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Hidden Gems: Meet Mike Marden of Great Idea To Grand Opening

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Marden.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I feel like the financial crises of 2007 was meant for me! I see it as a gift from God. I was managing $15M worth of shopping center construction, leaving for work before my kids woke up and getting home after they went to bed. On the weekends I put hardhats on them and those little ones (two and five years old) road around with me to visit the job sites. It may have seemed fun and fascinating for them for a short time span, but for me was the… (sorry I need a minute)… only time I was spending with those little boogers. Although I wasn’t using the typical four letter words in their presence, I still wouldn’t call it “Quality” time.

Soon the economy tanked. I was laid of and forced to be a stay at home dad for two years. My wife went back to work, something she definitely did not yet want to do at that time in our children’s lives. If you looked around the world, everyone’s lives were turned upside down through the crisis, but having a strong relationship pulled us through and I thank my wife for her support and guidance at that time. During those days it not only gave me gobs of time to spend with my children, but plenty of time to hatch out a plan. This was in the early days of websites and social media had not quite taken off yet. I remember putting ads on Craigslist offering drafting services, since I had obtained an Architectural degree and license prior to my career in construction.

Its now twelve years and those early ads have lead to my own Architectural Firm and Construction Company.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Getting here was by no means easy. I failed twice while starting my business. I tried Residential, but could not get the formula right to stay profitable. Then I hired a coach and did a vision board. I literally put butts in chairs to met this vision what I thought my company should look like and grew the company to nine people over night. I pictured us working for developers and so we put all our eggs in one basket, working for only three of them . Well it didn’t take long before these Clients were slow at paying or blaming us for bending over backwards for them. Each time I tried at business, I could not meet payroll and had terrible relationships with my employees.

Buried under credit cards, loans and lines of credit, I found myself in debt and closed the doors each time, In 2015 something magic happened and I fond my secret sauce by accident. I decided to give up and had taken tests and interviews to be a city plan reviewer. During this lengthy process, my phone would occasionally ring (still connected to those old ads) and someone opening a business would ask how to go about hiring an architect. They would ask how long it took to get a permit or how much it might cost to build-out their location.

These answers were second nature to me and I would very kindly and easily walk them through everything they needed to know to open a small ice cream shop or deli. Sometimes it was a dance studio or a gym. It seemed like overnight the lightbulb went off in my head and I became not only enthused but relentless in helping them solve their problems. In my formative years, working for large companies, I had not only overseen the construction of shopping centers and industrial complexes, but had also been a part of designing and permitting hundreds of commercial projects. I not only knew the answers to their pain points like the back of my hand, but I had failed at my own attempts at business and could talk to them about the risks involved.

This is when I fell in love with business building. Architecture and Construction are fun, but building businesses is what I cannot get enough of now. Whether it is assisting someone else with theirs or launching my own ideas, its what gets me up in the morning.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
The primary business is WDS Architecture PLLC. Born in 2002 as Western Design Studio Inc, it took on the acronym WDS back in 2010. Rebranded in 2015 it has slow gained an impeccable reputation in Phoenix and its surrounding cities for its response time and ability to delivery quickly. WDS only serves Commercial Projects, 75% Tenant Improvement and 25% ground up (aka new) construction. The ratings on Google, Yelp, Facebook and various lead services are five star from all kinds of businesses that we have assisted.

During the past several years, these Clients began asking if we could build their projects. This eventually compelled us to form a focus group with with some of our best Customers. What we found in these surveys was concerning to us. There were two pain-points that these business owners were struggling with during the process of getting their doors open. After WDS assisted with their drawings and permits, finding a General Contractor was their biggest challenge. Initially, Contractors would not give them Estimates without design drawings. Then once they did have permitted plans, their projects would often stall out, wasting one or more months while they went out soliciting and trying to interpret quotes for construction. In the early stages, Their second biggest struggle involved the real estate aspect of the project. We found that our Clients began looking for storefront space or land anywhere from 3-7 months prior to signing their letter of intent. They often times committed to something that they didn’t realize was building code-deficient or too expensive to build out. Compounding that issue was that sometimes selecting too big of a space impacted their rent, overhead or maintenance costs.

In 2020, WDS Commercial LLC (General Contracting) was created in response to our focus group. We now provide a construction estimate to our Clients on day one and begin a design based on this project cost. Our Trade Partners get involved during the design and therefore our Clients immediately see the savings of time. They realize the value in talking to one person who is both their Architect and Builder. and so it comes as no surprise that most of these projects are now becoming true design-build experiences. Since inception we have contracted close to $1M and are currently negotiating to build over $2M next year.

We would like to add the Real Estate Brokerage (third arm) to our Companies in 2022. Knowing this, we have trademarked our future brand and marketing value proposition as “Great Idea To Grand Opening” where we will literally take Startups and Mom and Pop Businesses from A to Z in the process from Home-Based to Brick and Mortar.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
Without a doubt I have learned a few valuable lessons. The first is that an Entrepreneur must balance or separate their business, self and family no matter how busy things get. Each of these pieces must get attention. The time spent on each may not be equal, but needs to be often and intentional. In the early years I put career before my kiddos, but was able to correct it. More recently I suffered a health scare where I had debilitating back and leg pain from sitting in my chair for 16-20 hour days without exercise. I still struggle with this one daily. I am an introverted, work-a-holic and do-er by nature, so it is easy for me to take on as many things as I can at once for long periods of time and never come up for air. For me this can happen in area =of my life but most of the time I find myself focusing this energy in my companies. For me Business is addicting and I try to manage it one day at a time.

The second lesson I have learned is about working smarter, not harder. I struggle with this every day, but so do most Entrepreneurs. The lightbulb moment is when you discover your value. When you hold a certain amount of knowledge,.. and gaining that information is priceless to someone out there who needs it, you then realize your value. Over time, WDS has remained boutique in nature, but the cost for our services is as much if not more than the big firms. Once you work with us you will know why.

Lastly, my Team is my gold. I work very closely with my in-house team and each receives one-on-one attention with me for about six months. I often use the metaphor with them that I am their sensei and they are working towards their blackbelt. Typically within two years of no prior experience one of my staff can work directly with a Client to design, permit and build their facility. This one team member will be the contact, designer, Architect-in training and the Superintendent on the construction site. This kind of training blows away any School of Architecture or Construction that I have seen and it is apparent when one of my guys spends time with another recent graduate or peer. This goes for our Consultants and Trade Partners. We all speak directly about our people, process and product. I do my best to foster our relationships internally and improve the performance of the company for our Clients externally. This time around (my third try at running a business) I consider each of my Staff as my children or family and I spend time getting to know each of them personally. I try to learn about and support their mental health, well being, outside life, personal goals and career objectives. I have learned that being a boss is not just providing paychecks, but being a cheerleader and that being the Owner really means I work for my employees and for them I am grateful.


  • You can Consult w/ us for little as $3k
  • Our A&E Fees for TIs ranges $14k-$40k
  • Our A&E Fees for Ground-up $100-125k
  • Our Construction TIs are $150k-$550k
  • Currently negotiating a $2M Build

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Headshots of Mike by Dolly Marden Construction Site photo by Allen Tian Molly’s Ribbon Cutting by Michael Gray Lapels Ribbon Cutting by Lapels Clean Franchises 3 Photos with Clients by WDS Architecture

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