Work well seated

Marking 40 years of adapting and evolving, Lovers atWork continues to create inspirational spaces for everywhere people work

Photo: Lovers atWork partners Andrew Kaikkonen, Jeff Douglass and Rodney Lover

FROM HIS VANTAGE point, 40 years on in the office ­furnishings business, Rodney Lover has seen a lot of change. There was the home office boom — the initial one in the early 1990s — when everyone had bought their first home computers and devoted entire rooms to them. That was followed by the first home office crash, courtesy of laptop computing, when nobody needed entire rooms at home anymore.

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Next he watched the rise of the open-office concept in the 2010s, the “resimmercial” designs that followed that, and now a return to more private, quiet spaces of the post-­pandemic office. In short, he’s just about seen it all.

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“We watched the computer migrate from a side desk at an executive’s office to the front of their desk to a cellphone in their hand,” says the CEO at Lovers atWork Office Furniture.

For Lover, it’s like watching the playbook get ripped up every few years — something he’s become accustomed to adapting to. “I think we’ve been through a lot of change, and now we’re just digesting it,” he says.

Work well seated work Milestones

The business has been part of Lover’s life since he was about 12 years old, when he became “the first staff member” at his dad’s shop — called Lover’s New and Used back then with a focus mainly on used office furniture.

By the late 1980s, the business had matured to the point it had moved almost entirely into new furnishings, and that was followed by the foray into design and fulfilment of ­full-scale office projects.

In the late 2010s, a succession process was put in place that would see Rodney take over the business from his dad, Dale, in 2019, and bring on two new business partners — Jeff Douglass and Andrew Kaikkonen.

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For a company now celebrating a fortieth, “we’re all ­relatively young,” Lover says.

Of course, there was that little Covid issue to deal with, and even in a business that had become quite accustomed to rapid change, the pandemic’s shock to the office economy was significant. It was, says Lover, like all the changes of the past 40 years compressed into just a few.

In 2020, for instance, they started to sell a lot of office chairs for residential settings. A whole lot. The ecommerce side of the business took off, and because they had ­established roots in supplying large office projects, their supply chains and stock were notably more robust than some of their competitors. “You could get whatever you wanted during that time,” Lover recalls.

Work well seated work Milestones

Now, as the pandemic work-from-home period gives way to the new office era, that push to ecommerce is continuing to serve the business well. “Certainly, the last few years has accelerated our ecommerce,” Lover says, noting that they are selling much further afield than they had previously, and the online business is now extending well beyond one-off orders for desks and chairs.

“We’re doing full [office] floors. We get drawings, we have someone in the local area measure and then we have office install companies that we partner with across Canada,” he explains. “We can do so much virtually. And our suppliers are keen to work with us, so we’re able to offer someone in Winnipeg or Calgary or Vancouver things that they don’t necessarily find anywhere else.”

It’s also interesting to note that the well-documented struggles with high vacancy rates for downtown offices hasn’t impacted the business to any great extent. One of the less-discussed contours of the office market right now, notes Lover, is the relative health of the kind of spacious, suburban office spaces that Lovers atWork specializes in outfitting. “With the types of organizations we work with, we’re not reliant on towers,” he says. “Many, many of those [suburban offices] have been back in the office totally.”

Work well seated work Milestones

But at the 40-year mark, what Lover has uppermost on his mind isn’t the constant shifts in the marketplace, products or designs, but rather all the people — and moments — that have made his time at the business memorable.

As the firm prepared to host a 40th celebration in late-June, Lover says “stories are coming out about the different things that have happened over the years.

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“Jeff, my business partner, brought up when years ago we ended up with declassified — but still sensitive — documents about the Avro Arrow,” he laughs (the documents were stashed in a set of used cabinets that the company purchased). They’ve also had items from people who have been in the news, or publicly fired, come through the shop as well.

“But as I look at pictures, what’s mattered most to us as we’ve gone through the years is the people,” Lover sums up. “We’ve got a lot of long-termers with us. And there’s people we’ve lost over 40 years. When you look back, what do you remember? It’s the people.” Work well seated work Milestones Kieran Delamont

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