Robert Cantu, president of Western Builders (Western), says the biggest indicator of success is the phones at the company’s Santa Rosa, Calif., office continually ringing. “When clients call us, wanting to work with us again and again, that’s an indicator we’re doing good work,” Robert shares. “We tend to do about 85 percent repeat work and these relationships are highly valued. Of course we want your project, but when we build your next project we know we’re doing it right the first time.”
The North Bay area commercial general contractor has been building this reoccurring customer base since Robert established Western in 2002. “In one way or another, I’ve been in the construction industry for 30 years,” he reveals.
The Western that exists today dates back to 1945, when Robert’s grandfather, Robert Cantu I, founded Western Builders Empire Glass, serving Sonoma County and the Santa Rosa community from 1949 to 1979.
“I started as a laborer when I was 14 years old,” shares Robert. “I worked with my grandfather, who was more of a father figure to me, and other various trades until I went on to college. My exposure to the industry is thanks to him and I formed Western in his shadow. We have a grey backdrop in our logo to signify his presence in spirit.”
It is evident Robert values all his grandfather taught him over the years. “My grandfather was admired for his honesty and integrity in the industry and he passed those same core values down to me as a role model,” Robert says proudly. “This is one reason relationships are so important to us.”
Even through the economic slump, Western continued chipping away at a solid backlog. “It was interesting to me to learn that in 2010, which was by far our worst year ever by volume, we engaged in 33 percent more contracts that year than any other year,” tells Robert. “The dollar volume of each project was way down, clearly due to economic constraints, but we were doing more projects than ever. That told me our relationships were working; we were relevant in the marketplace. It was a positive sign. Those repeat relationships are very critical, especially during that time.”
Concept to move-in solutions
Now, as California’s economic forecast looks more pleasant, Western continues to draw repeat clients through a one-stop shop approach. “When I started the company in 2002, we largely focused on design-build work and it remains the core of our business today,” explains Robert. “We provide a one-stop solution from concept to move in. Western can manage and handle design processes with our in-house design team, but we also provide a range of services for entitlements, planning, permitting and of course, the construction.”
According to Robert, Western’s versatility offers a level of convenience that customers really enjoy. “The one-stop shop feature is really what sets us apart,” he says. “Many of our clients don’t have the experience to manage and navigate the complex governmental regulatory and entitlement process, which in California, is particularly difficult; it’s a nice advantage we gain in the marketplace.”
As the market slowly recovers, Robert says work is picking up in the retail, financial and faith-based sectors. “There’s also a lot of tenant improvement work and winery projects that have returned,” he imparts. “We’ve simply been following emerging markets out of the economic crunch, rather than focusing on a certain type.”
One major development and the first of its kind in Santa Rosa is the Santa Rosa Sports and Entertainment Facility. “We’re are soon to break ground on this 130,000-square-foot complex, which features indoor soccer fields, a 16-lane bowling alley, basketball court, bar and restaurant and family entertainment center,” tells Robert. “Western is the general contractor on the job and we’ve navigated the laborious design and entitlement process over the last year.”
Furthermore, Western has also completed a LEED-certified project for Redwood Credit Union, revamping an existing 104,000-square-foot headquarters facility. “The previous design was archaic,” details Robert. “We spent a year in design and entitlements followed by a year of construction for the complete fast track remodel. Redwood is one of the largest credit unions in North Bay and it was a challenge to create a modern day design in the old facility, but the organization is thrilled with it.”
Trust and transparency
For Western, that’s what it’s all about; satisfying clients and building trust based relationships. “It’s always been a consistent practice for us to lay it all out; we put all the cards on the table,” assures Robert. “Transparency is a feature of project delivery we firmly believe in, because it builds a trustworthy partnership.”
Recurring business, according to Robert, is what he’s most proud of in Western’s 12-year history. “When clients are coming to us, it’s an affirmation that our name is solid and sound,” he says humbly.
The team at Western doesn’t just turn over project after project; Western Builders continues to create lasting partnerships for the long haul.
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