Westwind in Grand Haven has adjusted its sails much during the past 40 years, shortening them against the Great Recession and now tacking with the boom times in all sectors of construction.
But company founder Greg Oleszczuk says that what has kept the ship steady through fair and foul weather is a simple philosophy: “We offer our clients the best ideas on building.”
“We’re not here to be the cheapest — we’re here to be the best value,” says Oleszczuk, who credits his son, Peter, with re-emphasizing the strategy five years ago that has boosted the number of full-time employees from 7 to 30. “We ask our clients good questions that keep us all away from the bane of the construction industry — change orders.”
Judging from the growth of Westwind’s business, clients appreciate the upfront questions from experienced construction managers who want to build projects the right way from the start. “When I go into a project, I ask the clients: Tell me, where you see yourself in 5 years or 10 years,” Greg says. “Don’t tell me only what you will be doing next year — because by the time the building is constructed, it may already need updating.”
Peter Oleszczuk says a project can quickly turn into a quagmire of extra costs if the general contractor doesn’t walk the client through a careful planning process that anticipates all the decisions that need to be made before construction starts. That sort of give-and-take doesn’t occur when clients use a bidding process where they provide all the specifications.
“When you enter into a spec bidding situation, you have lost the ability to offer any of your great ideas, your wisdom from experience, your options for value engineering,” Peter says. “You are being asked just whether you can do the job cheaper than the next guy.”
The majority of projects that Westwind completes are on an open-book or cost-plus basis, where the work is invoiced to the client for actual costs incurred plus an agreed profit margin. “Open book means open dialog with our clients,” Greg says. “Since our clients know what they’re paying for — no smoke and mirrors — we can always think about what’s in their best interest, just as well or more than our own.”
Westwind uses the same fact-gathering and forward-thinking process for all clients of its five major divisions: industrial, commercial/retail, multi-family, high-end residential and national accounts. But what changes are the questions themselves.
“When we sit down with an executive who is looking to build his or her dream home, we approach the project in the same way as a commercial or industrial building, but we ask a different set of questions,” says Mark Bonser, senior project manager at Westwind. “For high-end residential projects, our questions center on our client’s lifestyle. We need to understand their lifestyle enough to make smart decisions.”
Just as it needs to understand the workflow of products being manufactured in an industrial setting, Westwind seeks to understand how clients intend to use their homes in the course of their lifetime, Bonser says. Some questions center on the everyday patterns of life in the home, while other questions address the long-term plan for the asset.
For example, Westwind would be interested in knowing if the homeowner enjoys having dinner parties on a weekly basis for a dozen guests because of all the requirements that entertaining will place on the site plan for parking and home plan for comfortable seating and kitchen access.
“All of these considerations can impact other areas of the house,” Mark says. “If you look to increase the size of the kitchen where people congregate or the dining area, perhaps you don’t need as much in the way of bedroom space.
“If the home is on a lake, we need to understand if they want a great room or expansive deck overlooking the scenery. It may be something as simple as asking a homeowner: ‘Where do you want to store your water toys?’ For someone who collects vintage cars, will the garage be large enough?”
When it comes to long-term considerations, Westwind keeps current with the rapidly changing technologies to conserve energy and a home’s impact on the environment, Greg says. “We have a good handle on the practical applications of solar power and wind turbines for power generation, and geothermal, insulation materials and smart controls for energy conservation,” he says. “We can give the homeowner a good sense of whether a technology will provide its expected results.”
For more information on Westwind, its portfolio and capabilities, visit the company’s website at www.westwind.build.