Designer creates workspace storage solution for ubiquitous laptop bag

GRAND RAPIDS — With the ability to run a business from a backpack or laptop case, today’s knowledge workers have different workspace needs than previous generations of employees.

The dawn of powerful, portable computing meant that one device can take the place of the Rolodex, file cabinet and desk drawers. The laptop bag and its contents has become the primary instrument of the modern knowledge worker, but it doesn’t really have a good storage place in the office.

Scott Sikkema, principal of Grand Rapids-based design firm Viable Inc., aims to change that with his new locally made creation, el BagPed.

As the name implies, el BagPed is a pedestal designed to hold a backpack, briefcase, or laptop bag in a home or office workspace.

Standing a foot and a half off the ground and sold under the Workiture brand, el BagPed is meant to be just the right height for easy access to bags and belongings that deserve a more dignified spot than the floor. The product launched this past summer.

"The impetus for this product line was that I was kicking my bag over all the time," said Sikkema who, at the time of the product’s conception, was spending his workdays on shop floors.

In response to this, he built a simple caddy that was the precursor to el BagPed, and which still sits in his office today. While the original stand is decidedly less fetching than the product that is now on the market, people began to take notice of it and inquired as to where they might find one.

By the time he started Viable in 2008, the wheels were in motion to produce the apparatus for a larger audience. While he saw enthusiasm for the idea, Sikkema didn’t exempt himself from building a business case for the stand. Twenty prototypes went to test users around the country.

"We went through a thorough market analysis and business-planning process, and we had an overwhelmingly good response from testers," he said.

Information gleaned from follow-up interviews with testers provided the validation needed to proceed to the formal design and to finalize the business plan.

The finished el BagPed products are sourced entirely in West Michigan. The base is made by a Wyoming plant, and the fabric shelf beneath where the bag sits comes from a Kentwood company. The bench is made of cold-rolled steel, a product that Sikkema calls a "renewable, 'green' metal that doesn’t take much energy to refine." Buyers can chose from one of four powder-coated finishes and 18 fabric designs.

He tapped the expertise of designers from Viable’s sister company, Via Design Inc., for help with fabrics and design configurations. Sikkema is the CFO at Via Design, which is headed by his sister, Valerie Schmieder.

Sikkema said that the el BagPed design has worked well in coffee shops, restaurants, and even high-end commercial restrooms, but the primary use has been home and commercial office space.

Incidentally, Ira Glass, the public radio personality and host of This American Life, is among the owners of el BagPed products. Sikkema said he owes the connection to a former intern.

While it’s still early to speculate how sales will grow, Sikkema said el BagPed has been featured on design blogs and is gaining a loyal following from customers that buy them.

"People will by one, then they'll buy another one," he said. "Once people 'get' the category, I think it’s going to take off."

The original el BagPed retails for $199 and is sold exclusively online at www.workiture.com. This month, Sikkema will add a scaled-down, wooden version of el BagPed to the product lineup. The Zeeland-made piece will sell for $89. Besides el BagPed, Workiture offers Flip, a product intended for lounge spaces and libraries. It can hold a bag or, when flipped over, be used as a stool. Flip is priced at $299.

"These are products for the new mobile office worker," said Sikkema.

He hopes to add more products geared toward knowledge workers in the coming years. While he hopes consumers will find the product so that he can continue to grow the company, he realizes that he faces the main challenge that most people likely aren’t familiar with the concept or its function.

"One of our challenges is that people don't realize they need these yet," Sikkema said.

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