It was 2016, and Ken and Emily Marquardt were looking to expand their business.
The couple had already grown their Eugene-based foundation repair company, Ram Jack West, from a six-person outfit to 40 employees over a decade and a half, fixing cracked and sagging building foundations in Eugene and Portland.
As the northwest’s housing and construction markets boomed coming out of the Great Recession, Ken Marquardt became so busy his 2,200-square-foot Bethel Drive office in west Eugene was no longer enough.
The company sells, ships and installs helical piers, steel screws three to 10 feet long that are drilled into the ground to anchor a building to its foundation. The piers are piled in stacks along the 1.5-acre property Marquardt bought when he launched Ram Jack West in 2001, including many he sends to construction projects in Portland.
“We’d been sending crews to Portland. It was economical at the time with just one home base. I didn’t need to have another office, so to do the travel was worth it,” Marquardt said. “But as it grew and grew, to be competitive we had to start an office in Portland.”
A franchise with more than 50 independently owned businesses the across the United States and Canada, Ram Jack’s services are in high demand in the northwest, where Portland and Seattle’s red-hot real estate markets are putting up thousands of new houses and dozens of new skyscrapers.
So when Marquardt saw an opportunity to enter the Seattle market amid his search for Portland office space, he leapt at that chance, too.
“The (Ram Jack) dealer in Seattle was looking to get out, so I thought, ‘Well, it’ll be a good opportunity for us,’” he said.
With about $1 million in hand, the Marquardts purchased two houses in 2016 that had recently been converted into offices — one in the Happy Valley area southeast of Portland, the other near SeaTac Airport south of Seattle.
“Everything is $3,000 to $4,000 a month,” Marquardt said of commercial lease rates in Seattle and Portland. “So we had to get a little creative finding space.”
Expanding has brought its share of challenges. Marquardt said he’s grappled with high employee turnover the last few years, which he attributes to a booming construction industry that has left the owners of contracting firms competing for workers.
He also restructured Ram Jack West’s management ranks, eliminating some positions and taking on some sales and outreach work others had done in the past.
Already the deals have paid off, he said. Ram Jack West’s annual revenue topped $11 million last year, up from $8 million in 2016, as the company has increased its work outside of Eugene, Marquardt said. Ram Jack West employs 70 people today, with 20 Portland employees and 10 Seattle employees joining the 40 in Eugene.
“It’s never easy, but it’s fun to break into new markets,” he said.
The Marquardts recently made another $1 million investment. In March the couple bought the 15,000-square-foot former Red Cross building on Bethel Drive, next to their property. Ram Jack West has since moved its office into the Bethel Drive space and put its old building up for lease.
The former Red Cross building features a driveway that wraps around the building on the 2.5-acre property. At the previous office, trucks had to back into the property, and Ram Jack employees had to step out into the street to alert traffic.
“We’re hoping it’ll improve the efficiency with big trucks being able to come around the building with the piers,” Marquardt said.
He chalks Ram Jack West’s success up to a combination of good customer service, good timing and luck.
Though Marquardt entered the construction business in 2001 and turned all his focus to Ram Jack West in 2005, his first big project didn’t come until 2008. That year his firm signed a contract to perform foundation work on a large condominium complex in Beaverton.
The contract provided him with more than $2 million to slowly expand over 2009 and 2010. That was in the midst of the Great Recession that hamstrung the region and the nation. Construction and economic growth in Oregon have picked up steadily since 2010.
“When everybody else was struggling, we got a jumpstart,” he said.
Since then he’s ramped up advertising and outreach to real estate brokers and general contractors across the northwest. Through name recognition over 17 years, Marquardt said he’s built his reputation.
“We’ve brought this whole industry up,” Marquardt said. “It’s something we can be really proud of.”
Follow Elon Glucklich on Twitter @EGlucklich. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.