Construction firm builds on 75 years

Ability to adapt has kept the former tile company moving in right direction.

December 26, 2014
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Wolverine Building Group
Wolverine earned the ABC Safety Award this year. Accepting the honor are, from left, Mike Kelly, Ted Bergin and Dick VanderZyden. Courtesy Wolverine Building Group

In 1939, Peter Bouwman founded a tile store called Wolverine Tile Co.

Seventy-five years later, his little store has become a construction/development force to be reckoned with in Grand Rapids.

This year, Bouwman’s company, now grown to the full-service entity that is Wolverine Building Group, celebrated its 75th birthday. The milestone comes during a year that was especially good for the Grand Rapids-based firm, which offers design-build, construction and general contracting services. Wolverine, which saw its best sales year ever, capped off the year by being awarded the 2014 Safety Award of Excellence from ABC of West Michigan.

“It is a bit mind-boggling when you think where this company came from and where it is today,” said Michael Kelly, president of Wolverine.

“There have been many highs and lows in the marketplace over the past 75 years, and to have been able to weather all those economic storms certainly says a lot about the fabric of this company.”

Wolverine Building Group, which has more than 100 employees, moved away from its focus on tile and expanded in general contracting, designing and building during the 1950s. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the company earned a reputation as the largest Butler Manufacturing pre-engineered builder in the nation.

The firm, which focuses on the four market segments of industrial/manufacturing, health care, multi-family housing and retail, also constructed many facilities on Grand Rapids’ south side, as well as major city landmarks such as Fifth Third Ballpark, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, River House Condominiums, Hauenstein Neuroscience Center and Meijer Heart Center. In 2009, Wolverine acquired Houseman Construction Co., allowing its team to gain more local and national clients.

Over the years, it’s been Wolverine’s ability to adapt that allowed the company to grow and prosper, Kelly said.

“You need to be able to look out three, five and 10 years and predict where construction trends are going to be and market to those trends before they become ‘hot.’ If you wait until a sector of the marketplace is ‘hot’ and then market to it, you have missed out — it’s too late.

“For instance, we began marketing to the health care field long before that segment of construction took off. More recently, we marketed to apartment and student housing starting six years ago, and now that is the ‘hot’ market. I guess it takes a little vision and a lot of luck.”

As for what’s next, Kelly said the plans are to keep Wolverine busy and keep adapting.

“Hopefully, (we’ll have) another 75 successful years of building iconic buildings in Michigan,” he said. “We hope our future market trend predictions will be as accurate as we have been for the past 75 years.”

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