Manufacturing and Small Business & Startups

Furniture industry veterans launch new venture

Executives say there are at least a dozen new products in the pipeline.

March 20, 2015
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Three furniture industry veterans are forgoing retirement and teaming up to bring innovative products from concept to market.

Robert Russell, Mike Dunlap and Doug Gregory quietly launched RDG Product Strategies Group a little less than a year ago. Between the three of them, they have a rich history working in the furniture industry in the areas of product design and development, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, sales, operations, product management and supply-chain development.

Russell, Dunlap and Gregory have worked together informally for the past several years on multiple projects both inside and outside the commercial furniture industry. The three partners intend to continue operating their individual business consulting practices.

Russell, who serves as RDG’s creative director, has spent his 40-year career as an independent industrial designer whose product portfolio includes designs for small startups as well as large multinational corporations.

He has worked with The HON Co., American Seating, RT London, Trendway, Herman Miller, Steelcase and many other furniture manufacturers. His products have ranged from low-cost market entry pieces to premium wood office furniture systems. He has a total of 27 patents issued and pending.

Dunlap, who is RDG’s strategic director, operates Michael A. Dunlap & Associates, a furniture industry-consulting firm. His expertise includes tracking industry trends, market entry, global partnerships, strategic planning, mergers, acquisitions and licensing advice.

His firm conducts a number of industry surveys and is best known for its quarterly MADA/OFI Trends Survey, a global industry-wide performance measurement tool.

Before establishing MADA in early 2003, Dunlap was vice president of the Chair Components Group of SUSPA Inc. He joined SUSPA in 1978 and held various positions in production management, quality assurance, engineering, sales and marketing.

SUSPA invented the self-supporting pneumatic height adjustment for swivel office chairs, and Dunlap was prominent in its introduction into the North American market during the 1980s and 1990s.

Prior to SUSPA, he held positions as a project engineer in the Transportation Seating Division of American Seating Co. and as a product development engineer with the Saginaw Division of General Motors Corp.

Gregory, who serves as RDG’s managing director, has specialized in providing business development coaching and consulting services to the furniture industry through his company B2B Marketing Coach.

He has consulted with Fortune 500 companies, startups, mid-sized companies, suppliers and OEMs in the areas of product management and development, distribution channel management, new market development, B2B sales and business planning.

Gregory was a co-founder of Atlas Ergonomics LLC as well as TherFit Enterprises LLC.

He also held a variety of business development positions at Steelcase after a successful term at The HON Co., where he was responsible for 90 percent of the product line, led the company to expand its distribution channels, introduced new product development tools, and co-led its strategic planning process.

RDG Product Strategies Group will focus on OEM furniture manufacturers and their Tier 1 suppliers to identify and develop product and market opportunities.

“We’ve got about a dozen new products,” Dunlap said. “Our approach is to go to various commercial furniture manufacturers, large and small, to commercialize these product designs.”

He said manufacturers would be able to enter into several different arrangements with RDG.

One would be limited to simply purchasing a design from RDG. Another option would be to purchase a design and retain RDG in an advisory role through the process of bringing the product to market — design, prototyping, market testing, tooling and product launch.

“That would be with a fee, and the result would be ongoing royalties as the base of the commercial venture,” Dunlap said of that option.

He noted other arrangements could also be discussed.

“Ultimately, what we would like to do is capture the interest of the various furniture manufacturers and then continue with the revenue stream after the manufacturer acquires the rights to the product,” he said.

In addition to providing a depth of industry knowledge and experience totaling more than 100 years, Dunlap said RDG’s advantage is its ability to be quick and cost-effective.

“Part of the dilemma the industry has been faced with is it takes too long to get to market,” he said.

He said RDG has the ability to cut that time down because it won’t be faced with the red tape manufacturers have to go through.

“The furniture industry can take four years or more to develop a chair or workstation,” he said. “We can do it much more quickly and we can do it much less expensively.”

Dunlap said the products RDG is creating will be “game changing.”

“Bob has continued to develop a variety of products related to the commercial furniture industry, some of which we think are industry-shattering products: a table that is much more than a table; it’s a collaborative workstation.”

He also mentioned System Circa Prime, which includes fewer than 50 components. “Most systems products have been two to three times as many components,” he said.

Dunlap noted the products aren’t limited to specific industries; in fact, RDG hopes to introduce products to new avenues — for example, Modus, which provides a portable and adjustable platform for personal tech devices.

While designed with health care professionals in mind as end users, Dunlap said the product would make sense in a number of public spaces including a hotel lobby, auto dealership or retail market.

“We look at the markets not just in terms of who the manufacturers are, but the end-use opportunities,” he said.

RDG has not signed any agreements to date but is in negotiations with manufacturers.

“This is a time where so many other people are deciding they are going to retire. We are probably more excited about this venture than any of us have ever been in our careers,” Dunlap said. “We are able to bring an extraordinary amount of experience in the industry to the business.”

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