Interview with Mr. Stewart Griffith, the founder and CEO of TouchAmerica Corporation
After graduating with an engineering degree from North Carolina State University in 1977 and working for several years as an engineer, Mr. Stewart Griffith founded TouchAmerica when he designed a massage table for his late wife Robin Zill in 1983. Since then, TouchAmerica, Inc. has grown into an international force-developing equipment and furniture for the global spa industry for more than 30 years.
In 1996, Mr. Griffith helped form Griffith-Lucas Industries and set up a factory in China to produce non-woven products for the medical industry in the USA. After the initial success starting this business in China, Mr. Griffith saw the opportunity to start Double Dragon Furniture Factory, Ltd. to manufacture products for TouchAmerica. Since 2000 when Double Dragon was formed, it has continued to grow and expand to manufacture many different types of furniture and to supply the growing Spa and Wellness industry in Asia. To handle these expanding markets Griffith formed Touch International, Inc. in 2002. Touch International is known as a supplier of quality retail display and salon furniture to well-known multi-national companies.
Known for bringing his clients’ vision to life, Mr. Griffith has partnered with top spa and hospitality companies to create a wide range of spa solutions-including massage tables, wet tables, relaxation lounges, retail displays, salon furniture, residential living and bedroom furniture, and convertible wellness furniture for hospitality and home markets. Under his direction, these companies have been committed to green corporate practices with the use of sustainable materials since ‘day-one.’
Here is an interview with Mr. Stewart Griffith, the founder and CEO of TouchAmerica Corporation, based in Mebane, North Carolina.
What made you to name the brand “TouchAmerica”?
Therapeutic massage was gaining popularity when my wife Robin and I started TouchAmerica in the early 1980s. Americans were seeking alternative methods for health and wellbeing, beyond the classic western medicine approach. We chose the name “Touch” to honor the healing power of touch.
Since we were based in North Carolina, the US hub of furniture manufacturing, we chose TouchAmerica. We had no idea our little family business would grow past North America. In hindsight, we should have been thinking globally!
What kind of major changes and trends have you seen in these 33 years?
When we started in 1983, massage was a relatively new profession. Massage therapists needed to be mobile, so portable tables were in high demand. Compared to today’s portable massage tables, they were clunky and heavy, difficult set up and not very comfortable. As demand for portable tables increased, so did the competition. Competition is great for creating new improvements and ideas, so portable tables became lighter, more comfortable, easier to set up, and had more accessories.
The next significant change for TouchAmerica came in the early 1990s with the explosive growth of the resort and day spa industry. The spa industry was growing 25% a year for a decade or more, expanding from a few thousand spas the more than 10,000. TouchAmerica’s growth came from the creation of spa solutions such as stationary and motorized treatment tables, wet tables and Vichy showers.
Robin had a great talent for trend-spotting. She noticed the interest in merging traditional health and beauty; blending massage, yoga, hydrotherapy and skincare. Spas were in the forefront of this renaissance. Following customer need, we started manufacturing retail display furniture, salon furniture and even a line of sustainable bamboo furniture.
One of the more recent trends in spa and wellness is Halotherapy or Salt Therapy. Halo is the Greek name for salt. This ancient and recently revived healing modality has opened an opportunity for TouchAmerica to develop new equipment that provides effective ways for people to utilize the healing aspects of salt. We have developed new products that use Himalayan salt. The Atlas Salt Table and Breath Salt Lounge allow for direct contact with the salt blocks. The salt blocks flex under the body, conforming to contours and creating an ultra-comfortable surface. The flat salt blocks are also easy to sanitize, unlike tables using granulated salt.
We also offer Himalayan Salt Walls kits for installation in any room, and Himalayan Salt Frames for retrofit in dry saunas and living spaces.
What made you to decide to locate the Double Dragon Furniture Factory in China?
In 1996, I was invited to go on a trip to China with a friend who had been importing products. He was going to the Canton (Guangzhou) Fair, which, at that time, was one of the few places Westerners had to find suppliers in China. My friend was looking for disposable medical clothing for one of his customers, and I was interested in finding a supplier of Hot Towel Cabinets. We found a company selling Hot Towel Cabinets and set up our own factory sewing disposable medical clothing.
We were fortunate to partner with Ms. He WeiPing in Shunde (Guangdong, Foshan, Shunde) and she encouraged us to set up the factory there. She worked with the government to get the correct licenses and approvals, hired staff, managed the money and we started that business which is still going strong today.
After a couple of years, I was feeling more comfortable doing business in China and wanted to open a factory to manufacture products for TouchAmerica. Our GM, Ms. He’s husband, Ren JieMei was interested in being a partner and, because we had established a trusting relationship with his wife and family, I agreed and Foshan Shunde Double Dragon Furniture Co, Ltd was founded in 2000. In 2005, we moved to a new, larger factory with more than 9000 square meters of manufacturing space.
How about equipment design, maintenance and after-sales service?
TouchAmerica has design and technical staff in both the USA and China. The two offices work closely together to develop new products and constantly improve existing products. Our technical and production managers in both offices have been working together since the beginning, which is a huge advantage for us. The management staff at Double Dragon is the same staff we started with in 2000. We have staff that have worked with us for more than 20 years in North Carolina. I am proud that we have the company culture and healthy working conditions to keep staff with us for the long term.
The combined knowledge base is valuable, and certainly helps us do a better job for our customers. Having service in two areas means customer service nearly around the clock. Everyday there are many emails back and forth from China and the U.S.with CAD drawing, pictures and ideas traded between our staff, and video conferencing to take care of urgent or complex issues. For new product development, we start with design drawings to get a good visual understanding before constructing prototypes. Samples are constructed once we have tested and signed off on the design.
Which equipment by TouchAmerica do you like the best?
TouchAmerica has such a full line of products; it is difficult to pick my favorites. We developed some really nice new furniture and equipment in the past year. I really like the new Robert Henry Collection of convertible and multipurpose furniture. The collection brings new opportunities to provide spa services in new locations.
The Atlas Salt Table and Breath Salt Lounge may be my favorite new product. Himalayan Salt has such a long history in health and healing so finding new ways to make use of Himalayan Salt was a lot of fun. I think we ended up with some very attractive, functional and surprisingly comfortable equipment. I didn’t expect lying or lounging on a surface of slat blocks to be so comfortable.
My favorite high-end treatment table is The Atlas Contempo, because of its good looks, ability to house a hot towel cabinet and really sturdy construction. Our HiLo Treatment Table is another favorite. It was our first motorized treatment table design and has survived the test of time. It has the largest height range of any of our tables and goes low enough to be handicap accessible, plus, tall enough for taller table services like Medi-Spa treatments or waxing.
Then there is the Breath Pedi Lounge. It is a Zero Gravity lounge that, when unlocked, is a rocking lounge. We named it the Breath because when you are balanced and relaxed in the lounge, it will provide a gentle rocking motion with ones breathing. It is an ideal resting lounge, and can convert into a pedicure or foot massage chair. It is perfect for the China market and foot massage.