Lakewood Construction of Holland, Michigan takes immense pride in the quality of its work, the abilities of its employees, and the fact that the firm has stayed true to its roots. Located next to Lake Michigan, the company primarily serves the Western Michigan market.
“We are a community-based builder,” says Nick Nykerk, Vice President of Lakewood Construction. “Ninety percent of our clients are within 30 minutes of our door. That’s really been who we are since our [founding]. We focus on our community and work with clients who are nearby. It pays dividends because we’re not traveling; our guys who are in the field are home every night and not having crazy commutes. So we can have a good work-life balance and keep our people energized and excited and working in the places they live,” he explains.
“That’s really the difference between us and a lot of contractors,” he says. “When they grow, they have to stretch out their geographical area. We’ve been really focused on working with our clients here and treating them well.”
Lakewood’s main services include general contracting, design/build, real estate development, service work (which includes repairs, fixing roofs, maintenance, and more) and construction management. Of these, “construction management and design/build is probably 90 percent of our work,” says Nykerk.
The company has handled projects for a wide range of clients in the commercial, industrial, religious, healthcare, municipal and education sectors, among others. Over the past few years, the “education and industrial markets… have made up a majority of our revenue. Recently, the industrial market has been very strong for us, so that’s growing,” says Nykerk.
Lakewood’s construction management services are very far-ranging. Many industrial clients, for example, seek advice on purchasing land for building projects, a request Lakewood is happy to fulfill. “As part of our real estate development service, we have a licensed realtor on staff that understands the nuances of making offers and doing the due diligence. We can expedite [the property buying] process, simplify it for our clients.”
Lakewood was established in 1971 as a general contracting firm, and since its founding, the company has prospered. “Our revenues over the course of our history have ranged from the low single digits as far as millions of dollars a year up to $50 million a year. We typically are right around the $30 million a year benchmark,” states Nykerk.
As the company nears its 50th anniversary, Nykerk attributes Lakewood’s success to quality workmanship and a dedication to customer relations. “Everything we do really goes back to relationships. We want every client, new or existing, to leave with a great feeling as far as the job bid and how we ran the project. This builds trust with the client. Whether through referrals or repeat business, we continue to build a strong customer base and solidify our reputation as one of the best builders in the area,” he explains.
Across North America, companies in the construction sector are facing a looming shortage of skilled tradespeople. As the Baby Boom generation approaches retirement age, young people are not flocking to take jobs in the skilled trades sector. But Lakewood Construction is dealing with this issue head on. Lakewood runs programs to raise awareness among students about the benefits of being a skilled tradesperson. Salaries are high, for a start, and such positions are much in demand. Lakewood helped organize a “construction boot camp” in which 100 students went to a job site and tried their hand at cutting drywall, setting glass and other tasks.
The company has also asked the skilled workers in its own frontline construction staff to make recommendations for potential new hires. “We’re looking for referrals of people they know, who have a work ethic, who have the right values. We teach new workers the skills to be successful. [They can] mentor with our senior guys on the job,” says Nykerk.
At present, Lakewood has 39 employees, up from 36 at this time last year.
Lakewood wants new employees with “attitude and willingness to work. People who are responsible and accountable: showing up, working, doing what you say you’re going to do. Really basic things as far as how someone is wired. Getting the right person is more important than getting the smartest person. We can teach people our system, how we do things,” states Nykerk.
He describes a corporate culture built on hard work, respect, and relationships. Lakewood treats its staff well and expects them to work as a team. The company also values enthusiasm, integrity and safety. Indeed, given the nature of Lakewood’s work, safety is paramount.
“Our safety culture starts when each individual is hired. We tell employees that ultimately, personal responsibility is on them for safety. That said, Lakewood will not spare any resources in getting [employees] anything they need to perform within the safety standards or above and beyond. Building on that, our supervisors do formal safety walks every other week with a report. Intermittently, we have a safety director who does job-site visits every other week to be a second set of eyes,” says Nykerk.
The company also engages third-party safety consultants, particularly for projects that are complex or large in scale. Lakewood has also partnered with MIOSHA (the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to raise safety awareness through meetings, site visits and training. Lakewood’s field supervisors and project managers have MIOSHA certification, and the company’s ultimate goal is to have zero accidents, injuries or even near-misses on work sites.
Lakewood also rigorously maintains high quality standards. “Our field supervisors manage our quality program. In this region, people take a lot of pride in their work. Our site supervisors have daily interactions [with employees]… The majority of our supervisors have come up through the trades so they understand how to build and different aspects of construction. They can really pinpoint quality issues because they understand how all the components come together,” explains Nykerk.
Just as Lakewood expects high standards from employees, the firm wants subcontractors who are qualified and professional team players with a strong sense of responsibility. “What we look for in our subcontractor base is accountability… where they do what they say they’re going to do,” states Nykerk.
To promote the company, Lakewood maintains a comprehensive website and social media presence, with profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn. The company supports several non-profits in its community, participates in career fairs, and has membership in industry associations (Lakewood belongs to the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce and the Western Michigan chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors).
As to its work, Lakewood has earned a number of industry accolades. For the past several years, the firm has been included on a list of West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For, compiled by the Michigan Business and Professional Association. Being on this list “is something we’re proud of. It demonstrates that our employees have the professional ability to deliver at a high level and that the company values the employees,” states Nykerk.
Lakewood doesn’t want to get complacent, however, and has embraced a spirit of continuous improvement.
The Lakewood website details several noteworthy projects the company has taken on. In particular, Nykerk cites a “remodel for the local Chamber of Commerce that really fit the identity of what Lakewood is as far as a community-based builder… We partnered with a local architecture firm to create what they called robust renovation. Everything was worn out but the studs and foundation. We put it all back together, including a 30 foot by 12 foot skylight that stretched from one end of the building to another. That project was special. [We got to] showcase our values and craftsmanship and professionalism with a client that echoed the things that are important to us.”
The company isn’t planning on introducing any radically new services over the next few years. That said, Nykerk is excited by the prospect of using technology to augment Lakewood’s existing services. “We’re going to stick with our core business model and focus on continual improvement. Technology is a piece of that and how that’s going to impact our industry. We’re on the front edge of some really cool stuff as far as wearable technology, for safety and production tracking. There are also drones [for surveying]. That technology is in its infancy now. Where it’s going to take us is going to be quite a ride,” he states.
Nykerk also hopes that the increasing use of technology in construction will entice tech-savvy young people to enter the field. The company’s outreach efforts to students, for example, emphasize the use of iPads in the field, project management software, cloud-based computing, drones, et cetera.
As for the future, Nykerk remains focused on his local community: “We don’t have growth goals as far as geographic areas are concerned,” he shares. “We want to continue to have a little steady growth here in our market. We’re just as focused on our culture and our employees being satisfied and engaged at work—having that work-life balance. [We want to] maximize our community impact and remain focused on executing on a high level. Any sort of growth opportunities will present themselves organically through just being the best at what we do every day,” he states.