As company origin stories go, Encore Electric’s is more complicated than most.
The Lakewood, Colo.-based electrical contractor, known for tackling highly technical projects that include multifamily buildings, data centers, hospitals, institutional facilities and complex industrial projects, officially opened its doors in 2003.
But the tight-knit group of eight people who formed the initial core of the company go back much further than that—all the way back to the early 1980s, when they worked together at another Colorado electrical contractor for more than a decade. That firm was sold in 1998, then the new company went bankrupt four years later. In a nod to its current name, Encore Electric debuted in Denver a year later.
“That’s why we weren’t really a start-up,” says Encore President Willis Wiedel. “We already had the key people in place, and we knew what to do.”
He cites long-term chemistry among the firm’s leadership as a key to its growth and perseverance through the recession of the mid-2000s. “We also had a group of loyal customers who knew us and wanted us to succeed. At least five of them came over with us from the very start,” Wiedel says.
Today, Encore touts the longevity of both its workers and its core clients. The firm employs nearly 750 people across six locations in Colorado and Wyoming. It has completed hundreds of projects for key clients, including some of the region’s best-known general contractors and owners. At least 90% of the firm’s business is from repeat clients, says Jay Packard, Encore’s director of preconstruction services.
Also, at least 54 Encore employees have been with the firm for 15 years, and 47 have worked there for 10 to 15 years. It has 125 people doing special projects and service work, including broadcast stations, hospitals and data centers.
The firm reports 2016 revenue of $144 million, which includes a large contract for electrical work at the Gaylord Rockies Hotel & Resort, in Aurora, Colo.
The firm’s other recent and current projects include installing all the electrical services for the new football stadium at Colorado State University; the High Bay Research Facility at the University of Wyoming, in Laramie; a key addition to Vail Valley Health; the UCHealth Hospital, in Highlands Ranch; the ENT Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado, in Colorado Springs; and renovation of the Wyoming Capitol.
Wiedel says the firm has added $10 million to $20 million of work per year and expects its revenue to reach $200 million in 2018. Its backlog extends out nearly 18 months, Packard says.
Even with that level of growth, Encore has not sacrificed quality or safety. In 2016, the firm recorded nearly 1.5 million man-hours worked, with zero lost-time work days related to jobsite injuries and only 14 recordables, resulting in an EMR of 68 and a total recordable rate of 1.94—that’s below the industry average of 2.80. Safety stats have not yet been compiled for 2017, but company officials expect the results to be even better.
Because of its stellar safety record, steady growth and solid leadership within its trade and across the industry, ENR Mountain States has selected Encore Electric as its Specialty Contractor of the Year for 2017.
Focus on End Users
Wiedel says the company has no plans to pursue mergers or acquisitions or add locations outside Colorado and Wyoming—at least for now. “But,” he says, “we will follow our customers wherever they need us. We remain focused on the end user, not just as an electrical contractor but also as a solutions provider. We want to partner with them and with GCs, designers and other trades. We will minimize issues if we can’t eliminate them. That’s how high-performance teams are created.”
One of Encore’s longtime clients, Colorado Springs-based GE Johnson Construction Co. values having trades as its project partners. “We’ve worked with Encore on hundreds of projects, both large and small, over the years,” says CEO Jim Johnson. “We know those guys and have leaned on them heavily for years. They help us manage our risk because they respect the lines of authority and stand behind their work so well.”
Encore’s current work with GE Johnson includes the new U.S. Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs, plus many health-care and mountain-area projects.
One of the ways that Encore is providing better value to end-user clients is by doing more life-cycle analysis, says Garry Lawrenz, the firm’s executive vice president. “We can play a more proactive role in scheduling by getting involved early in the process and by looking for ways to use some form of prefabrication on every project,” he observes.
Lawrenz estimates that prefabrication comprises 7% to 10% of total labor costs on some projects. He notes that, through the use of multi-trade prefab, “we sometimes do even better than that.” Encore has already successfully performed multi-trade prefab on numerous projects, especially in health care. “We just need to promote it more among the trades,” he adds.
Recruiting and Workforce
Despite having a solid foundation of longtime employees, Encore faces the same challenge as other specialty firms in finding and maintaining a qualified workforce.
“We’re a merit-shop operation. We like to bring young people in early and invest in them through cross-training by rotating them through several specialties,” says Lawrenz. “We exist because of our craftspeople.”
Part of Encore’s appeal for recruits is the opportunity to work on technical, high-profile projects, he adds. “It’s really interesting, challenging work,” he says.
The firm has created an in-house entity, Encore University, which offers a curriculum with more than 100 individual courses, all of them free to employees. The courses includes everything from basic instruction in math and computers to safety, management and leadership development. Students can update their electrical skills, get supervisor training and choose to pursue a four-year apprenticeship program that includes courses in wiring, troubleshooting, electrical and building codes, and first aid.
The custom-designed classes also allow employees to hone their skills in specialized areas and prepare for the highly complex work that Encore does on a regular basis. “This [training] is the real deal,” says Packard. “It helps us maintain an adequate pipeline of skilled people and align their skills with where our clients need us to go.”
Having the resources to offer high-quality, in-house education and training allows the company to demonstrate its commitment to its core value of fostering a people-focused culture, Wiedel says.
“We offer an open, culture-centric environment here,” Wiedel says. “That means trust, quality, entrepreneurship and a chance to grow with the company. That’s why people stay with us—both our employees and our customers. That’s also what makes who we are. It’s not just what we do.”