North Carolina plant,” said Olarte. “The one that will be most innovative will be the ‘Surface Glide’ chair because it is very unique the way it works, the way it moves. We’ve worked very hard on the quality of movement – very slowly, very quietly. The movement is slow, so the user is comfortable with the way it closes. It took me a whole year to develop that mechanism, and now we are already getting a lot of inquiries for the product.”
The company plans to enter this chair into consideration for a number of awards, and it will also be featured at NeoCon 2019, an annual show which serves as the commercial design industry’s launch pad for innovation.
Olarte’s passion for designing and for running a successful business is evident in everything he does, and he is keen to spread that enthusiasm to other entrepreneurs.
“We are so excited here at Series to be manufacturing in the United States,” he said. The work of entrepreneurs like Olarte is what this country was founded on, and one cannot help but respect the values of Series Seating and its commitment to the customer’s comfort.
“When I came here, in the year 2000, I couldn’t understand why industry was leaving. I think a country that doesn’t have industry, loses its innovation. I think it’s because I am a designer, I am so passionate about design and manufacturing. So I really think the opportunity in the U.S. to re-establish manufacturing is an amazing opportunity for everybody. Everybody should take advantage of that right now. I think it’s really important for our country to come back and manufacture and be creative again,” he shared.
“For us, everything is about improving quality of life in every sense,” stated Olarte. “For the vendors that provide the raw materials, for us in the factory when we manufacture, and for the end user when they experience our product – everybody has to have a better quality of life otherwise it doesn’t make any sense.”