Barry Baker is playing pitch-and-putt in a par-5 world. The short strokes work just fine for the Canadianborn executive and his company, Baker Construction & Development Inc.
Baker builds many of the retail buildings you see every day. Subway sub shops. Schuck’s Auto Supply outlets. Hollywood Video emporiums.
Few, he concedes, are monumental, but all are important to the clients for whom he builds them. And keeping clients happy has swept Baker Construction into areas where it never did business before.
Baker built a Big Five sporting goods store in Bullhead City, Ariz., for example. And a warehouse for Whitmire Pharmaceuticals in Denver.
Those and projects in Western Washington were the result of relationships established when outside interests entered the Spokane market and contracted with his construction firm for a building, Baker said.
“It’s become more of a regional business,” he said.
Baker Construction Co. was founded in 1951 by Baker’s parents, John and Vera. They moved the business to Spokane from Wenatchee in 1972.
Barry, a business graduate of Central Washington University, joined the company in 1977 and became president in 1985. He and his brother, Doug, bought the company from their now-deceased parents in the 1980s.
Doug is the hands-on guy who spends a lot of time on the road overseeing Baker projects. Barry handles administration and sales.
“We’ve always worked real closely together,” he says, adding that the pair is trying to limit Doug’s time away from Spokane.
Now, with two brothers-in-law, Baker is building The Latah Short Course, a nine-hole golf course he expects to open next month.
Terry Kelly, a project manager for Baker, and Chris Becker, the superintendent of The Fairways course, will manage the facility.
“It’s a real family affair,” said Baker, who decorates his office with antique golf clubs and pictures of the girls softball team he helps coach.
Baker said he tries to encourage a family feeling at the company. The lunchroom in the new headquarters on East Sprague includes a kitchen where employees can visit.
Baker said support from employees as well as suppliers was crucial in the 1980s, when times were tough for the company and the Spokane construction industry in general. Baker Construction might have folded without their dedication, he said.
Baker also credited George Garber, the company’s sales and project manager, for staying on through those hard times. He was rewarded with an ownership interest.
As the Spokane economy began to recover in the late 1980s, Baker said, the company added development to its strategy by taking small equity positions in some projects.
Now, Baker Construction may own as much as half a project. A retail facility now under construction in Lacey, Wash., is an example, he said.
Baker said the company sticks with commercial building. Owners or tenants tend to look at such space as a tool, he said.
Residential properties engender more personal attachments, he said.
Baker Construction and its 45 employees typically have 15 to 20 projects ongoing at a time, about half in Spokane.
Baker said they range in size from a $1 million Rite Aid store at Shadle Park on which the company will break ground next month, to a $1,000 door installation.
The smaller projects keep workers busy during the winter and also allow the company to maintain customer relationships, he said.
“You never turn business away,” Baker said, citing a lesson from the 1980s, when contractors starved for work cut bids to the bone.
As a member of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council’s board of trustees, Baker has wrestled with a sideeffect of the community’s dicey commercial market.
Businesses that might relocate to the area have been discouraged by the lack of a ready industrial building, he said.
Builders and financiers are looking for ways to spread the risk of preparing such a structure, he said.
Baker also recently joined the Young Presidents’ Organization, a national group of chief executives under 40 years old heading firms with sales of more than $7 million.
He said the organization aims to sharpen management skills by giving members opportunities to share their professional and personal experiences.
“I feel real honored to be a member,” Baker said.
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