Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it? (David Wilkerson speaking) The three current partners arrived on the scene in 1994, but the firm was established in 1968. We do a range of commercial, medical, civic and residential projects. The firm was established as Afseth, Jacobs & Schmitz, Architects. Ken joined the firm in 1994 and became a partner in 1999. Jim and I became partners in 2005.
Business: Ogden Roemer Wilkerson Architecture
Owner: David Wilkerson, Ken Ogden and Jim Roemer
Address: 2950 E. Barnett Road, Medford
Facebook: ORW Architecture
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I moved here in 2002 from New York City; I lived on Long Island. Ken moved here from Los Angeles in 1994, and Jim moved here from San Diego in 1994. Having that range of exposure to larger projects and areas sets us apart on the technical side.
What inspired you to go into this line of work? From the time I was 5 years old, playing with Lincoln Logs, all I've ever wanted to do was be an architect. For Ken, he started off as an art major and made the transition when he was at Southern California Institute of Architecture. Jim has always had a strong connection to the outside world and is an avid outdoorsman and has always been a nuts-and-bolts guy of how things go together.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? We're passionate about what we do and practicing architecture, so we always want to be working on a project rather than marketing the business. We tend to spend all of our time doing that and not the more logistical issues of growing the business. The one thing we'd do differently is to make more of an effort to let people know what we do. Like most architects, we assume our work speaks for itself. So we routinely hear, 'Oh, I didn't know you did commercial projects,' or, 'Oh, I didn't know you did small residential work.' To be honest, a lot of people think we're from out of the area. We've tried to be very subtle how we marketed ourselves, and it's led to confusion of who we are and what we do. We do boatloads of work in community involvement and have done pro bono design services for CASA, Kids Unlimited, Ashland Family YMCA and ACCESS.
What's the toughest business decision you've made? The toughest, but absolutely one we don't regret, was during 2008. We made every effort not to downsize and not let anyone go. During the past five years, we've kept our staff intact and are actually growing now. Architecture firms up and down the I-5 corridor were laying off people and closing their doors. We knew we wanted everyone on our staff to be here when the economy rebounded so we could have our team intact. These people are like family. We all have families and we understand the hardship it would have been.
Who are your competitors? We're in an unusual niche in this market. We compete both against large Portland and Seattle firms for commercial and governmental projects and compete against smaller sole-proprietor companies for other projects. We really respect Doug Snider locally, and we've teamed up with and competed against ZGF in Portland.
What are your goals? I want to see us successfully straddling this place where we are in the valley. Clients need to realize they don't need to go out of town for quality architectural services on larger projects. Clients with smaller projects would see we are not too large to handle those projects, as well. Something I've thought about is whether we are trying to maintain a business model that's not sustainable by having a large firm in a small area. Our clients want the depth of staff and expertise we offer. We had a client who was working with a sole practitioner who was not able to sort out technical aspects of code, and when he went on vacation, the client was not able to reach him. We have people who specialize on code issues. Our territory is the state of Jefferson. We do projects from the coast to Eastern Oregon. We're registered in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California and Hawaii. We have clients we work for in the valley who have part of their business in Hawaii.
What training or education did you need? We all had to go to architecture school and pass licensing. We have to be licensed in every state we practice in. If we're doing medical projects in Hawaii, it may be Jim. If one of Ken's clients is doing projects in Nevada, he'd be licensed there. In addition to initial licensing, we have to maintain 18 hours of continuing education every year, as part of our charge to maintain the health, safety and welfare of the public. Architects are licensed not so the buildings will be beautiful, but for safety.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Follow your dream. Hire quality people because you're only has as good as the talent you have. For us in a service industry, it's not about inventory or parts or mechanized process; all of our projects are unique. What we offer is brainpower and solutions to problems.
To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email email@example.com