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The Spirit of the Maker: Versteel’s Scott Schwinghammer

Versteel is a manufacturer of tables, ranging from training tables for education and conference centers, to tables with tilting tops or folding legs for compact storage, to tables that can be linked together in grouped configurations. Its success with tables was followed by seating lines starting with the Companion chair line in 1996. Seating introductions continue to be paired with new tables based on demands from clients.

Before Versteel was a furniture manufacturer, its predecessor company, Ditto Sales, was a supplier of high-quality components to furniture manufacturers for nearly 60 years, based in Jasper, Indiana, where fine contract furniture is designed and produced.

Eileen McMorrow, editor-in-chief, had a meandering chat with Scott Schwinghammer, president of Versteel.

When Versteel had just two product lines, did you envision what your contract furniture company could become 30 years ago?

Scott: Not at all! In fact, sometimes, I have to take a minute and look back to realize how far we’ve come. When I started my career nearly 50 years ago—when my father was a part of the business—I learned the importance of becoming a solution provider, which is reflected in my management style and has ultimately become a large part of the Versteel brand today.

Versteel has a reputation for design-inspired furniture. Who or what are your favorite design influences?

Scott: We have always looked to Europe for inspiration and frequently attend shows, including this year’s Salone del Mobile. We also collaborate with a talented pool of designers whose inspirations vary and are reflected in their concepts—including Roberto Lucci, who recently designed two of our new products launching at this year’s NeoCon.

NeoCon 2019 is your 31st. What will Versteel introduce?

Scott: We’re launching four table lines, one seating line, and lighting accessories for the Maker Project. Here’s a sneak peek of two of the table lines, Sky and Thea: two sleekly designed tables with high-functioning features to help meet every user’s productivity needs.

Sky adjustable-height tables from Versteel permit easy transition with the touch of a single paddle offering flexibility and allowing the table to be easily adjusted to the user’s desired height, tilted, relocated and nested—transforming it into a stand-up work surface, a white board, a privacy screen or a lectern.

Versteel owns a reputation for accommodating custom specs. Has this created repeat customers who want custom solutions?

Scott: We’ve developed an incredible customer base built on a foundation of trust and reliability, especially when it comes to custom pieces—if it can be done, we will do it. We consistently provide high-quality, durable solutions; however, we continue to push ourselves, constantly challenging our production team and reps to think one step ahead and to ask the next question. We solve one question with a great product, and then ask, “What’s the next question?”

Facilities Managers know they will see Versteel in its NeoCon showroom 1093 and as a faithful exhibitor at IFMA’s World Workplace. How have FMs been integral to your success?

Scott: Facility managers are the true end client, so our focus is to make sure we listen to their needs and collaborate with them to provide a solution. This has proven to be very successful not only for Versteel but more importantly for the facility manager. They are truly being heard by a vertically integrated manufacturer that has the capabilities to meet their specific requirements.

McMorrow reached Terri Smith-Wright, assistant director of Capital Projects for University Residence, Purdue University, who shared how Versteel has met her project needs and why she is a repeat customer for 25+ years.

As a university interior designer, it’s just as important to me that they solve the aesthetic needs with a product that students will like and won’t create maintenance issues for my co-workers. Our buildings tend towards a more “young-corporate” aesthetic than typical “higher-ed” aesthetic. Versteel helps me achieve that with a product that can be as fun as I need and as reliable as my co-workers need. It has been a treat to use the products as they continue to evolve the aesthetics.

They are nimble. They can respond without making me (the customer) jump through a bunch of hoops to accomplish something, which probably means they are doing so on their end.  Whether it is solving an unusual need or providing help on a product that hasn’t performed quite the way we hoped, they help me get my work done without bogging me down.”

Versteel is my top “go-to” table manufacturer and one of my top “go-to” for seating. That’s because Versteel has always been more than a provider of a product. Versteel has always been a partner in the product’s life with us.

Deborah Carruth, Project Manager II FF&E, University of Texas System, echoed Smith-Wright’s sentiments:

Working with Versteel is easy. They are by far the most creative, cooperative and collaborative manufacturer I have encountered in my 30+ years in the industry. I have challenged them on more than one occasion, and they have always met the challenge. When I work with Versteel, I feel valued and appreciated. Based on the responses and access I have to personnel, you would think I’m their only client.

Is there a product that caught the market’s imagination and surprised you and the Versteel team?

Scott: Ollie, in a very basic form, originated as a prop only at a NeoCon show several years ago. Visitors to our showroom kept asking what this “new product” was and when could they order it. We obviously decided to fully engineer it and added Ollie to our product offering immediately. A small but mighty seating solution, Ollie piqued excitement among our clientele with its hidden storage element, as well as, the hidden casters and vast array of fabric options.

How have your leadership roles in BIFMA, the trade association for business and institutional furniture manufacturers, contributed to how you managed Versteel?

Scott: It didn’t necessarily affect my management style, however, during my time on the board, I developed a deep understanding of the association’s LEVEL certification in all factions, which is—and always has been—incredibly important to our team and is seen in every one of our products, all of which are BIFMA LEVEL® 2 certified.

What is your level of involvement with BIFMA now?

Scott: Though I am not currently on the board, we’re thrilled to have Versteel’s Director of Engineering, Jerry Nichols, as chairman of the Desk/Table Standards Subcommittee – part of the association’s Engineering Standards Committee, where he has served for a number of years.

Thea, a table designed for Versteel by Roberto Lucci, is minimalistic and includes a circular cap with two USB ports. Thea may be specified in round, square or rectangle in varying sizes, and the top is available in laminate, veneer or Corian.

You serve as a Director of The Common Thread for the Cure, a breast cancer fundraising cause that supports women with financial aid while battling breast cancer. As the charity nears 20 years, what do you wish more people know about the charity?

Scott: The Common Thread for the Cure Foundation is such a remarkable aspect of the charity. Really, I would want for people to know the incredible ways in which the foundation can help ease the burden of those dealing with breast cancer, from educating and assisting people affected by breast cancer within the design and furnishings industry to offering financial assistance.

The Common Thread for the Cure is in need of annual financial commitments from corporations, which will allow the foundation to grow and help increase the number of grants that it can provide. There is also a need to spread the word about how this organization can help individuals and their families in the industry who have breast cancer.

How involved is Versteel with its current campaign?

Scott: This year, I am serving as the interim chairperson of the foundation. Pam Mathias, Versteel’s Vice President of Customer Relations & Key Accounts, is also serving on the board. Our company has two product lines that contribute proceeds to the foundation — a percentage of the sales of Chela and Quanta HD chairs are donated to help support The Common Thread for the Cure.

Versteel also supports foundation events that happen throughout the year, such as the annual golf tournament and “Shop, Dine, Design” in Waco, Texas.

Any regrets? Anything you would have done differently?

Scott: No regrets! It’s been a great ride, which has been made possible by friends and family as well as the Versteel family. I feel truly blessed!