Cool Buildings. Warm Buildings.
Creativity and customer retention are the keys for Wilcox Construction, Inc.
In 1963, World War II Marine fighter pilot Al Wilcox founded Wilcox Construction, Inc. (Wilcox) in Edmonds, Washington. Today, nearly six decades later, a third generation of firm leaders upholds his vision to build structures that always surpass each client’s expectations.
“Our focus is not only to create beautiful buildings, but to build lasting relationships,” says Matt Lessard, Wilcox’s President. “We value employees, treat our subcontractors well and make sure our clients are cared for.”
This philosophy is not surprising based on the firm’s roots as a family business and its history of multigenerational leadership. In 1984, Bob Wilcox, Al’s son, and Jim Lessard, Matt’s father, became partners and they led the firm for over a quarter of a century. In 2010, Bob and Jim turned the reins over to Matt and also Paul Carter, Vice President, and Trent Holobaugh, Chief Operating Officer.
“Trent and Matt have been friends since middle school,” Paul says. “Matt and I met and became friends at Washington State University. After we graduated, Matt worked in California for a while and I took a job with a contractor here in Washington. After a few years, Matt came back and we both started working for this little upstart company: Starbucks. When people we’d worked with at Starbucks moved on to other companies, they’d call us—and we just kept going.”
Matt and Paul carried this positive experience with them to Wilcox. Matt joined the firm as a Superintendent in 1995, Trent as a Service Technician in 1997, and Paul as a Project Manager in 1998.
Although Wilcox’s headquarters remain in Edmonds, it has branch offices in Puyallup and Arlington, Washington, and is licensed as a general contractor in 10 additional states: Oregon, California, Utah, Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, and Montana. Its 65 employees serve clients throughout the western United States with a focus on projects in Washington and Oregon.
Mock-ups Support Collaboration
“We like intricate projects with a lot of detail and beautiful finishes,” Matt says, citing the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery’s visitor center renovation in Woodinville, Washington, as an example.
“There were no plans or drawings when we interviewed for this project,” Paul says. “However, we’d worked with the architect, BCRA, before and so we collaborated with them and the owner to finalize the design, identify challenges and solutions, and develop the budget.”
Matt says Wilcox built mock-ups to show other project team members how certain design features would look and function. “For example, we dealt with the person in charge of the wine and the architect to figure out how to build modular racks that would work for all sizes and shapes of wine bottles,” he recalls. “We’ve found that mock-ups go a long way toward making good collaborative decisions.”
“An unusual feature of this winery is a blending room where people can mix wines together, make their own label and cork the bottle,” Paul says. “We also constructed a commercial kitchen, a large tasting bar, retail areas and a theater with a state-of-the-art projection and sound system. We presented options for acoustical panels and mocked up furniture to get the acoustics right—not just in the theater, but outside of it, too.”
In the end, Matt and Paul say the fully collaborative process and close attention to detail made this project a success. The visitor center renovation won the 2018 Retail Development of the Year award from the Washington State Chapter of the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOPWA).
Variety Across and Within Market Segments
“We like doing different types of work,” Paul says. “We build everything from restaurants, retail stores, shopping malls, wineries and distilleries to automotive, financial, industrial and health and wellness facilities. We want to help clients realize their dreams—whether it’s someone who’s investing their life savings in building their own salon or clients who are constructing dozens of restaurants like Duke’s Seafood, Pagliacci Pizza or El Gaucho.” “We’d just finished one project for Duke’s Seafood when the Owner, Duke Moscrip, asked us to give our advice about a two-story office building he wanted to convert into a restaurant,” Matt says. “He planned to buy a fishing boat and put it on top of the building so customers would walk through this boat to reach the dining area. He also wanted to expand the existing deck. We went through several rounds of design and, ultimately, we removed an exterior wall and brought the deck in 10 feet to make it bigger. We built what looks like a boat as part of the main entry.”
The remodel and upgrade Wilcox completed at Pagliacci Pizza’s Capitol Hill facility in Seattle also entailed renovating an existing office structure and converting some spaces within it for new purposes.
“We’ve worked with Pagliacci Pizza for about 20 years,” Trent says. “In late 2019, we started the biggest project we’ve done for them: a major remodel of the headquarters. We renovated the office areas and converted the commissary kitchen into new tenant spaces, a new call center and full restaurant. After we were done, the owner had Ames Bros. paint a mural of Bigfoot in a Sonics jersey on the side of the building.”
Paul says the scope of work for the 10,000-square-foot El Gaucho steakhouse that Wilcox built in the historic Union Stables in Seattle also presented unusual challenges.
“We’ve worked with Chad Mackay, the Owner and CEO of El Gaucho, since about 2007,” he explains. “The first project we did was a huge restaurant in Bellevue, Washington, and we’ve done a half dozen or more projects for him since then. The mechanical and other systems’ requirements made building out a restaurant in Union Stables technically complicated because the building was over 100 years old and it was originally built as a four-story horse stable.” The new restaurant has several distinct features associated with El Gaucho, such as upholstered, cushioned booths, an indoor fire pit, and a view of the beef-aging room.
Block 41, a former ice warehouse in downtown Seattle that Wilcox’s crews transformed into a private event venue, was also originally constructed when horse-drawn vehicles were a major mode of transportation.
“The building was in derelict condition,” Paul says. “We shored up the structure and did a seismic retrofit, replaced the roof and windows, brought in new electrical power and installed upgraded mechanical, electrical and lighting systems. There was a long wooden ramp that horse-drawn cart drivers had used to pick up ice blocks for delivery. We built a cool, floating steel stairway that cuts across this ramp and we installed an elevator.” This project has won numerous awards, including an AIA Northwest and Pacific Region 2018 Citation Award.
Recruiting a Top-Rate Team
Matt and Paul say the range and quality of projects Wilcox’s crews complete would not be possible without a top-rate team. “We recruit from Washington State University (WSU) and other local universities and offer summer internships to students,” Paul says.
Casey Vallee, Estimator, is one of Wilcox’s employees who started as a summer intern. “After I graduated from WSU in 2012, I was hired as a Project Engineer,” he says. “I transitioned to estimating in 2016. I like working around so many others who also enjoy being here and who appreciate the work we do for our clients.”
The company hopes to enhance opportunities for the next generation that will soon join the company’s ranks. To that end, Matt serves on the AGC Education Foundation’s board of trustees.
“I received a scholarship from the AGC Education Foundation in the early 1990s,” Matt says. “I’ve been raising money and working hard to pay this forward ever since. Started in 2015, our investment in the endowment fund for the annual scholarships exceeds $125,000. When my father passed away in 2020, we started the James M. Lessard Memorial Endowment, and we’ve raised nearly $40,000. Every year, money from this endowment will be given as a no-strings-attached grant to high school shop teachers to procure materials and tools. My father would have wanted to keep shop classes relevant, continue apprenticeship training and accelerate construction career development.”
According to Paul, a spirit of teamwork extends into various firm activities—from food and gift drives to civic celebrations, fundraisers and more. “Every fall we do a food drive for the Edmonds Food Bank,” says Cindy Barber, Accounts Receivable. “In 2020, we collected over 1,600 pounds of food. We also participate in the city of Edmond’s annual Scarecrow Festival and each year, for Christmas, we adopt two or three families. The employees at Wilcox are beyond generous. I’m blown away by the amount of love we can shower on these families. This year, one of the families we adopted had been homeless and they were able to move into a small camping trailer. The family of four was sleeping together on a torn mattress, their refrigerator was broken, and they had a terrible mold issue. In addition to Christmas gifts, we provided a new queen-size mattress, a refrigerator and a dehumidifier.”
Some Wilcox employees volunteer for Kiwanis Camp Casey on Whidbey Island, Washington. This is a weeklong summer camp for children ages 6 to 17 who have physical disabilities.
“Every year, the Wilcox team chooses a project, then we provide the supplies and employees, and spend a day working with the kids,” Cindy says. “We’ve built bird houses, made derby cars and wooden boats and held races with them, and made rockets and launched them.”
Still Rooted in Relationships
As Matt and Paul reflect on their experiences as employees, then firm leaders, at Wilcox, they circle back to the core values instilled in them by their predecessors.
“Repeat work has been the core of our business,” Matt says. “If you count referrals, all our work is repeat business in some form or another. The strong relationships we’ve established with employees, clients and subcontractors have been key to Wilcox’s longevity in the construction industry.”