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Smooth Transition Keeps Wilcox Construction on Top of the Wave

They’ve built so many Starbucks stores that even the company owners can’t agree on the exact amount. One thing’s for sure it’s more than 500. And if you add renovation projects the number of Starbucks stores that Wilcox Construction has been involved with is in the thousands.

Wilcox Construction continues to grow its portfolio of clients after a smooth ownership transition a year ago. Then Bob Wilcox sold the company to long-time employees Matt Lessard Trent Holobaugh and Paul Carter.

What made the transition work so well? Wilcox says he’s always lived by the adage “Always hire people smarter than you and never hire someone you wouldn’t want to have a beer with.”width=400

“You have to have the right guys and Matt Trent and Paul are first class” Wilcox says. “They allowed me to feel comfortable letting go. They are at an age when they are full of energy. I have zero regrets.”

From their perspective the new owners say Wilcox prepared them well. “The idea for an ownership transition evolved gradually” says Lessard. “Bob started turning the reins over to us a number of years ago allowing us to grow into it.”

Holobaugh notes that it’s unusual for people their age – all three are 40 – to take over such a successful firm. “We’re pretty lucky to have the opportunity” Holobaugh says. “But clients know that we’re in it for the long haul.”

Al Wilcox Bob’s father founded the firm in 1963. Jim Lessard Matt’s father joined the firm in 1969. Bob and Jim bought into the company and took it over entirely when Al retired in 1986. Sadly Al passed away July 13 (click here to read more about Al’s adventurous life). When the elder Lessard retired in 2005 Matt became part owner with Bob.

In the 1990s Bob Wilcox altered the company’s portfolio from public to private work.

“It’s all about relationships and Bob developed so many of them” says Carter. “He set an example for us to keep clients happy be honest and fair and as inexpensive as possible.”

So successfully has the firm developed relationships with companies and individuals that a parlor game could be made of connecting the dots among the Wilcox Construction client list…like the Top Foods-Starbucks-Gateway continuum.

“We were fortunate to be working for the Haggen family remodeling their Top Food stores” says Wilcox. “Then in 1993 a young Starbucks company wanted to put an outlet in one of those stores. Starbucks had a contractor in mind but the Haggen family persuaded them to use us to build the in-store Starbucks.”

Starbucks was impressed with the work and hired Wilcox Construction again. And again…ultimately reaching 500+ stores built in the region. Starbucks has sent Wilcox personnel to such far flung locales as Hong Kong Kuwait the Philippines Israel and Switzerland to train international contractors on Starbucks’ building standards.

Meanwhile a construction manager who worked for Starbucks went to work for Gateway Computers. Long story short Wilcox built 21 Gateway stores.

About 90 percent of Wilcox Construction’s client list comes from current or past client referrals and the firm seems to have the uncanny ability to be on top of “the next big thing.” Starbucks and Gateway are examples of Wilcox clients that hit the popular culture in a major way but there are others. Remember when Krispy Kreme Doughnuts came out West with great fanfare? Wilcox built all their Washington Oregon and Hawaii restaurants. The fitness craze? Wilcox has built dozens of gyms spas and health clubs.

Recently cupcakes have been riding a wave of popularity and not surprisingly Wilcox Construction built Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle and Bellevue. Wilcox recently helped a baker establish a Cake Envy outlet. How did she find Wilcox? Naturally she used to work for Trophy Cupcakes!

Wilcox Construction is a long-time AGC member. Matt Lessard was awarded an AGC Education Foundation scholarship when he attended WSU’s construction management program and this year served on the Foundation’s panel that interviewed and selected the 2011 scholarship recipients. Bob Wilcox has been endorsed by AGC and BUILD PAC in his run for Edmonds City Council (click here for previous article on Bob’s campaign).

Photo: Trent Holobaugh Paul Carter and Matt Lessard outside Wilcox’s office in downtown Edmonds.

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