By Ashley Reyes
This week’s SEMA Truck and Off-Road Alliance (TORA) member spotlight is Northwest Seat Covers.
Get to know the story behind the company, and what projects they are currently working on in SEMA’s interview with company CEO Steven Koyoma below.
SEMA: Tell us the story of your company.
Steven Koyoma: Northwest Seat Covers was established in 1997. We started in a 32x16-ft. space within Seat Cover Centre, in Vancouver, British Columbia. We quickly outgrew the space. When we hired our first three sewing machine operators and started to occupy three automotive bays, we knew it was time to leave.
However, what a year to launch the business! In 1997, the new F-150 was launched, then in 1998 the new Dodge Ram was released and finally in 1999 the Chevy Silverado was redesigned with a completely new interior. Those three new models and three years generated enough business to establish us as a contender in the seat-cover industry.
SEMA: What was your company’s breakthrough moment?
SK: We’ve experienced many breakthrough moments throughout the years. Some have come from working with OEMs to designing products which have opened new doors that were previously thought to be fairly impenetrable. Other moments have come from really hard work trying to find simple solutions to complex problems.
Oftentimes, breakthrough moments happen when you least expect them. Back in the ’90s, I remember when we were trying different designs to accommodate a console storage unit in a Ford F-150. We were scratching our heads for quite a while when a young boy, about 10 years old, walked up to us and just watched for about five minutes and asked us what we were trying to do. We explained that we were trying to find a way to accommodate the full functionality of the console top lid. He looked at the console lid for about one minute and said, “Why don't you cut a hole here?” The designers looked at each other and sort of shook their heads because the boy had offered up a simple solution that would allow the storage section and clip holder to be fully accessible and functional. It was one of those moments.
SEMA: Tell us about your business now and projects you are working on.
SK: We are looking at different ways to incorporate the concept of a circular economy within our business. That means taking a hard look at what we buy, from whom, how we incorporate the material into the product and how the customer uses and disposes of the product at the end of its lifecycle. This may involve changing the quality of what we use as input materials, but it can also include eco-friendly helpers to upgrade some products to biodegradable or even compostable.
SEMA: Tell us about a product that you are proud of.
SK: There have been many products that we are proud of. During the development of our Form-Fit seat covers, we actually test-fit the prototypes on every single model we could find at all of the new car dealerships. We were asked by an OEM to produce a portable four-way lumbar that was cost effective, easy to install and use. We don’t know of another four-way lumbar support system that provides this type of functionality in a portable format. Global first?
SEMA: What advice do you have for young professionals contemplating a career in the automotive aftermarket?
SK: We’ve partnered with one of the local colleges and their upholstery program. Every year that they have brought students through to see what is involved in manufacturing on a larger scale, we’ve offered career advice to anyone who was interested.
We usually offer a two-part bit of advice:
1. Find an aspect of the automotive aftermarket that you can get excited about. It may involve performance, new technology or design. Whatever it is, it should resonate strongly from within. Passion will fuel the imagination and provide plenty of enjoyment throughout their career.
2. The second bit of advice we offer is to somehow gain some practical experience. In many situations this may involve seeking out a mentor—someone who is willing to take an interest in helping to develop you, listen to you and to guide you through the process and offer career advice. Mentors can often be an amazing way to learn. You will meet new people and develop your own connections and gain the confidence and knowledge to be respected by peers. It can change your life.
Fill out a TORA-member spotlight form to highlight how your company is contributing to the truck and off-road specialty-equipment industry. Selected candidates are eligible to be featured on TORA’s social media, SEMA eNews and future TORA member updates.