When Ross Glen was 13, he had a paper route. But it wasn’t just any paper route – it was the biggest route in the city with 150 houses. He converted most of his clients to monthly to streamline collections, and an entrepreneur was born.
As a young man he serviced typewriters at Underwood Ltd.-Olivetti and soon moved into the sales department. He learned the business and honed his skills and in 1966, Glen decided to start his own business with partner Gordon Oliver. The obstacle was finding the initial capital. He scraped together some money and borrowed the last $5,000 from his father to get the company up and running. His father wasn’t confident in the plan but supported his son anyway. Glen proudly proved his father wrong.
“My father thought he was going to lose it, but at the end of the day, before he passed away, that $5,000 was worth a million bucks,” says Ross Glen, president of RGO Products.
Glen bought out Oliver in 1970 and plotted his own course to success. RGO started out selling office furniture, partnering with Steelcase to provide high-quality products to clients. A few years later, he returned to the typewriter business by adding office equipment to RGO’s list of products. Since then RGO has grown to include the gamut of office requirements, from copiers and furniture to flooring and window coverings.
RGO only carries the best names in the industry to ensure Glen’s high standards are met. Steelcase is a worldwide leader in the furniture business, producing innovative yet functional pieces to fit every space. Hunter Douglas, Nysan Solar Control and Lutron are strong partners in window coverings, which include automated shading systems and LEED-compliant products. And with flooring partners like Shaw Contract Group and Milliken, RGO boasts a wide range of options for broadloom, carpeting tile and ceramics.
RGO is one of Alberta’s largest independent suppliers of office document technology, so it’s no surprise that it stays on top of technological advancements and partners with the best manufacturers. The company offers top-tier products, complete with training, from brands such as Canon and Kyocera. Clients can purchase or lease equipment that RGO will proactively support through their field service support team. In addition to hardware sales, the RGO technology group provides software solutions that manage print costs and help companies go paperless.
Over the years, RGO has become the leader in the industry and is the city’s premier one-stop shop for setting up an office. And this varied repertoire has been a key to the company’s success. Glen was more the tortoise than the hare, growing the business slowly and always doing what was best for the company.
“You have to continue to grow. The biggest thing that got us going was we didn’t take money out of the business. We reinvested and focused on building it,” Glen says. “And diversification has been important.”
If one of the four divisions is lagging, the others are there to pick up the slack and keep the company on track. This strategy, along with Glen’s strong fiscal planning, has carried RGO through several economic downturns and made it the largest office supplier in Western Canada.
Glen further diversified his holdings through real estate investments. Twenty-four years ago he partnered with close friend and business partner Don Taylor to purchase the building RGO calls home. In addition, Glen acquired other real estate holdings by keeping the buildings that the company outgrew. Rather than selling the buildings, he held onto them and now rents them out.
“My dad had a vision and a strategy of how we were going to keep ourselves sustainable and I think partnering to own our own building has been really big. We’re not at the whim of other people. We’re creating a bit of our own destiny,” says Glen’s daughter and vice president of window coverings and corporate initiatives, Cathy Orr.
And management is excited to watch that destiny unfold. The 50-year anniversary of the company has given them an opportunity to reflect on the past and celebrate everything that Glen has achieved, but they aren’t done yet. Far from satisfied, they are looking forward and continuing to grow with the market. RGO has moved beyond just selling furniture; it is creating comfortable and efficient environments in which people can work, live, learn and heal.
The best example of such an environment is RGO’s head office just off Memorial Drive. After so many years in the building, Glen decided it was time to renovate. The offices were dated and he wanted to make the space match the mandate of the company, which is to encourage a positive work experience with dynamic, collaborative work processes.
“The space wasn’t really reflecting the kind of work we were doing in the marketplace,” says Orr. “We really tried to walk the talk and understand what our clients go through during renovations.”
The renovation was a very deliberate, careful one born from extensive research and planning. Glen and Orr wanted to highlight the four areas of their business and have them integrated so that as clients walked through the building, they could get a feel for the company’s story. To be efficient with planning was challenging given that the showroom offices span 50,000 square feet, but they resisted the temptation to sprawl.
Instead, they focused on showing clients products in spaces that are relatable to most business owners. That way, stations and spaces could inspire clients, giving them ideas about how to use products in different applications.
“We wanted to define work areas and space by what people do, not by their tenure or their position,” says Orr, so jobs that require more space like window coverings have larger workstations than accounting, which is more contained.
The renovation gave RGO a chance to showcase the changes that are happening in office spaces and to incorporate them into their own corporate culture as well. Work is done in many different ways and Steelcase researches how people work best before deciding on the products they will create. Today’s employees are mobile and flexible, not just sitting at a desk. RGO’s products encourage this more fluid workplace to ensure the staff is happy, engaged and productive.
Common areas and crash points encourage dialogue, collaboration and friendly conversation so staff can get to know each other and work together. These areas are also open to those who want to get away from their desks and work elsewhere.
There are unique work and break stations throughout the office showing off the innovative products Steelcase offers, from benching for collaboration to private stations for heads-down work. There are spaces for rest as well. The Brody WorkLounge offers a comfortable place to sit for a break and is complete with plug-ins for devices, ergonomic seating, footstool and wrap-around walls for privacy.
Whether the furniture is supporting individual work or group projects, many of the chairs and work surfaces RGO uses and sells are highly adjustable to suit the employee. They even have a treadmill station so staff can get some steps in while returning phone calls or catching up on emails.
The atmosphere is collaborative and comfortable. In fact, the showroom at the front of the building has a homey vibe, so clients feel more like family as they sit and test out the furniture and talk over their needs with RGO consultants.
“There’s been a real shift in the workplace in office furniture to more of a residential look,” says Orr, so sofas and chairs for office spaces are more comfortable and inviting.
RGO has a lot of inventory and changes out the furniture in this area regularly to keep the space fresh and current. Clients can order what they see on the floor or customize most pieces by choosing their colours, fabrics and finishes.
RGO has made office spaces beautiful, and that beauty carries through from end to end in its showroom. The space was designed with an open concept in mind in order to facilitate movement and maximize light. The entire space has been renovated for style, function and marketing, and it is a working model of what RGO can do for its clients.
RGO prides itself on providing the best products and services and building strong relationships with both suppliers and customers, just as Ross Glen has done for the past 50 years. While Glen isn’t looking to retire completely from the company, his daughter is poised to take on the role of president to allow Glen to focus on other interests.
“I have high expectations,” says Glen. He also has high expectations for his granddaughter Cassandra, who joined RGO’s marketing team. Orr’s husband Dave is also at the company as vice president of office environments, so it really is a family operation.
It’s also a community-focused one. Calgary has been good to Ross Glen and it’s important to him to give back. His passions are education and health care, and he gives generously. All of the post-secondary institutions in Calgary have a room or building named after him or RGO to thank him for his contributions.
Glen is a pillar in the business community, and Orr plans to carry on her father’s direction of the company while looking for opportunities to expand and grow, especially in technology. She is also dedicated to increasing service levels based on what customers want.
“We can come up with every great idea but if it’s not what customers need, there’s no value proposition there,” she says.
But providing value has never been a problem for RGO Products. For 50 years, the company has been serving clients and the community, and the next generations are ready to carry Ross Glen’s legacy into the next half-century.