A Grand Haven-based, family-owned industrial design and engineering firm has launched a new company to fill the need for adjustable, ergonomic desks and seating for young children who are now studying at home.
Fredricks Design Inc. in Grand Haven last month announced it formed Freddy LLC, dba Freddy Furniture USA, in October, and the new company is now offering direct-ship, ready-to-assemble study-at-home furniture solutions for kindergarten through sixth grade students.
Maury Fredricks — president and co-CEO with his brother, Bruce Fredricks — formed Fredricks Design Inc. in Grand Haven in 1984, and Bruce Fredricks bought into the business in 1985.
The firm works with clients in the transportation, entertainment (themed rides and animated props), furniture and health care industries on a portfolio of projects including advanced vehicle interiors and seating with global brands and suppliers.
Maury Fredricks’ oldest son, Ben Fredricks, has been with the firm over a decade and is now doing consulting work with them, and Conor Fredricks, Bruce Fredricks’ son, has been with the company four years and is the lead designer for Freddy Furniture.
Fredricks Design’s small but scrappy team of designers, engineers and project managers works from its location at 201 Washington Ave. in downtown Grand Haven and partners with, among other businesses, a large, vertically integrated manufacturing company on the state’s east side for many of its core projects.
But when the pandemic hit, the Fredricks team knew they needed to look at new opportunities in order to weather the economic storm, which was already resulting in a stream of furloughs, layoffs and budget cuts within its client companies.
The team met virtually to discuss its options.
“We set up brainstorming workshops to explore different problems that we could help solve. The world did not need another mask company, at least at the time, and we did not know much about the design of protective equipment or ventilators,” Maury Fredricks said. “Our team quickly developed a portfolio of different ideas for a number of applications and environments. Being designers and engineers, we launched into sketching and ideation before we caught ourselves and filtered our priorities down to a few products.
“We focused in pretty quickly on young kids, K-6, and the challenges encountered with young students and their parents, caregivers and educators while studying at home. We realized that there was a gap in the market and very little product out there that was done really well for kids, who are obviously smaller in size and scale than us adults, so we began in earnest in August investing in product development and product mockups.”
From the research phase through product in a box, the team compressed its usual process into about 90 days, moving quickly from research (including focus groups) to sketches, ideation, mockups and prototypes, to concept development and production launch, while simultaneously working on supply chain issues, a marketing plan, and Fredricks Design’s other existing, unrelated projects.
Maury Fredricks said his team’s goal was to create sustainable, durable, affordable furniture that is adjustable as kids grow and that has a marker board separator between two facing desks — and they wanted to be able to have it manufactured locally and shipped from the factory to customers’ homes for quick and easy assembly.
“The (first) challenge was to pull our team back and ourselves back and breathe a little bit and let the problem statement gestate, if you will, to percolate a little bit,” he said.
“The second challenge was we wanted to keep the designs extremely efficient, or lean as we call it — smart and with minimal components using really high-end case goods, material and common fasteners. … It’s somewhat magical when you achieve that balance between form and function, material and color selections, and fit and finish and all of the above, while focusing on product that we wanted to ship to the consumer ready to assemble in less than 10 minutes.”
Freddy LLC was able to translate its vision into reality working with Nunica-based Versatile as its manufacturing partner.
The resulting furniture line includes the Freddy Desk System, a dual work surface, adjustable desk unit with a marker board, priced at $399, and the Freddy Wall Mount, a single-user work surface that is mounted to the wall with a marker board and costs $249.
The new furniture also provides storage space for organization of study tools.
“The Freddy desk and wall mount unit are engineered to ergonomic standards to fit young students from 5 to 12 years of age,” Maury Fredricks said. “We identified a market opportunity to deliver furniture that helps kids focus on studies and creative work in the home.”
The creation of Freddy Furniture resulted in “a huge lift in morale,” Maury Fredricks said, because it’s the nature of creative and technical teams to always want to be solving a problem and adding value. It also was great for them to be able to see the end product, which he said is not usually the case with the projects they do for OEM clients and tier one suppliers.
If all goes according to plan, the team at Freddy LLC will continue to work on additional children’s products for study, artwork and play.
The company hopes to expand to business-to-business sales in the near future, designing versions of its modular products that can be used in college dorms, libraries and classrooms in the education sphere, as well as products that will appeal to the hospitality industry for hotel rooms.
More information on Freddy Furniture and its online shop for the desk and wall mount products is at freddyfurnitureUSA.com.