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Published: Sunday, 7/6/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

La-Z-Boy puts comfort into new headquarters

Furniture firm’s new home has built-in quiet, opened up space

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
CEO Kurt Darrow says the new headquarters, behind him, will strengthen the connection between La-Z-Boy’s products and its ideas. CEO Kurt Darrow says the new headquarters, behind him, will strengthen the connection between La-Z-Boy’s products and its ideas.
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MONROE — For 14 years, La-Z-Boy Inc. has boasted that its products are the “new look of comfort” — even as the company operated out of a worn-out headquarters building that predates the Great Depression.

“There was a big disconnect with a lot of our stores and a tired headquarters, and we would take customers to cities where we have new stores rather than bringing them here to our headquarters,” said Kurt Darrow, La-Z-Boy chairman, president, and chief executive officer.

Despite 88 years at 1284 N. Telegraph Rd. in Monroe, the sprawling one-story building that has housed North America’s second-largest furniture maker had become a giant embarrassment.

“Our ceilings leak over there, we’ve got flat roofs. It’s time to get out,” Mr. Darrow said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from the under-construction HQ

So last year La-Z-Boy broke ground on a $57 million, three-story headquarters complex just a quarter mile east of its current location.

But what a difference a mere quarter mile makes.

Mr. Darrow said when the company begins to relocate in January, its new home has the potential to be a catalyst that can make La-Z-Boy more creative, its employees more productive, and its image as a leader in furniture and comfort more consistent.

“You always try to have a seamless connection between your marketing, your stores, your product, and the image everybody has of you. And we got out of sorts there,” Mr. Darrow said. “When this is finished, the company’s platform of facilities and ideas and messaging will be as consistent as it’s ever been.”

Tucked into a oak tree savanna on the serene campus of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the 200,000-square-foot La-Z-Boy international headquarters off Stewart Road in Monroe is about six months from completion.

Designed by The Collaborative Inc., and built by Rudolph/​Libbe Inc., both of Toledo, the steel, brick, wood, and glass edifice is on schedule and on budget despite being slowed for two months by the harsh winter.

“I think what’s different about this project is the way the team was put together to build it,” said Dan Tabor, the project’s architect and a principal at The Collaborative.

“It’s called a design-build approach, where the architect and contractor are teamed together and really start from the very beginning of the project, from programming all the way to completion,” Mr. Tabor said. La-Z-Boy “saw the value of having the contractor and architect work together as a team from the beginning,” he added.

When finished, the building will be unlike anything ever built in Monroe County.

Each floor is raised two feet to allow electrical, heating and air conditioning, electronic cables, and other infrastructure to be located below the floor.

With its infrastructure below the floor, the building needs fewer walls and allows for a more open environment.

It uses glass extensively, beginning with the atrium that connects two large sections of the building, to allow for more light. Each of the three floors has an outdoor patio, and the building was designed so that wings could be added to the structure if the company needs more space.

The building, shown in an artist’s rendering, is just a quarter mile away from the firm’s current headquarters. The design features glass extensively to allow for more light and openness. The building, shown in an artist’s rendering, is just a quarter mile away from the firm’s current headquarters. The design features glass extensively to allow for more light and openness.
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The third floor, which is smaller than the first two floors, has 15 executive offices and a glass-enclosed board room.

With its campuslike setting, the building will have extensive landscaping that fits with the grove of trees. The location will have walking trails to take advantage of the forested site, and it is to have outdoor seating and patios, outdoor fireplaces, and outdoor electronic connectivity to allow employees to work outside if they want to.

“We intentionally wanted something completely different than where we are residing in today. so we’re set back into the property,” Mr. Darrow said.

“We’ve had people ask us, ‘Why aren’t you right out on Stewart Road where we can all see the building?’ Our answer is, ‘This is not a retail store and we’ve been on top of a road for a long time on Telegraph, and we wanted a campuslike feeling,’ ”Mr. Darrow said.

“We wanted to take advantage of the natural beauty of the property. ... So this is a whole different environment that we’re trying to create, which is more reflective of what our brand stands for today,” the CEO said. 

“It’s more reflective of where we think buildings are going in the the future, and more enticing for younger people to come to work for us,” he said.

La-Z-Boy executives looked at 20 other office buildings to gather the best building ideas, plus features to avoid.

For decades, employees at La-Z-Boy headquarters have worked in offices or cubicles, rarely interacting with anyone outside their own company division or department.

“So the new idea is: A lot less offices but a lot more conference rooms, a lot more collaboration areas,” Mr. Darrow said.

“Research has shown the best work gets done in teams. The best work doesn’t get done by you sitting in your cubicle and thinking for yourself.”

Meeting place

The CEO said his contribution to the building was his decision that the new headquarters have a cafe — located on the first floor under a huge three-story atrium — where employees could get breakfast and lunch but also interact.

The new headquarters does away with cubicles. Instead it offers glass-enclosed offices, conference rooms, and open work areas.

It also will have quiet spaces filled with La-Z-Boy furniture, including its famous recliners.

Mr. Darrow said such radical change won’t be embraced easily, but the company will help workers adapt.

The firm has already reconfigured 7,000 square feet in the existing headquarters to resemble the new set-up and is encouraging workers to try it out.

“Some people on Day One aren’t going to be comfortable. We know that,” Mr. Darrow said. “They’ve worked in a cubicle for 20 years. That’s all they know. So we’re going to great lengths to make them understand there will be quiet spaces. You can check into a conference room and spend some quiet time if that’s necessary.”

But the CEO said he thinks the 500 workers moving to the new headquarters will adjust quickly.

“The people we have visited that have gone through this, all the trepidation, if it’s handled right and communicated, all that trepidation pretty much goes away in six months,” he said.

A more pressing concern for La-Z-Boy has been what to do with 88 years of accumulated “stuff” in its old building. 

Mr. Darrow said the company has been devoting one day a month since last year to reducing its paper inventory and other items.

Some important historical items, such as the company’s first prototype La-Z-Boy recliner chair, are being donated to Henry Ford museum in suburban Detroit.

New habits

But much of what is now in the building won’t be moving.

“We’re moving towards paperless. We won’t be 100 percent there, but things are moving in that direction, and we’ve collaborated with our employees and said, ‘You’re not going to be able to bring a semi worth of stuff over here and put it all up again,” Mr. Darrow said.

“It’s inconsistent to build a building of this nature, that’s so different, and bring the same habits and the same work environment and the same ideas to it. 

“It’s a unique opportunity to change the way we work in a headquarters,” Mr. Darrow said.

After all, Mr. Darrow said, changing La-Z-Boy’s habits, image, and way of thinking was the primary reason for building a new headquarters.

For 10 years, Mr. Darrow said, La-Z-Boy and The Collaborative sought ways to update the old headquarters, but it would have cost $60 million.

Mr. Darrow said company officials finally realized that for the amount of money to update the site on Telegraph Road, they could have far more by moving.

“It’s been a dream of mine to finally put together something that reflects what the company truly is,” Mr. Darrow said.

Call it the “new look of comfort” for the company.

“That’s a good way to put it,” the CEO said.

“We’ve tried to elevate our style quotient and tried to make people realize that we make more than recliners. 

“And if they see this place or see our stores, they’re going to know that we make more than Archie Bunker’s recliner,” Mr. Darrow said.

“That’s the image, without losing that customer, that we’ve tried to change over the last decade or longer and position ourselves in the marketplace.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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