The Value of Meaningful Connections

An Interview with Gary Paquin, Versatile Wood Products, Business Development Manager

I sat down with Gary Paquin this week at our favorite spot near Versatile Wood Products, Broder Nord, to learn more about his background and where he’s headed with his work for Versatile. Gary and I started our talk with some of the marketing items I’ve been working with his team on—social media, overall marketing goals, campaign strategy—but as we got into our conversation I learned that being a Business Development Manager for a windows, doors and cabinetry manufacturing company is much more than just sales. And Gary is much more than just a salesman.

With a background in teaching, building, marketing and sales, Gary’s a bit of a jack of all trades, however what I see as Gary’s best skill is his ability to connect with others.

“I learned the value of networking and making meaningful connections during the recession of 2008. After being laid off from my job in trade sales with Rejuvenation, I knew I had enough of a community of supportive people in my life that I wouldn’t have to wait long for another opportunity.”

Gary Paquin

And wait long he didn’t. Before working for Rejuvenation, Gary had been working for McCoy Millwork in Outside Sales, and then as Sales Manager. When he became open for a job again, McCoy wanted him back. But this time in more of a marketing role instead of direct sales.

“I enjoyed being on a more creative side with managing marketing for McCoy and was working to develop consistency with their brand image. I put together client appreciation events and worked to develop their network by joining and supporting the organizations that made sense with their industry.”

When the job with Versatile came along, Gary had been working for Recology, a commercial trash and recycling company for 8 years.

“Versatile called at just the right time with an opportunity to join their team. I couldn’t wait to get back into the industry I’d started in and reconnect with old friends.”

Gary has been with Versatile for 9 months now and already he’s brought on several big projects, including his most exciting job so far, the “Raleigh Slabtown” job from R&H Construction.

“This is a big job and they went with us because we’re a local company and they believed in our work. We’re creating beautiful, modern storefronts with very large lift-and-slide wood doors for this, and the best part is they’ve planned far ahead so our production team can get a jump on it,” says Gary with a smile.

So what is it like being a Business Development Manager for Versatile Wood Products?

Number one, it’s a lot of outreach. Gary’s day consists of making phone calls, dropping into local building, architecture and design firms to give them the latest Versatile catalogs, and lately it’s been more traveling outside of Portland as they work to expand their market.

“I recently went to Canada for a big project that we’d be a perfect fit for. It was exciting to be up north, and there were other opportunities I was able to seek out while I was there.”

I ask Gary about dropping into businesses and if that’s intimidating at all.

“Most people are very receptive and many of them already know me as the build industry is really one big community.”

Number two, it’s preparing proposals.

“The proposals take a lot of time with this type of work. There are a lot of details and I like to make sure we’re transparent with everything. The level of detail in a custom project can be high, and we work to make sure our proposals are clear and complete.”

With a typical proposal, Gary will put together the line items needed and works with the Product Design team to get accurate pricing. He prides himself on preparing accurate proposals.

“Once the job is defined and signed, there may be an occasional change order at some point, but that’s also part of the process.”

What happens after a sale is closed?

“After making the connection and signing on with a new client, the job is given to Product Design. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, and whether we are working with an old building or new construction, the drafters may schedule a site measure before drafting. This process can take a week, or may take several weeks, depending on scope. Once submittals are approved, the project goes into production. Most jobs take 8-10 weeks to complete, though large commercial projects will move through in phases that may take several months.”

I learned the tricky balance of having enough staff on hand to complete the work as it comes and goes. The ebb and flow of this level of work is something that can’t be easy to stay on top of. But if there is one thing that does seem easy, it’s talking with Gary. I’m pleasantly surprised at how the interview this morning was more than an inspiring talk about the nuts and bolts of managing growth for a high-quality wood products workshop, it was a reminder on the value of meaningful connections with people.

“I like people and that seems to make this kind of work much easier,” Gary says with a chuckle.

Erica Witbeck, Versatile Operations Manager

At Swedish restaurant Broder Nord, right up the road from Versatile headquarters, Erica Witbeck took some time out of her busy day managing schedules to share her story with me. Learning about Erica and what it means to be an “operations manager” was not only interesting, but complex.

Erica started with Arciform — Versatile’s sister company — 4 years ago as their purchasing manager and 2.5 years ago she transitioned into the operations manager position for Versatile.

Erica Describes the Difference Between Two Roles

“As purchasing manager, I tracked inventory, scheduled delivery drivers and managed usage of the paint booth facility. Now I manage people more than product.”

Erica has a unique background, having studied sculpture and printmaking at PNCA in addition to art history and chemistry at PSU.

Her father’s doctoral studies and subsequent university assignments lead the family throughout the Midwest. Erica grew up in a variety of towns from Nebraska to Indiana

Erica’s father is a botanist, and currently works in environmental risk assessment. Her mother recently retired from respiratory care, having previously worked and studied in phlebotomy and emergency response.

It’s clear that Erica’s parents have passed on a level of education that plays out in Erica’s career today. She remembers illustrating cell structures of plants for her father’s textbook as an adolescent and realizes, spontaneously, how this is at work in her career today.

“My father had my brother and me do illustrations for his journals. I learned the vascular systems of plants at a young age,” she remembers and then realizes, “I now understand why wood makes sense to me.”

Erica Witbeck has always loved materials. She talks of the different ways wood behaves when it is kiln dried vs. air dried and how different wood treatments or product applications can behave in a variety of scenarios. Her chemistry studies have helped her out more than once in this arena.

A Typical Day at Versatile Wood Products

I ask her about a typical day at Versatile and she says, “It all starts with the schedule. This can last from around 2 hours to the good part of my day, depending on how many hiccups there are.”

She must check-in with the shop, the drafting and design teams and with the sales people. Each department plays an important role in the production of a job. The life cycle of a job can complete in a matter of weeks, or be years in the making. This wide gamut of timelines and people involved is why “the schedule”—or more commonly know in the construction industry as The Gantt Chart—tends to be the driving force in Erica’s day.

Erica must have her finger on the pulse of each job so that she knows when it is time to call a production meeting, facilitate each department’s needs, or help lay out next steps. It is up to her to determine when it is time to call in more carpenters, or to notice if there is an equipment limitation that may hamper capacity; for example, “Do we need to buy more glass cups to take on that huge window job? How many jobs can start milling simultaneously, and how does that affect pacing?”

“It’s not just hours and bodies, it’s activities,” Erica says when she describes how she thinks about each job. “I don’t want to send anyone home and I also don’t want there to be more work than the shop can handle at one time. It’s like playing chess with the people and pieces on the board.”

I can sense the pride and confidence in Erica’s voice when she talks about the historical aspect to Versatile’s work.

Versatile, A Trusted Go-To That Is Fluent in Custom Historic Buildings

“As a custom wood manufacturing shop, we’re not always going to be the first choice for every job. But with our expertise in historical projects, we’re known as a trusted go-to that is fluent in custom historic buildings.”

When I ask what her favorite part of her job is, she says,

“It’s the pride in making. The thought and intention that goes into creating the products that we do is exciting. I like making something tangible and enduring. We have had doors come to us for restoration or reproduction that have lasted 100 years and now we’re making them to last 100 more. There’s something very satisfying about that.”

Erica tells me a bit about her home life with her two children, ages 6 and 9. She compares them to bear cubs and the garden she’s created from a yard that used to be nothing but dirt. “Gardening brings me peace. I don’t listen to music or podcasts when I garden. That’s my time to hear my surroundings. To connect with my neighbors and to feel the dirt.”

Before we wrap up our “Fika” (coffee-time as the Swedish would call it), Erica says, “There’s a 3rd aspect to my job that’s pretty interesting. It’s a surprising part, that I didn’t realize would be so fun for me.”

It’s Data

“What is it?” I’m curious.

“It’s data.”

Using Versatile’s internal project management program, FMYI, QuickBooks and Excel, Erica works to organize statistics from each job into charts that can be used to analyze and provide meaningful insights.

“We may have jobs that feel incredibly challenging. The emotional story may be that the job was terrible, but if we make room for that challenge, the analysis may reveal something different.”

Erica Witbeck recalls the whale watching center in Depoe Bay Versatile worked on last summer and how it was their first time working with salvaged redwood. “We had our concerns, but it ended up coming out really well. It left us with a high-traffic, historic project to put in our portfolio. Through the data I could see by every metric that the job was a success.”

Finding trends and patterns that lead to solutions brings Erica’s analytical mind to the table. I’m left with the thought that analytical thinking may actually be more prominent in artists than we realize.

Creative Window Solutions, Sleek Designs

From modern buildings that include simple lines to historic churches with grand curves, when it comes to creative window design we will use any opportunity to fire up our imagination.

First Congregational Church Creative Window Solutions

We have been honored to design and install windows for buildings all around Portland, including the First Congregational Church. This was an opportunity to restore and recreate the magnificent tower that once was the tallest structure in Oregon at 185 feet! Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the church is a rare example of Venetian Gothic architecture—few others exist in America.

First Congregational Church Creative Window Solutions

First Congregational Church Creative Window Solutions 2

Albina Yard Window Solutions

Since we wanted to offer a modern appearance to the Albina Yard building, we went with glass walls and flush awning windows. An awning window is much like a casement window. It is mechanically operated with a crank, hinged at the top so that the sash pivots in lieu of swinging.

Unlike the casement, though, an awning window can be open when it’s raining, making it appropriate for this office space.

Albina Yard Window Solutions

 

Evo Building Creative Window Solutions

A fixed window can be found in designs from traditional to contemporary. Allowing sunlight into a room, fixed windows offer a decorative view of the outside in hard to open spaces. This window is a single sash that’s attached to the frame. Fixed windows are also the most energy efficient type. We chose this style for the Evo building, providing custom Douglas fir. The upper floors feature custom windows that were a match to historic photos that the architect had obtained.

Evo Building Creative Window Solutions

Loyal Legion Creative Window Solutions

Keeping classic architecture intact, we went with the popular Eclipse system for folding windows for the Loyal Legion building in Portland. This window provides a large opening with no vertical element to split the opening when the window is open. These windows can be grouped together so that all of the panes of glass are in one plane. This gives a cleaner and more contemporary look to these windows, even when styled with traditional trim and pane patterns.

Loyal Legion Creative Window Solutions

Celebrating the Towne Storage Job

Towne Storage

Towne Storage -208 windows, 455 sashes, 13 building phases (spanning October 2016 through August 2017), 81 deliveries to site, 4,752 pounds of lead sash weights, 5,967 square feet of insulated glass units and 1.2 miles of Simulated Divide Lite (SDL) bar applied and we’re finally ready to celebrate the Towne Storage job!

It was a perfect night for a celebration. As you will see from these pictures, we’re very proud of this work.

Back in March of 2016 we heard the news that the 101 year old, historic Towne Storage building at 17 SE 3rd Avenue would be renovated and expanded to include creative office space. Versatile Wood Products was proud to be the go-to custom window supplier.

Working closely with Bremik Construction, we built and installed 37 transom windows, 8 sash-only units and 163 classic windows. On Thursday August 24th, 2017 Versatile celebrated the completion of the project.

Our evening was filled with laughter, comraderie and cheers for a job well done. Below are photos from start to finish:

The job began in October of 2016. Bremik took out all of the old windows, boarded each window with plywood and commenced masonry repairs on the south side and the unsalvageable openings. As they worked we got started on designing and building. First up was the sash-only repairs the new energy efficient transom windows to match the original style designed by architects, McNaughton & Raymond.

Anna—an Arciform designer—gets some hands-on product cross-training, and Henry is an apprentice. Here they are running profiles on the exterior SDL bars. They did this for a few days yet just made a dent in the total quantity needed. Jeff, our mill foreman, made sure that materials were run in the right order and maximum yield from the lumber was attained.

Sashes are stacked on top of each other while the glue dries. We use a time-honored technique to put the sash together with a classic construction, mortise and tenon joint. Mortise and tenon joinery has been in use for thousands of years and remains the gold standard for high quality joinery.

What’s the difference between a frame and a sash?

Sash is just the square that the glass is attached to. The frame is the jamb that goes in the opening. The jamb includes the sill and is what the sash are seated inside. (More on this in another post!)

Henry, Thor and Matt use deep in frame construction, which the sash will next be fitted into. The process requires teamwork and precision, because a perfect fit for both the sash and the masonry opening depend on accuracy.

Product design is more than drafting. Here our designers Rex Vaccaro and Curtis Nagel, inspect their prototype. They make sure the sashes operate smoothly and all of the elements come together as drafted. They also make sure the frames will work with the openings in a very irregular old building. The design team met regularly with Bremik to strategize about installation needs as site conditions evolved. This required flexibility and responsiveness throughout the course of the project. With the seasoned experts from Bremik as our installation partners meant that each piece fit perfectly when it arrived on site.

And now it’s time to celebrate Towne Storage…

We’re done! Our last load delivery deserves a photo.

A view from the top.

Product designer, Alan Ford says there’s no better spot to sit than an open window.

The future is bright.

For more historic Versatile Wood projects, visit https://versatilewp.com/historic-buildings/

Jeff Vasey, Versatile Wood Products Jack-of-All Trades

Jeff Vasey of Versatile Wood Products
Jeff Vasey of Versatile Wood Products. Behind him sits a 100-year-old “mortiser machine.”

As a train filled with lumber roars by, Versatile Wood Product’s mill foreman, Jeff Vasey, takes a break from his normal duties to share his story with me. Jeff is the longest-working employee for Versatile and started with the sister company, Arciform, in 2001. Beginning as a field carpenter, he worked with a small team of four carpenters who built the original Arciform building in North Portland off Skidmore Street and Interstate Avenue. The business owned by Richard and Anne DeWolf’s quickly outgrew that location.

Train tracks off North Randolph street, Portland, OR.
Train tracks off North Randolph street, Portland, OR. Photo by Christopher Dibble

“Arciform outgrew the original shop right away,” says Vasey. “So they bought a second building in the industrial area off North Randolph Street.”

The Arciform shop space was originally only ¼ of the size it is today, and much of it was rented to other tenants. “AWOL Dance Studio would have aerial dancers hanging from the ceilings in one part of the warehouse,” remembers Vasey.

Arciform Acquires Versatile Wood Products

Then, in 2011, the merge happened. Arciform acquired the 30-year-old custom wood manufacturing company, Versatile Sash and Door (now Versatile Wood Products). The aerial dancers no longer dangled from the ceiling and Vasey played a major role in the expansion of the workshop.

Jeff’s devotion to Arciform and Versatile and his pride in his work becomes clear to me as he talks about developing the space.

“As a field carpenter, you’re sort of a jack-of-all-trades. This came in handy for me as an employee of Arciform and Versatile. I helped wire the new building’s shop-space and created a piping/dust-collection system. In addition I remodeled, built and moved equipment as our space and services expanded,” says Jeff.

Jeff explains the many types of wood Versatile carries. Versatile holds over 40 different species of wood and grades.

Jeff Vasey’s Story

“I’ve always had a mechanical-type of brain,” Jeff reflects. He remembers participating in the soapbox derby when he was 9 and 10 years old, where he won the awards for best constructed as well as best designed car.

Raised in Fargo, North Dakota, Jeff Vasey moved to Portland in 1985. I learn that Jeff is not only a carpenter, an engineer and a mechanic, but he’s also an artist.

Art brought Vasey to his wife, Vicky DeKrey, as well as to Oregon. Vasey and DeKrey met at North Dakota State University, where they both majored in art. At first living with a cousin in Washington, DC, they finally followed their favorite professor, Jerry Vanderline, who was originally from Portland, Oregon. As a result, when Vanderline moved back to Portland, he invited them for a visit.

“We toured over 11,000 miles of land on the way. Oregon was by far the most beautiful of all the places I’d been.”

It’s a familiar story to me. My own parents grew up in the flat lands of Oklahoma. When they took a road trip to the Northwest they were completely wonder-struck by the tall trees and lush greenness of it all. Perhaps it is a place that attracts artists.

However, once in Oregon, Jeff Vasey painted less and less. He got into photography, created electronic music, hiked and backpacked. He also started fixing a friend’s home in exchange for living there. After a while he learned of Arciform from a friend who worked there.

Jeff’s Work Today

As we walk through the shop, Jeff explains to me what different tools do.

“This one is probably the oldest machine in the shop. It must be over a hundred years old and is built like a battleship.” Jeff says. “It drills this groove into the window frame so you can fit these two joints together.”

He holds up two sash frame corners and slides them smoothly into place. It’s called a mortise and tenon joint.

Jeff is no longer a field carpenter because he has grown into the shop manager at Versatile. When I ask Jeff what his favorite thing about his job is, he says it’s the variety of projects they work on. He likes the details of some of the historical-style carpentry work. He fondly reflects on his days as a field carpenter.

“I miss getting to see the end result of my work as much as I did when I was working in the field. I loved getting to work directly with Anne and Richard on projects, because having the designer or architect so accessible while working on a project is a treat. It’s a collaborative process here.”

One of Vasey’s favorite woods is this quarter-sawn white oak. He holds it to the light for us to see it shimmer.

I learn that Jeff Vasey is known as the resident wood expert at Versatile. Asking him what his favorite type of wood is, he shakes his head and says, “No, I couldn’t choose just one.”

by Snow Blackwood, Creative Director of SnowBDesigns
Photos by Christopher Dibble Photography