SEATING: Transport Seating

By: David Goeldner


Transport Seating identity Rod Ferguson has a happy knack of when to move to a new venture

SEATING: Transport Seating
Transport Seating Managing Director Rod Ferguson

Rod Ferguson will celebrate 50 years in the bus and coach industry next January, and given his past decade there are several reasons to celebrate since moving into his own factory at Stapylton, south of Brisbane.

A colourful ‘character’ in the bus seat making trade, Ferguson says he couldn’t have predicted where he would be today when he was a small player in the heyday of Australian-made bus seats.

Ferguson says that while the ‘apple pie’ of seating supply has shrunk in recent years, his road to diversification into marine, and signing licence and supply agreements with BCI and Higer respectively has kept him busy.

Recently, Ferguson has been writing up to $1 million worth of business a month, spread between marine and bus, among the biggest of these recent orders coming from Riverside Marine, for two sets of 400 ferry seats.

And while the marine side, where he has made strong moves in the past decade, has kept his business afloat writing business out of the biennial mega-trade show Work Boat Asia in Singapore, his heart still lies in the bus industry, always searching for the perfect bus seat.

Ferguson has kept his bus seat range compact, with four main brands — the Challenger, Extreme, Safe-T-Ride and Soft Top, plus a fifth seat, built to seat a tour guide at the front of a coach.

He is currently reworking the Challenger to make it 5kg lighter; such is his desire for continual improvement.

Part of his push to keep his product suite fresh and utility-friendly is his gradual phasing out of plywood in his seat construction.

"All other seat makers use plywood," says Ferguson.

Plywood seats will be consigned to the past as Transport Seating will soon use a polypropylene base in all bus and marine seating.

The polypropylene base in bus seats provides for quick release covers and cushions, which Ferguson says you can’t have with plywood seats.

"My clients like the idea," he says.

"All my coach seats have this base — we got rid of the plywood."

Ferguson will phase out plywood in the Soft Top and Challenger seat bases within the next two months.

"Then we will have no plywood in any of our seats," Ferguson says.

Bus seat design can be complicated, and Ferguson is one of the masters of the required Australian Design Rule (ADR) compliance.

The requirements for Transport Seating’s marine range are completely different.

A less complicated product, Ferguson’s standard range requires all seats to be hooked onto a plank with two bolts attached at the back.

But the robust factor in his marine seats is that there is no welding.

"I followed an aviation design," he says.

Rod is an aviation buff, and like many in the industry owns and flies light aircraft.

He is using his aviation knowledge, the seats he has built for high speed ferries and his long history in bus and coach in new designs.

"I am looking to always improve product for the bus and marine operator," Ferguson says.

"There is no welding on the primary structure of an aircraft, and I have followed the same principle with my marine seats — I am anti welding on alloys."

With alloy based seats, Ferguson says you need to be smart.

And Ferguson has always played it smart, going to extraordinary lengths to get his seats into the market, investing heavily in Australian Design Rule certification testing, even when manufacturing his seats in China, which has been a steady revenue stream in recent years.

"I am promoting Australian designed and tested to the Chinese bus builders," he says.

"I would never test a seat in China."

He says Chinese builders don’t quite comprehend the stringent ADR68 design rule for coach seats.

"I would rather pay the premium price for a test at the crash lab in Sydney, and then make the seat anywhere on the Earth," says Ferguson.

"That’s the secret, and there are great opportunities for both bus and marine seating outside of Australia."

Worldwide, Ferguson says in marine seating there are 10 large seat makers, and about 10 bus seat makers.

"There are three main bus seat manufacturers and three marine seat manufacturers in Australia and I’m the only one in both," he says.

"And I am the only person with test certification for both bus and marine seats in Australia."

KEEPING THE ZEAL

Ferguson looks back on his 49 years in the trade, remarking how you never know what the future holds.

Starting out as a motor trimming apprentice at New Farm in Brisbane, Ferguson didn’t take to motor cars, preferring to work on larger ‘beasts’.

He took to seat making with zeal which he still has today, and soon made his way as a sole trader operating as Southside Trimming, with Greyhound, Skennars and Austral as some of his clients.

A buyout by a larger seat maker put a temporary halt to Ferguson’s activities back in the late 1980s, slapped with a Restraint of Trade, which meant he couldn’t start another business for at least five years.

But Ferguson, undaunted, paid a barrister to work a loop hole, and by 1988 he was back in business, this time with Kevin Johnson at Transit Seating, first as an employee, and later as a Director.

The Transit Seating business was sold in 1996, and the similarly named Transport Seating was born, without the caveat of a Restraint of Trade.

Ferguson says the decision to leave Transit Seating was easy.

"I wanted to control my own destiny," he says.

"About 10 years ago I eased up on the bus industry, and came back strong in 2008."

Just on three years ago, Ferguson signed a vigorously negotiated licence agreement with BCI for a minimum 100 sets of seats per year, with every seat stamped with a hologram and part number, all designed in Australia and built in China.

In September 2010 Ferguson then signed a supply agreement with Higer, again for a minimum 100 seat sets a year.

With two of the bus industry’s major brands signed up with Transport Seating, Ferguson and his shareholder partner and wife Patricia are now busier than ever.

"We’ve more than tripled our sales in less than two years," he says.

And while Transport Seating’s Stapylton factory is getting a bit crowded lately, Ferguson is prepared to take on more work.

"My saying is — if someone wants something it’s not a problem, I’ll do it."

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