Reality TV to custom wheelchairs - Taking metal fabrication for a ride
At the age of only 14, "custom fabrication" was already practically Sean Mahaney's middle name. By the time he graduated from high school he had too much business to continue working out of his home garage and had to open his own shop.
From those early entrepreneurial days to now, Sean has worked in a number of shops on a variety of projects - from reality shows (Remember Discovery Channel's "Street Customs?") to mini trucks (the original Master Image Customs) - and has made a name for himself as a chief master fabricator.
Through it all though, one thing has remained constant - his passion for hands on work through custom fabrication. Now, that passion has put Sean to work in an unlikely direction - his newest business venture - building custom wheelchairs, A custom Sean Co wheelchair.
After a life change brought him to a new town and a new job, Sean reconnected with a former girlfriend, Donna. The two married and both brought two children to the relationship, creating a new family to go with their new lives.
Soon, Sean realized that one of Donna's daughters, Trinity, was something of a kindred spirit to him. Born with Spina Bifida, Trinity is a full-time wheelchair user, and wheels were one thing Sean understood. "I thought this was a great opportunity for me to have fun with her, considering I like everything with wheels. I quickly realized that pre-made chairs, bikes and sports equipment for people who have special needs cost way too much for the average family to afford.
"Sports equipment is not covered at all on most insurance plans, so there isn't much help in getting these kids out and active. I decided I had the ability to do something about this, and I had most of the equipment already."
Sean got to work in his shop and started creating Trinity a custom wheelchair for an upcoming sports camp she was planning to attend in Santa Barbara.Using parts from old wheelchairs, Sean was able to put together a chair that fit Trinity's size and specific needs. By modifying used parts to work with his design and reduce weight, Sean proved that the chairs could be built on a budget with very few expensive parts. Trinity in her new chair - Sean's first custom wheelchair - ready for wheelchair sports camp.
For Trinity, this meant that she wouldn't have to settle for the typical one-size-fits-all options available to wheelchair users. It was also a dream come true for her mom, Donna, who had always been a big advocate for proper fit for wheelchair users. The chair drew a lot of attention during the camp, and it was then that Sean realized the very real need for custom chairs that reflected the personality of individual riders and placed an emphasis on proper size and fit. Luckily, Donna had plenty of experience in helping fit people to their wheelchairs. Trinity's sports chair updated with a new paint job. Word of mouth traveled amongst the local wheelchair community that there was a more affordable, custom builder on the scene. Within a year and a half demand for the chairs grew to a point where Sean has now been able to quit his previous job and work full time on his new business, SeanCo Custom Wheelchairs, a division of SeanCo Fabrication Corporation.
"We are innovating new designs and styles that haven't been seen in the wheelchair community before, while keeping our prices well under other companies that are close to what we do. We really have started a new field of ultra-custom, one of a kind wheelchairs that no one has tried before by bringing my automobile custom style to the manufacturing of wheelchairs."
A custom SeanCo wheelchair for a 3-year-old named Crue. Since his first chair for Trinity, Sean has gone on to create custom chairs for people of all ages and activity levels, including skate park riders and a blinged out chair that recently made an appearance on stage for rapper Slim Jimmy from Rea Sremmurd who was temporarily wheelchair bound after an accident.
Using an ESAB fluid-cooled Heliarc 352, Sean TIG welds all his chairs using 6061 T6 aluminum."Most of it has a thickness of one inch .120 wall with 3/4 inch .120 wall tubing. This is thicker than most builders use, but I have seen too many frames crack from other builders using too thin of material in the wrong spots. Instead of using poor quality light-duty materials for chairs, I design all of my parts to be high quality and high strength. I don't care if the chair is for a small kid or a guy doing back flips at a skateboard park - they all get top quality parts."
A custom SeanCo wheelchair for rapper Slim Jimmy from Rea Sremmurd. More than anything though, Sean says the relationships he and his family have formed with riders as their lives are changed with proper fitting chairs has been the major catalyst for taking the work full time.
"I love the fact that I can make such a big impact in someone's life by doing what I love to do - metal fabrication. It's crazy seeing how negatively someone can be affected by a bad wheelchair. How would you like to walk around in shoes full of rocks? It's the same as having a chair that is set up wrong or is too heavy.
"I've just turned my passion for building custom cars around into a passion for building wheels for people that are in them over all their waking hours. Just listening to them and treating them as friends and not just another number makes a huge difference. I've found that making these chairs become a proper fitting part of their rider and doing that in a way that reflects the style of the rider is just an incredible experience. I've made some of the best friends I've ever had by just doing what comes naturally to me."
Crue takes his custom SeanCo wheelchair for a spin at a skatepark.
With that in mind, Sean says his goals for his new company are simple - to continue making the best fitting custom chairs in a low enough volume that he can still treat his customers as friends and family.He sees himself personally building five to six custom chairs a month in addition to designing adaptive sports equipment like beach wheelchairs, handbikes and hockey sleds that could be turned over to a fabrication company for more mass production.
"I can see the profit from this type of production supporting us while we build custom chairs at a lower cost to the client. Another goal is to be able to then in turn donate as much as we can to adaptive sports teams, foundations and programs. That is the true inspiration for why we started the company in the first place."inspiration, indeed.