a.j. Veneklasen, Inc. is a family owned general contractor and builder delivering a full suite of services to customers throughout Michigan, the Midwest, and as far away as California…
Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the family owned company offers Design-Build and traditional design-bid-build services as well as steel erection, rough and finish carpentry, construction management, and building maintenance services. From feasibility studies and site selection to financing, land acquisition, construction, and even interior design, a.j. Veneklasen, Inc. can handle it all.
a.j. Veneklasen, Inc. boasts four decades of experience in pre-engineered metal building and structural steel erection for industrial and commercial buildings. “That is the business that we were founded on 40 years ago,” says President Chris Veneklasen. “We have a foundation that is built on that.” As one of the few contractors specializing in this service in West Michigan, the company’s team of experts has erected steel buildings throughout the Midwest and as far away as New Mexico.
Steel erection services
AJV’s steel services group provides steel erection services to the company’s general contracting division, as well as to other general contractors and construction managers. “We have really been successful in being that advisor, whether it is for another contractor or a customer,” Mr. Veneklasen reports. “Our clients find that we have their best interest in mind. We may find ways for them to save money, we may suggest ways to spend a few bucks more and get a huge benefit later. But we are always looking at it from their perspective – what is the best product we can deliver for them?”
The division specializes in both conventional steel and pre-engineered metal buildings. Well known for its pre-engineered accomplishments, AJV’s steel services group has been recognized by Metal Building News as the 9th largest pre-engineered metal building erector in the U.S. The experience and expertise that comes with being one of the largest players in the field keeps clients knocking at AJV’s door. The division’s clients may dabble in pre-fabricated metal buildings, “but they really don’t work on it often enough,” Mr. Veneklasen explains. “So they make mistakes on the order and it costs them money in the field. If they let us order the building and handle that whole package, they find that we get it right the first time.”
The division continues to expand. “There has been a lot of growth in that market because people are realizing that a metal building isn’t just a metal building. It can be a precast building, it can be a brick building, it can really do and look like anything you want it to.” The team can utilize out-of-the-box materials such as glass, brick, stone and pre-cast concrete to create a unique, aesthetic look. The company’s recent pre-engineered metal building projects cover a remarkable range, from indoor football stadiums to office buildings and grocery stores. “We are seeing all applications,” says Steel Department Manager Mark Stauffer.
aj Veneklasen,Inc. takes construction to the next level with its unique VeneBuiltSM process. This process brings all stakeholders – owner, contractor, consultants and trade partners – together from the earliest stages of the project. The entire team works together on goal-setting, analysis, design and budgeting, and continues collaborating throughout the construction phase to deliver the best possible product to the customer.
The VeneBuiltSM approach allows the team to deliver a more comprehensive solution to customers, freeing them from unnecessary busywork and stress. “The goal is that we make their lives a little easier because they have a full time job and we are going to try to take as little time away from that as we can,” Mr. Veneklasen explains. “While we are still the general contractor, we are taking a bigger role in what we do for the customer. For example, we will help move them, we will help coordinate their furniture selection, we will work with their IT provider to try to provide a continuum of service.”
Throughout the process, the team keeps the customer’s wishes at the forefront. “We try really hard from the very beginning – from the napkin sketch all the way to completion – to put ourselves in their shoes. We ask, ‘what are the things that a client of ours doesn’t normally handle on a daily basis?’” Whether that is hiring movers or choosing a carpet, the team is there to support customers throughout the process.
The team has seen firsthand how this extra level of support and oversight can lock in success. “For example, we have watched how a project will spiral out of control from a budget standpoint because the contractor steps aside and just lets the architect design it. If our customer hired us to be the steward of that budget, and we are not doing that, then we are doing them a disservice. So we take a real hands-on approach and lead the charge throughout the entire process.”
As a family owned company, aj Veneklasen, Inc. enjoys a close-knit, people-centered company culture. “We work hard to take good care of our customers and our people,” Mr. Veneklasen says. Focusing on quality is one way that the company takes care of its customers. “Focusing on quality over everything else is always going to make you a winner in the end.” This commitment is upheld even if it creates extra work for the company. For example, if the team does not feel that a project is up to standards, “we are going to tear it out and redo it.”
The company maintains a strong focus on its employees as well. In fact, aj Veneklasen, Inc. has been recognized by the Michigan Business & Professional Association as one of the best places to work in the state of Michigan. Trusting employees and giving them the freedom to take leave when needed is just one way that management creates a supportive workplace. “We have a commitment to our people and believe that family is important always,” Mr. Veneklasen explains. “If you have a sick kid, there is not an eye batted when you have to leave or if you have a family emergency, or even a doctor’s appointment. We don’t really police that.” QA Manager Rachel Austin adds, “We want everybody to have lives outside of work. We encourage taking vacation and actually using up your time.”
The team is careful to hire people who will fit into the company culture and carry on the company’s commitment to quality and customer service. “We spend a lot of time on the front end hiring the best cultural fit,” Ms. Austin explains. These new hires “are bright, they are hard working, they are attentive to detail, they are very interested in serving that customer; all of those things that make up who we are as a company. It makes it a very productive work environment if it is cohesive and fluid and everyone is going in the same direction.” Once hired, employees receive ongoing training in order to ensure that everyone stays at the top of their game. “We do a lot of continuing education with our people so they are always getting better in their roles.”
The company culture also includes a strong commitment to safety. “It is a required commitment from all levels,” says Ms. Austin. The entire team comes together before any job begins to preemptively troubleshoot potential safety issues. “We communicate [about safety] on the front end of the job. We all work together and we create a specifically tailored plan for each job. We document that plan and it is communicated to the field personnel and any trade partners before they set foot on the site so there is an opportunity to ask questions [or share] ideas on how to do things safer.”
As a general rule, the team’s safety plans take things a step further than OSHA demands. “We have raised the bar a number of levels,” Mr. Veneklasen remarks. The team encourages their customers to take on this higher level of safety, even though it goes beyond what the law requires. “We suggest to our customers ways to build the building in a safer way and ultimately that pays dividends for them and it pays dividends for us because we have a safer job site.”
When considering the future, the team plans to maintain the company’s culture and current path. “We are on a continued path of steady growth,” Mr. Veneklasen points out. “We are in a good market niche right now.” After 40 years of success, it makes sense to stay the course. “We are going to just continue doing what we do well and continue to grow and evolve.”