Editor’s Note: David Wood is the CEO of Human Touch, a manufacturer of massage chairs, and of Relax The Back, a franchise retailer of Human Touch and other massage products. The companies are both headquartered in Long Beach at Douglas Park, where they employ 75 people. Prior to his current position, which he took on in 2008, Wood worked for 20 years running the North American operations for Bose.
LBBJ: Human Touch is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Can you provide some of the company history?
Wood: Human Touch today is really regarded as the leader in what I call the functional product wellness space: massage chairs, zero-gravity recliners. We make a number of targeted products to help everything from your feet to your back feel better. We work with a number of different people that we call our wellness council – athletes, doctors, chiropractors – who all participate in our product development as well as the marketing of what we do. We are the only brand that has been endorsed by the World Federation of Chiropractic for the products that we put out on the marketplace. We believe it’s the most recognizable name for these products in our category here in the U.S.
LBBJ: You moved to this Douglas Park facility in 2017. Why was that decision made?
Wood: Interestingly enough, we were over in a building right off Walnut near the 405 [Freeway] for . . . close to 20 years at the time. As the business expanded and we made the acquisition of Relax The Back and we were getting a little bit bigger, we needed more space for warehousing. . . . We wanted to get into a facility that we thought was a little bit more adaptable for some of the things we wanted to do in terms of workspace and presentation of our products. We ended up here in Douglas Park. We’re delighted to be here. It’s been really pretty tremendous.
LBBJ: What factors have contributed to the longevity of Human Touch?
Wood: For any company to go 40 years, it’s relatively rare. Human Touch has distinguished itself over time by having an organization and team of people who have been with the company for a long time. I have a guy in product development who has been here for 16 or 17 years. On the sales and marketing side, [we have] people who are 10 years-plus. A lot of folks have been here a long time, which hopefully speaks to the culture. . . . You’ll find our products in different types of customer segments. Having that sort of diversity and broad base creates opportunities and mitigates risks, and ultimately helps you do well for 40 years.
LBBJ: How long has Relax the Back been around?
Wood: Relax The Back is celebrating its 35th year. It too has been quite stable for a long time.
LBBJ: What puts Human Touch ahead of its competitors?
Wood: Our products in the marketplace have much more detail and care in terms of how they actually show up in a person’s home or wherever the product gets placed. We have many products that are designed with the intent of being able to drop right into a living environment and aesthetically work as well as functionally work, which is pretty important. We have a robust technical support capability here. . . . We also are constantly innovating and developing products.
Next month we are launching what we believe is our best chair ever. It’s called the Super Novo, and it will be our new premier chair. It has some new capabilities. The most exciting one is something we’re calling the Virtual Therapist, which is basically a capability that now allows that chair to be utilized with Amazon Alexa capability automatically. . . . You’ll be able to just sit back and actually talk to the chair, much like you would talk to your own therapist. It brings that whole experience even closer to what it would be if you were actually talking to your masseuse. You can tell the chair how tall you are and how aggressive you want your massage and what your goals are, and it will adapt that experience to you.
LBBJ: What are the biggest unknowns for you as a business executive in 2019?
Wood: Some of the unknowns or challenges are not necessarily unique to us. It’s what a lot of folks are dealing with. The consumer products markets in retail continue to be evolving pretty rapidly. More of that business is moving online. We have products that tend to be of a higher price point. So for instance, this new Super Novo is a $10,000 chair. Some of our other massage chairs tend to be anywhere from $1,000 or $5,000 on up. It used to be in retail that you could place a product in multiple points of sale. You could present it well to a consumer. A consumer could understand the product [and] get a story and a demonstration. But as retail evolves, more of that is moving online. So now, how do you tell the story and how do you give a customer the appreciation of what it is that you do? . . . . It’s balancing more of that direct engagement with the online component and finding new, creative ways to actually get into the path of people who can experience your product.
LBBJ: If a startup CEO were to ask you for your most important piece of business advice, what would you say?
Wood: Well, it could be a startup or even a longer-term CEO. The one that sticks out for me is, don’t fall too much in love with all the things that got you where you are. The business dynamic is always evolving. Change is constant. Some times, especially as a 40-year company, the worst thing that can happen is to believe that the things that made you successful five or 10 years ago are the ones that are going to make you successful today. You constantly have to stop, reevaluate, understand what the marketplace is doing, understand what your competitors are doing and continue to evolve and adapt. It’s just never ending. . . . Then I would say certainly as well to hire the right people. Bring in the right people, empower them to do what it is that you need them to do. Give them the latitude to work and work effectively, be there to help and guide, but don’t be there to direct exactly what should be done. Let your best people get great work done.
LBBJ: What are some traits or skills every executive should strive to cultivate?
Wood: Marketplace curiosity, customer curiosity and understanding what those needs are. Having an ability to be able to formulate what a strategy should be, which means understanding what it is you do well, maybe what you don’t do well and what’s going to make you different from your competitors in a marketplace. [Understand] those unique attributes or competencies that you are going to leverage to ensure that what you are able to do is both different from what everyone else can do, but also is less vulnerable to what other people can copy. The most precious commodity that people have is time, so be very planful about the limited finite time that you have and be spending it in a way that is most effectively driving that strategy.
LBBJ: Is there anything you would want to add?
Wood: We are in the process right now of launching a program called Chairs for Charity. . . . A lot of the focus right now is on first responders, especially in the local area. You know, we recognize those folks have done a lot to provide stress relief to people who are under duress, but they themselves in the process of doing that fall under a lot of duress and stress. So we have looked to say, how do we provide from stress relief to the people who are helping a whole bunch of other people get through some difficult times? This Chairs for Charity program is going to be very much focused on first responders to help those people. Give them a chance to relax, feel better . . . so they can serve others better.