Olympic Builders General Contractors Inc.

OlympicExtensive work during pre-planning helps Olympic Builders perform at an exceptional level on every project it undertakes.

By Eric Slack

Founded in March 1979 by William Yahnke and Ray Erickson, Olympic Builders has built a reputation for high-quality construction, timely project completions and staying within budget. Since its earliest days, Olympic Builders has believed in doing whatever it takes to get a job done right. Initially with offices in a spare bedroom of Bill’s parents home, Bill’s father Harlan Yahnke also worked for more than 25 years for Olympic Builders until his upper 80s and still stops to check on things today at the age of 91.

In recent years, William Yahnke’s sons, Justin and Jason Yahnke, have become partners in the company after Erickson retired in fall 2011. William Yahnke is Olympic Builder’s main estimator, known for his organizational skills and knowledge of building safety codes. Justin and Jason Yahnke are both site superintendents, providing site layout as well as trade, supplier and field coordination. In addition, Bill, Justin and Jason’s wives - Julie, Heather and Katie – also assist with the administration of the company. Olympic info box

“We now do about $20 million in sales every year and have around 30 employees,” Jason Yahnke says. “We work on projects within a 200-mile radius of La Crosse, Wis., working in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.”

History of Performance

Olympic Builders is a general construction firm that can handle multifamily housing, hotels, restaurants, retail, municipal projects, school buildings, water and wastewater treatment facilities, industrial and various other commercial projects. The company says competition is tight in the La Crosse area, as there are a number of decent size general contractors competing for business. Primarily, the company is focused on municipal and state projects.

“We used to do a lot more private work, but that has dwindled away as more construction managers and project owners conduct projects themselves and self-perform a lot of work,” Yahnke says. “About 70 to 80 percent of our work right now is public, and the rest is with private developments. We are seeing private work start to come back a little bit. Fortunately, we are very diverse in what we do and can adapt, because it seems like things change every few years. Around 15 years ago, we were doing more apartment buildings. Five years ago, we were doing a lot of municipal buildings. The last few years, there have been a lot of water treatment plants. So the market is constantly changing.”

Among the projects it has tackled in recent years is Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. A project of more than $9 million, it includes four buildings, a visitor’s center and a maintenance facility, along with around 800 precast vaults and crypts. “It is a 25-acre site with a lot of sidewalks,” Yahnke says. “Any member of the military can be buried there, and we finished that last fall. It was a unique project, and we’ve never done anything like it before.”

Another job was the police department headquarters in Holmen, Wis. That project was an 11,000-square-foot wood frame building with extensive masonry involved. “The police department previously had a 2,000-square-foot building with no garages,” Yahnke says. “Now they have their own garages and plenty of space for everything they would need.”

Fulfilling Promises

One of the things that helped the company build its reputation is its belief in providing a firm bid. When it has plans in front of it, Olympic Builders can give its client a hard bid, which means the price it quotes is the price a client gets when the project is done.

“We have strong budgetary pre-bidding capabilities, and we work closely with a few architects to help with design/build projects,” Yahnke says. “We give the owner our bid, and then we do what the owner wants according to their schedule. The biggest thing we focus on is communication and keeping everyone involved through the whole project.”

Understanding that some clients are more concerned about cost while others are focused on quality, Olympic Builders strives to excel in both areas. To ensure its quality is high, it must have a quality workforce.

“We look at all the jobs that come out to bid and make sure we have the workforce to handle it,” Yahnke says. “We don’t take on more than we can handle, and it seems like there are plenty of jobs coming around right now.”

Other critical elements to its performance are its equipment and technology. That is a big investment area for Olympic Builders, although the company only makes investments in new equipment and technology when they are absolutely necessary. “We are careful to make sure our overhead is low,” Yahnke says.

Additionally, Olympic Builders believes that the vendors and subcontractors that it works with play a significant role in its success. That is why the company works with reputable partners, many of which it has had relationships with for decades.

“We’ve built up strong ties with our vendors and subcontractors,” Yahnke says. “Every job has moments where the general contractor, owner, architect and subcontractors have to work together to solve any issues. The subcontractors we like to work with will work with us on those issues and work together in fairness.”

Although growth opportunities can be hard to predict and often depend on the economy, Olympic Builders will continue to put itself in position to succeed by understanding its markets as best as it can. For example, it knows that Wisconsin recently became a right-to-work state, which will change the nature of wages.

“We will be able to compete better than some competitors,” Yahnke says. “Many public entities are holding off on projects so they don’t have to pay the prevailing wage this year, and we expect a lot of municipal work to emerge after this year.”

In the end, Olympic Builders believes that it must continue to keep good people and keep its overhead low in order to grow. “That is what will keep us competitive,” Yahnke says. “It can be hard to find good people, but we have good people who are intelligent and capable. Those people are hard to find.” 

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