This article, adapted from Yearbook of Small Business Icons, tells the little passenger seats story.

What To Do When Your Children Outnumber the Seats in Your Sport Utility Vehicle?
(Answer: Add Third Row Seating)

By Jo Chandler

MODESTO, California - "If necessity is the mother of invention, then it's safe to say that my daughter's motherhood necessitated this invention," says Russell Edmundson, co-founder with his wife, Dona, of little passenger seats, Inc., a company that manufactures and sells auxiliary seats for sport utility vehicles. It all started with a 3rd row seat for a Ford Explorer.

Edmundson explains. "We had six grandchildren at the time, and my wife wanted to buy a new Landcruiser because it has three seats. "However I didn't want to spend that much money. I told her if we bought a Ford Explorer, I'd build her an extra seat."

That's exactly what we did, I built a 3rd row seat for the Ford Explorer. It was December 1991. In the spring of 1992, at an urging of a local Ford dealer who had seen Edmundson's Ford Explorer third row seat and was impressed with it, the family started to research the market for auxiliary seats for sport utility vehicles. They liked what they found and perfected their product for sale. Later that year, they embarked on a test advertising campaign that resulted in the sale of 21 seats. By 1999, the company's annual sales had sky rocketed to 1,350 seats, with gross revenues of more than $900,000. "And we anticipate selling at least 1,500 seats this year," says Edmundson, who retired from his career in law enforcement in 1994 to work full time in the business. It was also in 1994 that little passenger seats won the Central Valley Inventors' Association's People Choice Award. In 1995, the company won the same association's award for the Business Most Likely to Succeed.

Little passenger seats are manufactured specifically for the vehicle in which they are installed. They include the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Tahoe, Jeep Cherokee, Toyota 4 Runner and Isuzu Trooper. Each seat is individually hand made, built on a jig-welded steel frame and upholstered to match individual interiors. "In most cases, we can get factory upholstery, so it matches exactly," says Edmundson. "No other company is doing that. We also offer optional retractable shoulder belts and adjustable head rests. No other company does that, either." Little passenger seats are tested to meet the safety standards established by the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards. Each seat, which fits in the vehicle's cargo space, is designed to accommodate two to three children comfortably and costs between $590 and $1295, depending on options.

The response to the seats has been positive. Emile Albertini installed his little passenger seat in 1993. "It is without a doubt the best addition/option that we have added to our Explorer," he says. "My children, ages five and six, love sitting back there."

little passenger seats today
Russell and Dona sold little passenger seats, inc. to their son, Eric, in January 2003. This is truly a family-to-family business.