Gelco Products’ Founder’s Story

Posted by in Business, Gelco News, Gelco Products, Seat Cushion on August 31, 2017 Comments off

“Mater artium necessitas…Necessity is the mother of all invention”

When Cathleen Woodall was working long hours at her desk, as a noted International telecom
consultant and industry analyst, she did not envision that the pain in her backside would be the
inspiration for what would become the most innovative seat cushion ever developed.
During a long research project that had a short deadline and was due in four days, rather than
the usual 30, Cathleen endured many long hours at her computer. By the end of those four
days, Cathleen realized that for all of the gel wrist pads and other gel comfort options that
highlighted her desk, she did not have a gel pad for the area that was the most uncomfortable,
her butt.

The “Buttgel” project began as soon as she pressed the enter key and submitted her research.
Cathleen quickly went to her local electronics store in Orange County and began looking at gel
wrist pads, flipping over the packaging to see the name of the manufacturing company. After
thumbing through dozens of options, she found a pad that felt good and had what she would
later learn, was the optimum durometric value, in other words, she like the squishiness of the
gel.

Cathleen began a search for the gel manufacturer of her favorite wrist rest (from Fellowe’s
Office Products) which proved a difficult task. That information was considered to be protected
as it could give a competitive edge to anyone entering the market. It was sheer serendipity, or
Divine Intervention, that landed the name of the exact manufacturer in her lap. After searching
for days through the nascent Internet for any clues to who made these gels, besides 3M, she
stumbled upon a custom motorcycle seat maker that offered 2×2 slabs of raw gel for sale.
Cathleen called the company, however, they were back ordered. The receptionist felt bad and
whispered into the phone, “I’m not supposed to tell you but we get the gel from Trico Sports in
Pacoima, CA.”

That bit of information would likely be the most important piece of corporate intelligence in the
history of Cathleen’s startup.

Trico Sports had developed a premier patented gel formula, as well as a significant business
fabricating wrist and mouse pads. It turned out that they were producing the exact wrist rest and
gel that Cathleen had been seeking.They also had their own brand of bike seats that featured its
gel and a split rail design. Cathleen called them and set an appointment to meet at their office in
Pacoima, CA.

Prior to the meeting, Cathleen had developed a clay model of what she thought would be a
good seat cushion design. What she had just done would change the way seat cushions would
be designed ten years later.

With her clay model in hand, she drove to the Trico Sports manufacturing location and met with
the President of the company, Paul Yates. Showing some interest in the product idea, Trico
introduced Cathleen to their product design agency, Design Works USA, where she met John
Cook. John quickly came up with several concept drawings. The file name for those drawings
was aptly named “ButtGel”.

Things were really beginning to take shape and Cathleen pressed Jason Langston, also in
Telecommunications, to join the team. This was close to the end of 1999 and the International
telecom market was beginning to implode due to plummeting per minute prices. Although both
Cathleen and Jason had good jobs, the telecom industry was not providing the returns that it
once did, so Jason agreed to work on the project part time.

Cathleen and Jason met again with the Design Works USA team to see the concept drawings of
the “ButtGel” project. Below is one of those original drawings and the one that was later
developed into what the GSeat is today:

After combining a few drawings that seemed to have the features that Cathleen and Jason agreed would make the best part, Design
Works sent a digital file to Trico, so they could create a mold for the first prototype.

This prototype was made from foam and served to provide a sample that could be used for changing some features prior to paying for
tools to produce a final seat cushion.

Things had moved along very quickly after Cathleen’s phone call to the gel wrist pad company
and now she had a prototype, that was created from her clay model, but ButtGel was not a very
marketable name. So, Cathleen and Jason brainstormed on a name. After about an hour of
going back and forth, one name was catchy and they kept coming back to it. The GSeat was
born…”G” for gel.

Considering that the final product was going to be all gel, Jason Langston was looking for ways
to ventilate the surface by using holes that went through it. So, on Christmas Eve of 2001,
Jason took the prototype to Kinko’s and made about a dozen copies. Each copy was then laid
out on the kitchen table and he began to put down various hole patterns, to see which would look
functional and serve a purpose. While putting the holes in the center, where it would seem that
the greatest airflow would be helpful, he took what was originally four long gill shaped vents and
made them into two larger vents. They looked like a handle!


Jason grabbed the only GSeat prototype they had and cut the material from the center of the pad,
so it resembled the drawing. He picked up the product by the remaining center portion and the two pads swung downward and came to rest against one another. Later, this would be described in GSeat patent “a Molded Handle, hinged fore and aft, enabling the pads to go from a planar to a co-planar position.”

The Patented Integrated Handle and Foldable Design was created.

US Utility Patent 6,839,928.

A new concept drawing and prototype were quickly created, featuring a more refined GSeat
design with the holes and handle.

In an odd twist, Paul Yates, President of Trico Sports, had asked that he also be named on the
patent, since he did contribute to the development of the holes and some of the design features.
Cathleen and Jason agreed, as long as Gelco Products owned the rights to the patent without
any claims.

After nearly two years of development, delays, and thousands of dollars in costs, the GSeat was
realized. Now it was time to sell!

The marketing plan for the GSeat was simple, call or talk to as many people as possible, as
quickly as possible. With the regular delays at Trico Sports, over the previous 24 months, the
money that was earmarked for marketing, became money that was now paying for groceries
and gas, so Cathleen and Jason began calling everyone they could think of to get revenue
through the door.

Meanwhile, more delays at Trico continued to suck up development dollars and time on planned
improvements to the GSeat. Cathleen Woodall actually refinanced her house to give the
company some needed cash, while Jason combed through the SKYMALL magazine and
websites of direct marketing companies, trying to find a buyer.

Then, in March of 2002, Gelco Products received its first PurchaseOrder for a GSeat, 148 units to International Autosport Catalog.
Because of the delays at Trico, Jason Langston was actually punching the holes through the GSeat with a hand tool, because the
production tool for making the holes was not ready in time for sending samples to prospects. Fortunately, everything was ready to go at the time of shipment of the first PO and Autosport received the product fully produced at the Trico facility.

Things really started to pick up after
that.

Gelco Products did approximately $180,000 in sales in 2002 and then $360,000 in 2003. The
GSeat was becoming a leader in an emerging seat cushion market and catalogs began calling
Gelco Products wanting to become a seller.

Then, in early 2004, Paul Yates requested a meeting with Cathleen and Jason. Seems that as
the GSeat went from being a small project in the corner to a real seller, the gel wrist pad
business had moved to another manufacturer leaving Trico Sports to find another hot product to
keep things moving in production.

During the meeting, Mr. Yates brought in the Trico Sports Chairman and they calmly asked
Gelco Products sign over all rights to The Patent, in exchange for a commission of 20% of sales
of the GSeat for a 24-month term.

Cathleen and Jason did not agree to such an offer. Then on June 2nd, 2004 Trico Sports sent a
fax stating that if Gelco did not relinquish their patent, Trico would not longer produce their
product.

Trico demanded payment for the last invoice and Gelco countered with a request that Trico
hand over the Gelco production molds for the GSeat. Trico refused and served us with a lawsuit
for Breach of Contract. Gelco withheld payment of their last invoice until the molds were
provided and counter sued Trico. What would have been a great third year of revenue, became
a stressful exercise in telling customers like Brookstone, that their biggest orders of the year,
were not going to be fulfilled.

However, luck truly favors the prepared and Cathleen and Jason had prepared for this day when
they incorporated Gelco Products. Their long time friend Alex Friedland, of the Friedland, Farling
and Hecht law firm, had become an investor in Gelco Products and was their Corporate
Counsel. When Gelco was served with the Trico lawsuit, Alex Friedland stepped in and handled
the legal services at no cost to Gelco. In the end, Gelco prevailed and Trico withdrew their
lawsuit.

But…Gelco Products was now without a manufacturer and production screeched to a halt.

Gelco Products’ rises like a Phoenix

In another favorable development, a former Trico executive had decided to go out on his own
and started a bicycle company based on his own designs. He had been instrumental in the
development of the GSeat while at Trico and remained friends with Cathleen and Jason. His
new manufacturer in Taiwan had all the capabilities that Gelco needed.

Cathleen reached out to this person and, fortunately, he was actually leaving that week to meet
with his factory in Taiwan and agreed to hand carry the GSeats to the factory owner. Happily, the
Taiwanese manufacturer liked the product and agreed to help. Within 30 days of the first
meeting with the owner, sample GSeats arrived at the Gelco Product’s office in Orange County.

The quality of the production was excellent and since a whole new set of tools was being
created, it was decided that product enhancements would be implemented.

The all gel part lacked stability and flopped around, and it was very heavy, so a foam base was
added to the GSeat, with a gel layer over the top. This helped cut the weight by half and helped
the product maintain its shape. This development was called Dynamic Density Technology and
is still used in the GSeat, today.

After a couple of months of product refinement, the tools were machined and the GSeat was
back! It was Spring of 2005. Gelco Products had survived almost one full year out of production.

Since the GSeat was such a good seller previously, it was not too difficult going back to the
buyers that were burned by the fiasco of the previous production facility. Especially since the
GSeat was new and improved and featured the Dynamic Density Technology.

To overcome the cash shortfall caused by almost a year out of production, Gelco moved from
California to Arizona and the founders recapitalized the company.

Sales resumed and Gelco quickly added two new products, the GSeat LITE, for the weight
worried travel industry and the GSeat ULTRA, for those that like the GSeat but wanted a larger
cushion.
seat cushion road trip cushion
In the years that followed, GSeat sales grew across the
board and even with the Recession, Gelco Products has
managed to continue to grow sales of the GSeat.

The GSeat in all of its various models is bringing comfort
to thousands of people who previously, could not sit at
their desk, drive their car or simply watching a sporting
event, without the constant discomfort of low back pain,
pressure on the tailbone and buttocks.

The GSeat and GSeat ULTRA are the only seat cushions
named to the Stanford University List of Approved
Ergonomic Products. And, in 2014, the GSeat was named
a USA Today 10Best Road-trip Item by the readers of USA
Today and SkyMall.

What started as a pain in the backside, inspired someone to take a chance and create a product
that resolved an issue. Turns out, Cathleen Woodall was not the only person wanting a more
comfortable place to sit.

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