By Erik Cassano
Clients have a plethora of construction companies to choose from, and Aaron Jonker and Curt Mulder are highly aware that all are just a phone call or a click away. In that crowded space, they understand that to succeed, their company, Wolverine Building Group, must go beyond providing walls, floors, and ceilings—and instead provide solutions.
“Our ability to look at projects and customers’ dreams differently sets us apart from our competition,” says Mulder.
Jonker and Mulder have followed that philosophy since purchasing the Grand Rapids-based construction company in 2018. The pair serve as co-presidents, building on their experience at the company.
“We worked here for a long time prior to buying the company,” Jonker says. “I’ve been here 13 years; Curt has been here 21 years. We made the purchase because we were interested in a new challenge and are passionate about providing new opportunities for the people who work here.”
Wolverine is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and Jonker and Mulder are the fifth ownership group.
“Each time, it was sold to a non-related party,” Mulder says. “It was never passed down in a family, which is a rarity for an 80-year-old company in the construction industry. But even though we aren’t a family company in the traditional sense, we thrive on the fact that we have a longstanding reputation in the community, and we work to build and maintain strong relationships, both within the business and with our clients.”
Those relationships have paid off in referrals and through repeat customers drawn by the company’s emphasis on creating longstanding relationships, listening to clients, and thinking of new ways to solve their bricks-and-mortar problems.
“We don’t do one-off projects,” Jonker says. “We are more relationship driven and like to have a good understanding of our clients and their businesses.”
Mulder says Wolverine brings creativity and ideas that others don’t.
"Clients are quick to recognize the value we add and are quick to come back or refer us to others,” he says.
Envisioning what's possible
Wolverine primarily serves the multi-family housing and industrial construction markets with large-scale projects with design and construction requirements unique to each client.
As a result, Wolverine develops strong relationships with clients in the earliest phases of the design process, saying the earlier Wolverine is involved, the more effectively it can build client-focused, project-focused solutions.
“When we’re engaged in the design process from the start, we can help identify ways to make the process more efficient,” Jonker says.
Mulder points to a recent project in which a kayak manufacturer had virtually no warehouse space prior to a recent Wolverine project.
“They had 2,500 trailers scattered throughout the county, storing kayaks,” Mulder says. “We worked with them and a developer to construct a building to cut down on their need for trailer storage. Due to the size of the building, it was a several-year process that involved looking at 10 different sites. That’s the level to which we get involved, finding the right solution for each client.”
A culture of caring
The ability to maintain a solution-driven mindset is rooted in a company’s culture, and that starts with people, from the top levels of leadership to front-line employees.
“Finding people is a challenge,” Jonker says. “Much as with word-of-mouth advertising among our customers, we’ve hired a lot of people because our people have recommended us.”
Mulder says for Wolverine, it’s about being a great place to work.
“That comes down to creating opportunities,” he says. “People want a purpose in their work that is larger than drawing a paycheck. So we focus on career development and community involvement–doing well while doing good.”
The pair says when they listen to customers and employees, working with them to develop solutions—be it a bigger storage facility or a greater sense of purpose in the work they do—that leads to more opportunities to grow Wolverine.
“Sometimes you take a risk, but you find people who are enthusiastic about that challenge,” Mulder says. “You cultivate that mindset. Our predecessors did that with us, and now we want to do the same thing with the people who look to us.”
A foundational relationship
Huntington and Wolverine have given a lot to each other since they started working together.
“We’ve worked with them for five or six years,” says Jonker. “We’ve assisted them with the renovation of a regional headquarters building in Grand Rapids, and they’ve provided us with financial management services.”
Construction is a high cash-flow business, making money management critical. It also makes security a priority.
“In addition to processing everything that comes in and goes out of our business, Huntington has done a great job providing us with fraud mitigation tools, which is great for us, due to the number of transactions,” Mulder says.
In much the same way Wolverine strives to work closely with clients, Huntington does the same with its customers to find workable financial solutions.
“That’s why we work so well together,” Mulder says. “Their local team has been great as far as getting to know our business. They ask a lot of questions. As a business, you can’t ask for more than that from your bank.”
For more information, visit wolvgroup.com