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Loll Designs sold; jobs to remain in Duluth

"We are 100% staying in Duluth," Loll CEO and co-founder Greg Benson said.

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Loll Designs co-founder and CEO Greg Benson sits in a Loll Designs chair surrounded by pink flamingos lawn ornaments cut from the same recycled sheet material Loll uses to produce its furniture. Employees presented the flamingos to him this week during meeting announcing that Landscape Forms Inc., headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan bought the company. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Loll Designs is no longer locally owned, but all 85 of the jobs it provides in Duluth will stay local nevertheless, according to Greg Benson, the company's co-founder and former CEO.

Although he would not disclose the financial terms of the sale, Benson confirmed the business has been sold to Landscape Forms Inc., headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He said the Duluth operation fits well with its new partner, which specializes in high-end outdoor furniture made of metal, instead of the plastic-based recycled materials Loll uses to produce its weatherproof line of patio furnishings.

Under Landscape Forms' ownership, Benson predicts a bright future for Loll.

"We're going to be bigger, better and stronger right here in Duluth," he said.

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Loll Designs in Duluth has been sold to Landscape Forms, headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Loll's co-founder and CEO Greg Benson said manufacturing will remain in Duluth and none of the company's 85 staff employed locally will be out of a job. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Loll's new owner has been in business for 51 years and employs about 420 people. It boasts about $125 million in annual sales compared to Loll's $15 million, Benson said.

"We see Duluth as a very cool city with a lot to offer," Landscape Forms CEO Marjorie Simmons said. "We see it positively from an operational standpoint, a talent standpoint and it's going to be a great place for us to have customers come and visit."

Benson, who jokingly calls himself Loll's "chief lollygagger," will relinquish his title as CEO but has signed on to serve the next three years as the new division's president and creative director.

Simmons said the company looks forward to harnessing Benson's creativity and welcoming him to Landscape Form's executive leadership team.

Where Landscape Forms has built its business fulfilling mass orders primarily for large commercial, governmental and institutional clients, Loll will bring to the table a burgeoning order book that relies heavily on direct-to-consumer and online customers. Benson said the companies have some market overlap, but not a great deal, as they produce different types of products.

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Loll Designs CNC supervisor Matt Cowan (left) of Esko talks with co-founder and CEO Greg Benson at the Duluth outdoor furniture manufacturer Friday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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"It's a beachhead for us in the residential market," Simmons said of the Loll acquisition.

Benson said he has been in talks with Landscape Forms since before the COVID-19 pandemic and maintains that the national outbreak had no bearing on the decision to sell.

Simmons confirmed as much, saying the two companies have been exploring the possibility of joining forces since about 2017. They also collaborated to produce a popular table, Adirondack chair and gliding bench.

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Loll Designs CNC supervisor Matt Cowan of Esko removes excess plastic from parts on a CNC machine at the Duluth furniture manufacturer Friday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

"We discovered that we have a design and brand fit. We believe we have a cultural fit. We believe there's a tremendous amount of strategic synergies and opportunities for us that we'll be able to leverage," she said.

If anything, Benson said the pandemic has driven Loll's sales, as people spent more time nesting at home, on their computers and enjoying the outdoors.

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Jerome Voorhees of Duluth, a lead prepper in the quality control area of Loll Designs, assembles hardware packets Friday afternoon for furniture made at the company in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

That's not to say the pandemic hasn't also presented challenges for the business, such as the monthlong shutdown it endured following Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order. That came on top of a previous disruption related to the relocation of Loll's production to a new facility on Waseca Street.

Nonetheless, Benson said he remains confident Loll's output for 2020 will top last year's level.

Loll's products have proven so popular that many of its customers encounter a six- to eight-week wait after placing an order. Simmons said Landscape Forms will bring to bear its manufacturing expertise and considerable resources to shorten those lead times.

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Daniel Jurek of Duluth a CNC operator for Loll Designs removes newly formed parts from a machine Friday afternoon at the furniture company in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Loll traces its roots back to 1997, when brothers Greg and Dave Benson along with business partner Tony Ciardelli launched TrueRide, a business that specialized in building skateparks. They used a durable, weather-proof sheet material made out of recycled plastic and began to experiment with other applications.

In 2007, they completely exited the skatepark business to focus on furniture building through Loll and cutting boards as Epicurean Cutting Services Inc. The latter business continues to employ about 75 people in Superior.

Benson and his team continue to experiment and innovate with creative new ideas, as evidenced last week, when employees presented him with more than a dozen pink flamingo lawn ornaments cut from the same recycled sheet material Loll uses to produce its furniture.

"We like to make stuff, and we're really good at it. So, I'm going to get back to that," Benson said. "This is an opportunity for me to get back to the creative roots that I think really started all of our businesses. And I'll need to spend less time on the management side and the business stuff."

"I'm excited about that," he said, explaining that he's already laying plans to build out Loll's design department.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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