Smart cases for smartphones

Smart cases for smartphones

1011_SmartAccessories_01Ken Tomita has a mantra he repeats as he moves from the woodworking area to the design floor of his rapidly growing company, Grove: “We build everything here.”

Not everything, of course — just everything Grove sells. Grove has been manufacturing in Portland for just over a year, and already the business has grown to 21 young employees buzzing about with great creative freedom at a funky space in the Central Eastside. Tomita and co-founder Joe Mansfield have created jobs at a time when few companies are hiring, and they have done so with no business training, no loans or grants and no outsourced low-wage contract workers building their products in China. 
One key to their early success lies in what they make: smooth, artful bamboo cases for iPhones and iPads. The other key has to do with how they make what they make.

Tomita, a 33-year-old former furniture maker, keeps his office in the ground floor production area, where employees are operating computer-programmed woodworking machines in one room and hand-sanding bamboo in another. The only farmed-out task involves oiling the products by hand: Tomita’s mother does that at home.

Tomita speaks so quietly he is difficult to hear over the din, but everything he says exudes confidence. “This product is impossible to outsource. It can’t be done.”

Up five flights of stairs is Mansfield’s domain, with a view of the Portland skyline and nice, cool air from the 800-pound fan Mansfield had craned onto the roof above. Ceiling speakers pipe in music while workers do their stuff using computers, a laser engraving device and an honest-to-goodness sewing machine.