'It's just a great fit' for merging companies Houseamn, Wolverine

May 18, 2009
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Even though the two companies have a total of 81 years of experience, 2009 may prove to be the year that stands out for each of them.

The Houseman Construction Co. recently merged with the Wolverine Building Group, and Houseman will serve as the anchor for Wolverine’s pursuit of out-of-state business.

“Both companies complement each other so well, in that Wolverine has been around for 70 years and has an outstanding reputation in Michigan. Houseman Construction has been around 11 years and we’ve been gravitating outside of Michigan, focusing on national and regional customers,” said Michael Houseman, recently named president of Wolverine North America.

Gordon Food Service, McDonald’s, Kroger and the Yum restaurants, which include Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, are a handful of the national and regional clients that Houseman Construction will now slide under the Wolverine NA umbrella — and for a good reason.

“When you start working for national, publicly traded companies, everything has to be bonded. But because we’ve only been around 11 years and because of the size of our company, we’re limited on what we can go after, as my bonding capacity is limited,” said Houseman, who has folded his independent construction company and brought those 30 employees with him to Wolverine NA.

Wolverine Building Group is large enough to offer the cap space Houseman needs to expand those areas of business. Wolverine Construction Management, Wolverine Building Inc., Fryling Construction Co. and Wolverine NA, which was started in 2005 as the out-of-state arm of the company, are all under the big tent known as Wolverine Building Group.

Wolverine has managed and built some of the more prominent projects in the market, most recently the River House Condominiums downtown and the Saint Mary’s Hauenstein Neurosciences Center on Jefferson Avenue SE. Wolverine employs about 100 and is co-owned by Mike Kelly and Richard VanderZyden.

“Mike, Dick and I started talking back in December and it was just a great fit. We work in a construction market segment different from what they are traditionally in. They’ve certainly built some grocery stores and gas stations, but it wasn’t their focus. They’re great at industrial, office, multi-family residential and the hospital market,” said Houseman.

“We bring fast-food restaurants, retail, grocery, banks and fueling centers. This year alone we’ll bid nationally probably 60 fueling centers for various customers. That doesn’t mean we’ll get all of them, but we’ll get our share. We now have a capacity to market to more national publicly traded companies in the restaurant, fueling center and grocery store industries,” he added.

Over the past 11 years, Houseman Construction has developed its national presence by building in 11 states. The firm opened an office in Phoenix two years ago to expand its work in Arizona. That office is now part of Wolverine NA, as is Jim Reyers — Houseman’s point man at his previous company and now vice president of Wolverine NA.

But in addition to the national success that Houseman Construction has had in the retail market, the company has also made in-roads in the institutional market. Houseman built the Calder Art Center on the Grand Valley State University campus in Allendale and the much-praised downtown home of the Grand Rapids Ballet Company at 341 Ellsworth SW.

Houseman Construction also partnered with Prime Development Co., headed by Marcel Burgler, and Thomas O’Hare to build the Studio One Apartments at 4501 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. The five-story, 155,000-square-foot, mixed-use building opened last year to rave reviews and garnered a few awards in the process.

Houseman, Burgler and O’Hare planned to develop another project on a site near Studio One, but have delayed going forward with it until the economy improves and banks begin investing in real estate again. Houseman told the Business Journal that his new position will allow him to work with Burgler and O’Hare.

The merger became official a few weeks ago and the Houseman crew is leaving its Walker office to join Wolverine at its headquarters in Kentwood. And joining Wolverine NA, the out-of-state division, doesn’t mean Houseman won’t be doing projects in the state.

Houseman said he is building a Family Fare store for Spartan Foods in Kentwood and another grocery for Kroger in Dearborn. Although not in the local market, Kroger is one of the largest grocers nationwide, operating under a dozen different flags. Houseman said he can build for Kroger in eight states and was putting up two stores in Arizona.

“When you look at gas stations, fast-food restaurants, grocery stores and retail, it doesn’t seem like a wide range, but on a national basis we’ve got over 200 customers that we’ve now been in contact with and been put on a majority of those bid lists,” said Houseman.

“We are now licensed in 20 states and we are basically bidding work from Virginia and North Carolina all the way over to California. Now with Wolverine, we’re able to expand that, and that has been their desire, too — to find a way to expand their presence, as well. That’s why it complements us.”

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