Eleven Western Lays the Groundwork

Gene Chesterton discusses how Eleven Western Builders has been able to flourish as a result of diversification, client satisfaction, and a recipe for long-term success

Eleven Western Builders handled the update of the Orchard Supply Hardware store in La Cresenta, California. Photos: Greg Epstein

Gene Chesterton is in a unique position to talk about Eleven Western Builders as an “all in one” general contractor, because in his 14 years with the company, he’s seen it evolve into one.

To complement its thriving ground-up and major remodel commercial construction business, Eleven Western Builders added a retail services division in 2002, which has grown ever since Chesterton became part of it.

“In early October 2002, I got a call from Kevin Brander asking if I would come over to Eleven Western Builders to work under him and help him develop a hands-on service division for them, which they did not have at the time,” he says. “I started out running small projects for Kevin under our [general contractor] umbrella and, as time passed, we grew the confidence of the company to take on not only larger projects, but small individual projects of our own.”

Chesterton now serves as director of retail services for the California-based big box retail commercial general contractor. His responsibilities in that role are numerous and include coordinating manpower for projects, estimating, facility planning, supervising project managers, negotiating store rollouts, overseeing major and minor remodels, and surveying. He also supports a client-based maintenance program that he says helps enhance relationships between Eleven Western and the companies it works for by supporting field teams and rectifying any onsite issues as efficiently as possible.

All of it is wound up in the company’s pursuit of providing that “all in one” service.

“In the retail industry, we have found that turning out a project with all the finishes that make it client-specific to their entity takes a lot more than what a subcontractor wants to put into a project,” he says. “Projects have become more about specs and reading between the lines than just bidding what is seen on a set of plans. . . . Our entire company takes so much pride in reacting to what our clients need and want as we would want someone to react to us.”

Eleven Western has two specialty branches—fixture and millwork—that Chesterton says provide its clients with the feeling of a one-stop shop. One of the most important things in the retail industry is how customers react to what the client displays, so it’s important to put together a team that can build and install all the necessary pieces to provide a unique platform—which is what Chesterton says Eleven Western provides its clients.

“Never over- or underestimate your clients, their teams, or their needs,” he says. “It’s a very delicate ground that we stand on as a GC and we don’t ever want to be overconfident, which could come off as belittling. On the other hand, we need to present ourselves with enough confidence so they feel secure in doing business with us and the decisions we make on their behalf.”

Delicate though it may be, the ground on which Eleven Western has staked its claim is also strong enough to bring in clients such as Albertson’s, CVS, and Vons. The company is also the go-to contractor for a major nonprofit organization. Although each client is unique in terms of its specific needs, Chesterton says they each get Eleven Western’s undivided attention, craftsmanship, and quality.

Even so, as more opportunities present themselves, Chesterton says growth also presents a challenge for Eleven Western.

“Because of the uniqueness of our infrastructure, we find ourselves in a place where everyone’s hard work and dedication is influencing this industry to command this type of diversity in a GC,” he says. “We see the opportunities all over the place and we want them—but it needs to be very strategic on how we approach those opportunities because anyone who is challenged with expansion knows it’s very difficult to grow a company and to sustain its growth.”

The key, Chesterton says, is having the right team in place that shares common goals and visions with project leadership. It’s a sentiment that rings particularly true to him. Chesterton’s original trade was carpentry, and he started in the industry all the way back in 1993 as a union carpenters apprentice for DCI, a retail commercial builder. With that longstanding background in retail, he says he’s not only proud to lead Eleven Western’s retail services division, but to have been an instrumental part of the division’s continued success.

“We have given our internal big construction projects a support system to capture the parts and pieces that often get missed on bids to get these items completed at cost with no premiums to ourselves,” he says. “We have the ability as a large GC to take on small projects.”

That kind of diversity, mixed with a unified objective should help sustain not only the company, but also its strong reputation long into the future.