Meet the Ted
Ted Loewen is a founder of Loewen Design Studios, a father of three, a lover of travel, and an entrepreneur. Ted and Josh founded this business in 2016. The dream was that they would be able to help enough people to be able to pay for Josh’s university and provide them with a practical way to put their skills to use and have fun working together. As time went by, the dream grew and one by one, everyone else got to contribute something. We sat down with Ted and asked him some questions about himself and Loewen Design Studios
What is your role at Loewen Design Studios?
That's a good question. Well, I guess since we started, things have definitely evolved and I don't get to do everything anymore. So my focus, let's see, I help deliver tables these days. I don't spend as much time as I'd like with sanding and finishing and building tables, but I work with our team members and handle finance, and product development.
Before working at Loewen Design Studios, what do you think was the most unusual or interesting job you ever had?
Oh, boy. That's a good question. I've had a chance to do a whole bunch of stuff. I spent 10 years working for a big furniture company in Winnipeg. Then my wife Darlene and I did have a candle company for a while and that led into doing some fair trade work. Our fair trade business was a lot of fun, because we could work with global vendors and artisans. For example, artisans from Indonesia, to India, Peru, Chile, and we got to take our kids to visit those artisans, that was very, very cool. So yeah, we got to visit a whole bunch of international locations. We came not so much as tourists, but as guests and stayed with hosts and so we got to see the insides of homes, and meet families and that was super cool. I love that. Also we got to help expand people's knowledge of fair trade in North America, which was also really cool. So yeah, probably Jolica (our former fair trade company) was the most interesting job before now. Really really cool and super fun.
So what would you say is an average day in your life like?
Standardly there are not too many common days. That's kind of the joy of being an entrepreneur. I guess besides a smart aleck comment about like, get up at breakfast and shower, there's not much in each day that is very standard.
There are a lot of roles that both Josh and I play now and kind of did before, just filling in the gaps. Before when we had a smaller team that meant doing everything and filling in the gaps. And now we get to do some of everything and then it's mostly filling in the gaps.
For example right now we're looking to hire somebody to help us with delivery in the States. And that person hasn't joined the team yet. So I'm filling in that gap. And what that means I'm going to spend a bunch of time in the next three weeks meeting our customers, which is awesome. I love doing that. But we are actively looking to find somebody to drive. That's what it takes in a small business. So you step up, and you do that.
Josh and I've had a good opportunity to spend time doing everything and now it's nice because we have more team players and less gaps to fill. So everyday is different. So it's not easy to answer that question. We are definitely in a different place than we were even two years ago when we had just two additional employees on a very part-time basis.
Is there a historical person, past or present that you want to meet?
Darlene and Josh have already guessed what you would say, so let's see if it matches?
They guessed Churchill I'm sure. Churchill was awesome. He was a smart ass and he worked hard. I think he really cared for the people of Britain. I think he made some brilliant choices. But yeah, he was a smart ass as well. So I think he would be a lot of fun to meet. I've read some of his books and he was extraordinarily smart and courageous. It would be fun to meet him. Good dinner conversation.
If you had to describe Loewen Design Studios in three words, what were those three words? Besides Loewen, Design, and Studios.
Oh, boy. Probably quality, design, and customer service. Does customer service count as one word? Okay, there you go. Yeah, I think we're trying to deliver something that's above what's expected and really good quality stuff that can be customized for people's needs. You don't buy dining tables very often, you don't buy lights very often, and we want to be able to give you exactly what you want. We try to be process focused because we're all consumers and we've all had lots of customer experiences, where it's pretty annoying. We want to reduce the aggravation and give people the time to decide what they want to do. And give them all the information so that they can make the best choice possible. We are always looking to improve in that way but I think we're doing a pretty good job. Yeah, so that would be my three.
If you could switch jobs with anyone else within the company.
Oh, boy, does Norm count? Norman is our Snoodle and a very good chairman of the board.
Oh, let's see, no, I would say I would not want to switch jobs. I get to fill in the gaps. And that's what I love. Like Josh’s job for instance. Josh has to do a lot of Photoshop work. Josh is extraordinarily creative and where I've built catalogs and done some of that kind of work. I don't have the same eye that Josh has. Josh has such an eye for color and all that stuff I would be frustrated there.
So, yeah, no, The fun part is that I get to jump in wherever I'm needed as a gap filler. It lets me do lots of different jobs. I really enjoy my role right now.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, would you cast this yourself?
Oh I’m not sure.
A counter question is, if there's a best selling book written about your life, who would you want to write it?
I don’t stop and spend enough time reading so I don't know how many great writers that are out there. I enjoy reading stuff by Gladwell. But I’m not as well read as I should be. I guess I've gone through life collecting experiences, not stuff. And so while we've been fortunate to live in a nice home and not worry too much about the day to day, we've collected a ton of great experiences. And so if I can change the question a little bit Instead of who would play me, or who would write about me, to what would a book about me focus on, I would think it would be more about living life to the fullest and having a lot of great experiences.
Another reason why I enjoy what we're doing, though we do sell a consumer product. So in some ways it is, quote unquote, stuff. But you buy a dining table, to sit down, and chat with friends or with family to enjoy a meal together. It's about that experience. It's not so much the product we sell.. You don't say, Oh, boy, I've got two dining room tables. That's ridiculous. And unless that means that you also have a second home, that's what the focus would be on I guess. So. Yeah, it's about collecting experiences. And so that's what I would want to focus on is on people and getting to know more people and getting to do more things.
So on that note, speaking of collecting experiences, what did you think you were going to be when you were growing up or doing the job?
When I was in grade 8 we were living in Colombia. A fellow moved down to Colombia from California, he was in grade 12. He was about the age of Bill Gates, because I think Bill Gates is about four years older than I am, maybe a little bit more. Anyway, he was this guy who had been exposed to PCs and to programming and when he came down to Colombia, he said he wanted five really smart math kids from grade eight. why he picked exactly that grade I do not know. But I fell into that five and he taught us how to program and he exposed us at that time to a computer. It was a Radio Shack, TRS 80. So for those of you who want to go and Google that that's ancient technology. It was very weak, compared to what we carry around in our pockets everyday today. But it was a lot of fun. And so I yeah, I wanted to become a computer, something, I didn't know what. So I would have loved to have gone to MIT and I had the grades I think, to get in. But our family didn't have the resources. And so, I didn't go to MIT and I ended up in finance and have been happy with that. It led to different entrepreneurial roles and funny enough, we did have a software company in Chile for a little while and that was a lot of fun.So I was just the right age to know about computers when I was in elementary school, or junior high. It was cool to be exposed to technology early on and It's played a pivotal role throughout my whole career.
So it must be cool to see your son James in Silicon Valley.
Very much, very much. Yeah, James is living the dream. James is doing what I would have liked to have done.
It's cool to see your kids do it.
Absolutely. No, he got a good degree. He did extremely well in school. And he's being rewarded with a fun experience and opportunity. So yeah, super proud of James.
What was the first table / object you ever made woodworking?
Boy, it would have been something with my dad. My dad always had lots of woodworking projects. The first one? Boy, we did everything. My mom was extremely craftsy so we always did leather work at home. We did carpentry work. My mom taught me macrame. I hooked a rug. Big rug. I almost didn't finish. That's so lots of that kind of stuff. And then my dad always had me working alongside him repairing stuff in the house.
You know, what I would say is probably in grade five, we lived in Canada for a little while in Niagara Falls. My dad built a home and I got to skip I think about a third of grade five, to be with him helping out on a construction site. At 10 years old it was really cool to experience that. It was a small home in Niagara Falls. But I got to watch all the different processes and help out as best I could. Not very much probably. That was a very impactful experience.
What would people never guess that you do in your role?
That's a great question. I've been involved with small business for 24 years. So a bunch of the stuff is kind of just intuitive. Where, of course, you have to do some legal work, of course, you have to do some accounting work, you have to make sure that all of the data has integrity, that that's shared properly across a network. You have to have vendor relations, and customer relations, you have to have a great marketing plan and all of that stuff it some people, some people wouldn't know where to start. Small business has always come very intuitive to me.I wouldn't know where to start with a big business. Right? Where you see, organizations like Apple, and I would be completely lost. If I had to join that kind of an organization, I wouldn't know what to do. Before we came to Niagara I did manage operations for a large furniture company and I was interested in that.
But what would people not imagine that I would do? Yeah, no, again, it's filling in the gaps. So it's kind of hard to say. It's you do whatever it takes, right. Some days you get to do stuff that isn’t your favorite and that's okay, because some days you get to do a lot of fun things. It's just seeing the puzzle come together means that sometimes you have to, sometimes you have to work on sky pieces, right? Some of the stuff that I do is sky pieces that's reconciling bank accounts. It's crap, right? Well, I shouldn't say that. But nobody really likes doing that. Right? But you have to do it, because you can't get financial statements. And you can't get an accountant who can't pay your taxes if you haven't done the basic groundwork.
I also think people will be surprised when you show up to deliver their tables as one of the founders.
Yeah, a little bit of that too. An important thing about growing a little business is understanding your customers. So whenever there's an opportunity for me to do that, I like doing it. Just to understand what their dreams are about and where they're coming from and what they're hoping for, and what they do so that we can better serve them. Sometimes with the internet, while we do try to communicate and have really nice conversations, you don't really get to know people the same way as when you meet them firsthand.
For example, I was in Chicago yesterday and one of our customers said “this is amazing. Thank you. Thank you for delivering this and how did you get out of the shop?” So sometimes we needed to take the steps to do things you wouldn’t necessarily think we would do. So, so good to do that. So yeah, that's probably one of them too.
What is your most favorite project you've done for Loewen Designs so far?
We've done so many great, great projects. And it's just wonderful getting feedback from customers. We're just delighted.
We once sent a book match table out to California, to somebody that we got to know a little bit there. The freight company lost the table. It was lovely. We enjoyed building it. It was heavy, it was gorgeous. But the freight company lost it. And so we were in the process of replacing it when the freight company called us up and said, “Hey, we found it. And we're going to deliver it now.” And it was about two months that had been lost. So they showed up at the customer's door with a box that was in rough shape. And the customer said, “You know what? Let me take a look at it. I think it's gonna be okay.” Long story short, it's a beautiful piece of furniture, it stayed with a customer. It had a couple of bumps and bruises. In the customer's words, “The bruises were not anything that's not going to happen sometime in its life anyways and it's a beautiful piece of wood. So we'd like to keep it”.
The bookmatch walnut tables are probably some of my more favorite projects, just because they turn out just stunning. I'm pretty proud of everything we do though. With our lights and tables we've done a lot of fun things and continue to come up with good ideas.
Check out our Bookmatch Tables!
Why did you choose to start this business?
Okay, so this one's kind of easy. Ish. Josh has heard me say this many times. So it's not going to be any surprise to him either, because he knows that this is. But when Josh was in high school he wasn't sure exactly what he was going to do and at some point, he settled on drama. All of our kids are very smart specifically in math. But what he really wants is to make people happy and invest in people's lives, which is really, really cool. And not very mathy. Also, if you get involved with drama, it's a tough financial decision. So the thought was let's start a small business. I tried to start a small business with James and he wasn't having any of it. He had seen too much. So I was like maybe I can convince Josh to, and Josh bought it. So we were going to just start with lights. And that's what we did. And it was just fun. It was called Firefly Lighting. And we started building lights of a variety of different styles. And we would sell one light a week, and then we would sell two lights a week. And we would get very excited about that. And with a goal of hopefully someday being a little business that would help sustain Josh’s dreams to be able to do drama stuff and still pay the bills.
So that's why we started. I had been involved with a furniture business in Toronto and the thought was that maybe we could bring that online. So that's kind of where the tables came in. Then the pandemic hit, and really goosed everything. So our little business grew really quickly this last year, and there's lots more people that have become comfortable with investing their hard earned money on something that we build for them, even though we haven't met, and we don't take that lightly. That's a huge deal. Being able to provide them with a quality product and a nice experience online is something that well, as more and more people give us nice reviews, more and more people have confidence in us and we can continue to do what we dream to do. But yeah, the goal was to help empower Josh to be able to do what he wanted to do, pay the bills and it turned into a little bit more than a full time gig. So it's good. We've been able to bring in other people who are also in the arts community. It's nice to support the arts and still do stuff that we like..
Are there any final thoughts you'd like to add?
At the end of the day, sometimes we lose track of people in the whole process. And when it comes back to why we started LDS or Loewen Design studios, and with an economic goal for Josh, but it was about making people happy. And now with our tables and lights, we're also trying to make people happy. Now, not only customers, but also suppliers and staff and everybody that we come in contact with. So at the end of the day, there's only so much time and you want to make a positive impact on the people that you come across. So yeah, that would probably be to sit at a Loewen table and have a cup of coffee with somebody you love and let them know you love them.