Walen Construction gets swole after Russell aquisition
The three owners of Walen Construction, David Wales, Bob Lanphere Jr. and Tyler Mildren, have been keen to expand their business for a while. Based near the Fred Meyer along Interstate 5 in Wilsonville, the firm has built a reputation for medium-sized commercial projects. Walen specializes in car dealerships, dental offices, wineries and food processing plants, but the owners were hungry for more.
When the chance arose to acquire another locally established firm they leaped at it. On Jan. 1, Walen Construction completed its takeover of Tualatin-based Russell Construction.
Russell Construction's founder, Norman Russell, plans to retire and will stay on for one year to help with the transition period, Mildren said. Mildren and David Wales will be managing on a day-to-day basis.
"Norman wanted to trust that we would take care of his employees that have been with him for some 30 years," Mildren told Pamplin Media Group. "They do industrial work, they do warehouses, retail (and) recreational, so it continues to run in our portfolio as far as different market sectors."
9740 S.W. Wilsonvillle Road, Suite 230
With 14 years in the same industry they have only competed on a job once.
"We work in the same sectors, but with completely different contacts in each sector," Mildren said. "That's what made it so enticing to us. It will continue to allow us to expand."
Walen, which has 19 employees, will be taking on 52 more. "We have said to them over and over again; nobody will lose their jobs whatsoever during this acquisition and take over. Everyone stays employed with their benefits package."
Walen is currently just finishing a Chrysler Jeep Dodge facility in Gladstone. Each car company has its own rules and preferences for how their dealerships should be constructed. Brands have their national architect with a template, and then employ local architects to manage the permits and tweak the local design.
"A Chrysler is much different than an Audi and a Porsche and Mercedes. For us, you start building a niche because you understand what the brand is going to require," Mildren said. "Each light fixture is different, so it's a completely different beast."
Car dealerships need showrooms, offices, workshops and other facilities, Mildren said. "So, you have a bunch of different market sectors that are built into a car dealership."
The 2020 pandemic has been a time for huge automobile sales, and dealers are keen to get customers inside and signing the paperwork. It's not uncommon for a dealership to open before it is finished being built.
"Sometimes they say, 'Hey, we want our showroom done first.' We'll start working on that to get them occupancy."
In the old days, the waiting area would just have hot coffee and chairs, Mildren said. "Now there's a cable TV, a coffee bar, a vending machine, snacks, there's water, there's music playing… They want all kinds of glass walls everywhere, and ceramic tile, and nice lighting. It's creating the experience that when you walk in, you want to stay there and you want to see the new cars."
Wineries are similar. Creating a welcoming experience leads to more sales, Mildren said.
"When you go to a winery, you think, 'If I'm going to stay there for three to four hours, I would want to have different views. I want to be able to experience everything.'"
Mildren said he likes owners who are open to new ideas.
"Part of our job as a contractor is to ask questions and make sure that the owners know exactly what they're buying. I'm lucky that my dad was a commercial architect. I kind of have the artsy-fartsy mindset and it allows me to truly try to look at it from the architectural side and throw out ideas."
Mildren often offers clients advice on window transitions, types of wood, different light fixtures and transitions from concrete to ceramic tile. He tries to help with everything from carpet backing to grout.
"At the end of the day, every owner needs to be able to make the project profitable for them. So, part of our job is balancing this to make sure that they can build the building that is the most efficient."
The company's new scale should work well with tackling different-sized jobs, but no matter how different the work, Mildren says his company has one unifying philosophy.
"We don't treat a 1,500-square-foot office remodel differently than we would a 50,000-square-foot car dealership or 200,000-square-foot industrial building," he said. "Somebody trusted us to build their facility, so we take that very personally and we have a lot of respect for what they are trying to accomplish."
For technology, they use BlueBeam's Building Connected to send bids to subs, Timberline and ViewPoint for project management and financials.
The old school skills are still crucial.
"But for us, it's really picking up a phone and calling somebody. They want to hear your voice. They want to hear your passion. They want to hear what you're thinking and not just in an email."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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