Freedman Seating in Chicago used Wells Fargo Financing to renovate and expand its manufacturing facilities.
Chicago-based Freedman Seating, a manufacturer of public transportation seats, employs about 800 people.
Photo: Anne Oberlander
Business to Business
September 5, 2017

How a seating manufacturer is getting its employees off their butts

Thanks to a $10 million facility expansion, Freedman Seating not only has the space it needs to continue to grow, it also has a workout facility that’s providing employees a way to get into shape and get to know each other better.

When the average person steps onto a bus and chooses a place to sit, they’re likely picking between a window or aisle seat, never realizing how different almost every seat on that bus really is. But as America’s leading supplier of transportation seating, it's Freedman Seating’s business to know just how much customization goes into every bus they outfit.

Major growth led Freedman Seating to expand its Chicago manufacturing facility, adding on to the building that originally housed Motorola. (2:56 minutes)

The company — started in Chicago in the late 19th century by Hyman Freedman and run today by several members of the Freedman family, including his great-grandson, CEO Craig Freedman — manufactures and supplies bus seats for more than 250 bus distributors, the federal government, and many states and municipalities, as well as seats for trucks, trains, and ferry boats.

A lot has changed since Craig Freedman’s great-grandfather first filed and received a patent in 1932 for his spring seat design.

“In a modern-day transit bus, you might see around 40 passenger seats that, to the untrained eye, all look very similar,” explained Freedman. “But actually, of those 40 seats, about 25 are unique in some way, each one custom-configured for that vehicle — from seats that flip and fold out to accommodate people with disabilities to seats that have to clear the vehicle’s heating and air conditioning ducts and electrical lines.”

Freedman Seating recently renovated its facilities to include an employee gym.
Wells Fargo financing enabled Freedman Seating to expand its Chicago manufacturing facility, which now includes an employee gym.
Photo: Anne Oberlander

The market’s demand for such a wide array of seating options, and Freedman Seating’s ability to custom make and supply those seats at the highest quality, has resulted in significant growth for the company.

In fact, after nearly doubling in size over the course of a 10-year span, Freedman Seating was in need of more space to accommodate its growing business. Freedman tapped his Wells Fargo banker, Sean Fox, for guidance and consultation on the best options for moving forward.

“Freedman Seating and Wells  Fargo began doing business in the fall of 2009, when the company came to us looking for a bank relationship that could provide them with growth financing and new ideas to help them achieve their goals,” said Fox, a middle market banker at Wells Fargo. “Fortunately, they had a property adjacent to their original footprint, which we were able to help them finance and purchase, essentially doubling their square footage.”

The company worked with Wells Fargo to finance its $10 million expansion project, including a new showroom and an on-site workout facility for employees. The gym offers a competitive perk for Freedman Seating’s 800 employees, and it also provides the unexpected bonus of bringing co-workers together in a new way, noted Freedman.

“I go in there four or five times a week, and I’m working out with people from our sales department or our manufacturing department or our engineering department,” he said. “And we’ve grown a bond that we otherwise wouldn’t — we’ve gotten to know and understand each other better.”

Did you know?

Freedman Seating’s founder, Hyman Freedman, was recognized for his upholstery skills at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, a six-month long World’s Fair held in Chicago to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World.

Larger view of Hyman Freedman's Columbian Exposition certificate recognizing his upholstery skills.
This certificate was awarded to Hyman Freedman at the Chicago Columbian Exposition.