Meet Versatile’s New Operations Manager

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We couldn’t be more excited to announce that Erica Witbeck has agreed to join the Versatile Team as its first Operations Manager. Her job will be to improve the efficiency of our entire production process to meet client goals and deadlines and keep Versatile running smoothly. Here’s a quick interview with Erica to give you an idea of who she is and what she will bring to the organization.

  1. Erica, you’ve been brought on as Versatile’s first-ever Operations Manager. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

My objective is to be the organizing force for the company. I want to be sure that everyone on our talented team gets to focus on doing what they do best. We have reached a tipping point in scale where processes need to be implemented to make sure it is possible to keep everyone operating smoothly and confidently in their respective areas. We need to be able to create reasonable expectations that we can feel secure about honoring, and we need to do it in a way that enhances rather than inhibits information transfer. Identifying what sticking points there may be, and developing process-based solutions that address the concerns of a growing custom shop, are my biggest goals. This will involve developing and implementing a computer-based sales order/work order system, production planning metrics, and improving internal product flow issues.

 

  1. You have a background in local custom manufactured tile. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

The thinking and working process of makers and designers are definite common threads. There are challenges that are unique to custom manufacture, especially as it scales up to a larger production model. Learning how to control the process while never limiting the customer’s ability to have a shop create something 100% custom is a theme that has carried across my career. The materials themselves are quite different in their behavior and manufacture, but the common threads of shop design and having the appropriate tools and safety measures are the same. The production model I came from was on a larger scale and ran dozens of projects concurrently through production. This shop has fewer projects at any given time, and they generally are made from start to finish in each phase of production before the next order is produced.

 

  1. What inspires you about custom manufacture?

There is a great deal of deserved pride taken from creating a thing of beauty from the ground up. I love fine materials and skilled hands and creative minds, and bringing these aspects in to harmony to make someone’s dream into a tangible reality—well, that’s just thrilling!

  1. Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?

In my past life, there were SO many custom jobs and projects, they kind of blend together now. Looking back, my favorite projects were always “match this damaged old antique item that we love”. With reproductions, the challenges were not only matching the quality of the original design, but getting glaze chemistry to cooperate and make something convincingly old-looking. It was like archaeology and sculpting and chemistry lab all at once! Getting all of our experts talking and working and testing together made for some really satisfying work. Figuring out how to communicate the process (and its realities and limitations), sample it out in a convincing way, and get those experiments scaled up to an actual finished product was always very rewarding. I instantly saw much of the same intrigue at VWP, and knew I would fall in love. And I did.

 

  1. What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?”

Gracious! Such a tricky question. I’d say if I were fortunate enough to construct my life in a way to make three wishes come true, they would be:

  • Get my mom to the Czech Republic so she can see where her family came from, and share that experience with her.

  • Dine at French Laundry, just so I’ll know.

  • Write the Great American Novel. It’s all in my head, I swear!

Case Study: Roman Candle, Ava Gene’s & Woodsman Tavern

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After SE Division’s overwhelming support of Duane Sorenson’s Stumptown cafe, he opened The Woodsman Tavern to create a gathering place for good food and good drink that felt like it had always been there. The Woodsman Tavern was a 2012 Bon Appétit Best New Restaurant nominee and launched the revitalization of SE Division Street. This led Sorenson to open Ava Gene’s (November 2012) and Roman Candle Baking Company (July 2013) a few blocks away.

Versatile was contracted by Orange-PDX to create a storefront system for The Woodsman Tavern, and again to supply custom entry doors for Roman Candle and Ava Gene’s.

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What were the goals of these projects?

For The Woodsman Tavern, we were to replace the dated aluminum storefront with replicated traditional wood divided lite transoms over picture windows with insulated glass, along with custom entry doors.

The stain grade doors for Roman Candle and Ava Gene’s needed to fit the aesthetic and vibe of the restaurants while being able to withstand harsh weather exposure.

What challenges did Versatile face during these projects?

The biggest challenge for all three projects was weather exposure as they all face south.

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What were the Uniquely Versatile Solutions?

Hand selecting the materials played a major role in the success of these projects. Versatile’s highly experienced carpenter, Jeff Vasey, hand selected the wood to ensure each piece had a tight grain pattern to help extend the life of each item. From an aesthetic side, it was also important to find pieces of wood that matched and had complimentary grain patterns.

Versatile always tries to anticipate possible challenges before they turn into problems, and by selecting such an experienced team we were able to avoid major issues. This team included Versatile shop carpenters and installers from Orange-PDX construction.

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