Founded as a family business in 1967, the Robert H. Lord Co. started out with one manufacturer, a vision, and our founder's values. More than 45 years later, the company has become one of the largest providers of bleachers and educational furniture in New England.

Headquartered in Manchester with a 23,000 square foot warehouse and state-of-the-art showroom facility, the Robert H. Lord Co now offers furniture and equipment for corporate offices and healthcare facilities in addition to bleachers and seating for arenas, stadiums, auditoriums, and theaters.

Recently, we spoke with current CEO, John Lord, son of founder, Robert Lord.

Tell us about how Robert H. Lord started and grew.

In 1967, my dad had a close friend who said that supplying furniture to schools was a growing area and suggested he get into the business. Initially, we focused on K"12 public and private schools and then eventually expanded into higher education. Around 1980, we moved into other New England states and also started doing seating installations in arenas and basketball bleachers and grandstands. In fact, we are currently installing the new seating arena for Harvard University's Bright Arena, their hockey facility.

How do you manage to service such a large area?

We have a full-time workforce of 25, including five account executives and a team of five installers, but some of the work is subcontracted out to local contractors.

Do you expect to expand beyond the New England region?

No. The proprietary nature of much of the work we do makes that difficult, since other companies already have marketing rights in non-New England states.

How do you acquire most of your current business?

Though some jobs are acquired through bids, most now come through the state contract process. This gives our clients that are eligible to use the state contract system greater flexibility in the type of merchandise they will acquire without incurring the time and expense of the bid process.

It is important for me to add that in 2004, with the assistance of the SBA Small Business Express program from the state of Connecticut, we created a showroom designed to display our product lines. The scope of this showroom is unique in New England and is one of the nicest in the country. It allows our clients to conveniently design and equip their facilities much more easily than they could in the past.

When did you take over the company from your dad and how was the transition?

Around 2000, my dad started to feel it was time for him to step back, and I took over as president of the company. At first, it was a little challenging, because he still wanted to be very much involved even if he were not around. He has in the last few years for the most part retired, but he still comes in when he is in town and occasionally talks with some of his old customers. But I must say, his weekly phone calls still provide me much valuable advice and insight.

Which other family members work in the company?

My brother Peter, vice president of sales, and my brother Tom and my son Jon who work in sales.

What are some of the challenges Robert H. Lord has faced and what does the future hold?

The business is rebounding from a difficult time in the 2000s when some states, like Massachusetts, had a moratorium on school construction. In the past few years, there has been significant school development and renovation in Massachusetts resulting in the growth in construction of new schools. Magnet and Charter schools have also been expanding lately in Connecticut and Massachusetts. We have also positioned ourselves to take advantage of this trend and the growing interest in commercial workspace flexibility and open-space design, along with the growth in the healthcare and long-term care markets. Our goal is to continue to grow our business for the next generation of family ownwership.

Please contact Phillip Montgomery (phillip.montgoemry@cbia.com) if you would like your company showcased in the next Family Business News.