Gina Hoensheid was at an event at the Palace of Auburn Hills when she had her “Ah-ha!” moment.
She remembers looking around during intermission, just doing some people-watching. Hoensheid has a background in advertising and media, so she’s always interested to see how brands advertise themselves.
As she sat, she glanced up at the Jumbotron and noticed the advertising that appeared on screen. She also noticed most people weren’t looking up at the screen; they were looking directly in front of and immediately around themselves. Basically, they were looking at the backs of hundreds of seats.
Seat at the Table
This was when the idea for SeatSational struck Hoensheid: People have to be looking at the Jumbotron in order to see the ads displayed there, but without a doubt everyone will see the seats in front of them. Why not advertise directly on the seats?
SeatSational is a stretchy fabric cover that is installed directly over the seats of an arena, stadium or auditorium, or even on folding chairs. The fabric can be printed in different colors and with different logos or names. That means clients can use SeatSational as an added revenue stream if working in partnership with an advertiser, to indicate different designated seating sections and even support charitable causes (such as going pink for breast cancer awareness). They are fully customizable, removable, washable and reusable.
Hoensheid had attended Michigan State University, where she earned a degree in advertising and communications. She has since worked in advertising, sales, radio and interior design. This product, she says, is the perfect culmination of all of her talents and interests.
It was through her work in interior design that she was able to make her first SeatSational prototype. She asked a seamstress with whom she had previously worked if she could make a prototype seat cover that demonstrated how companies could advertise on the back and front. Hoensheid built her Rochester-based company from scratch, starting with getting a name and trademark and filing the proper paperwork.
“It’s funny how these things come back to you,” she says. “I did the basics of what I learned in marketing at MSU: Do the business side and make sure you have all the paperwork filed. Also keep your idea really simple and always follow through.”
Once she had the prototype in hand, she began calling on clients — aiming high initially with the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons. They weren’t interested at the time, so Hoensheid went to Oakland University and showed them her prototype, asking if she could use their arena to stage photos so she could launch her website.
“They were so great and so supportive,” she says. “A lot of credit for our success goes to them.” Not too long after that, she got a call from Oakland University’s Director of Athletics saying they wanted customized seat covers for March Madness. This was SeatSational’s first-ever order, and Hoensheid had less than three weeks to fill it.
“It was crazy, but I made it happen!” she says with a laugh. “I was willing to do whatever I had to do to get those in.”
That included installing all the covers herself with the help of a handful of friends. At that same time, Channel 7 contacted her out of the blue wanting to do a piece on her company, including filming the first-ever install.
“I had a day’s notice, but I wasn’t going to turn it down,” she remembers. “As a small business owner, you never know what you’re going to be up for until you’re faced with it, but I love my business so much and I would do anything to make it work.”
Growing a Business
That was in 2014. Oakland University has placed three more orders since. She has also acquired numerous new clients, with much of her business now coming from repeat customers.
“Our customer service and our pride for our clients is amazing, and that helps because it can be hard to compete with bigger companies,” she says. “We bend over backwards to do whatever it takes to make our customers happy in ways that bigger companies aren’t able to.”
Hoensheid works with other local clients like Rochester College, which built a new basketball arena and uses SeatSational covers to designate season ticket holders’ seats with their names on them. She also has clients from all over the country, including the New Jersey Devils; the Greensboro Swarm (a G League basketball team in North Carolina); Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn.; and Stony Brook University in New York.
Then in 2018, SeatSational had its most high-profile order yet: just under 10,000 seat covers for the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena.
“It took me six years to get them from when I first started, and I stuck it out and kept going back to them,” she says. “The point there is to be persistent and never give up. It was such a sweet victory for my company.”
Detroit Pistons spokesman Kevin Grigg says SeatSational’s covers were valuable on a couple of levels.
“SeatSational design provided our organization an opportunity to maximize corporate partner visibility in the lower-level bowl during the 2017-18 season and has provided a short-term solution for coverage of Little Caesars Arena lower bowl seating this year while a larger seat replacement project progresses,” Griggs says.
Expanding the Line
In the last year, Hoensheid has further grown her company with a new product extension called Seat Sitters, designed specifically for the consumer market. It is an airplane seat cover travel kit that includes washable and reusable seat and tray table covers, sanitary wipes, a face mask and other handy items to bring on a germ-filled plane.
“I kept finding that my friends, my family members, even I would get sick every time we flew, so I thought, ‘What can I do to keep us healthy when we fly?’ ” Hoensheid asks.
She considered different items that could be included in a kit that would help to shield passengers from germs, as well as other helpful items like “nut-free” stickers for those with nut allergies and crayons for kids. She went back to the same seamstress to have another prototype made, and now Seat Sitters is available for purchase on the website as well as on Amazon.
SeatSational also does a lot of work with local charities like the New Day Foundation for Families.
“I’ve always been a big believer in supporting charities,” Hoensheid says. “I like to be able to do things to support our local community.”
For the first several years, Hoensheid handled every facet of the business by herself. Today she has a full-time employee helping her.
“In hindsight I wouldn’t change anything,” she says. “It’s been a great learning experience and challenge.
“I will do anything to make my business work because I love my company, and I try to set that example of hard work and perseverance for my kids, too.”