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Doing Weird Well

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The Wisconsin Dells, the picturesque city found along the Wisconsin River, is most known for one thing: indoor water parks. When it comes to creating new attractions in those water parks, there is only one name that comes to mind and that is Friede. Currently known as Friede & Associates, the company has a rich and storied history. Starting out in the early 1900s as William A. Friede and Sons, the company operated under that title as a residential contractor and material supplier until World War Two. When the company returned to business in 1945 it became the Friede Brothers, which it would operate under until 1998. This era of Friede focused on projects within thirty minutes or so of the offices in Reedsburg, with a vast array of masons, concrete finishers, carpenters, and it operated as a true family-run business.

In the late nineties, Scott Truehl, current Executive Vice President of Friede, met Roger Friede, the fourth generation Friede to run the business, and together they established Friede & Associates as it is now known. According to Truehl the company transitioned at that time into more of a “professional services company,” which allowed it to offer more elements of the construction process to its clients and led to it being involved in projects early in the design process. With reference to the array of in-house skills and its ability to provide for anything the client may need, Truehl quotes an old adage that says, “carpenters see everything in wood, masons, everything made out of brick, steel erectors see every solution being metal.” He explains that this emphasizes how Friede & Associate’s wealth of combined experience allows it to work with clients through every part of the design and build process.

The early two-thousands were really when Friede’s full-service general contracting commitment came to fruition, not only growing in the diversity of its projects, but also from a geographical standpoint. Friede went from working on projects within thirty minutes of its office space to servicing the southern two-thirds of the state of Wisconsin. From this expansion came the influx of work in the Wisconsin Dells marketplace, an area that boasts some of the most varied and adventurous projects that a company could ever dream of. Friede & Associates’ ability to complete these projects was not about proximity however, but its ability to be there for every part of the process and become a true ‘full-service’ company. In amusement parks and themed projects, many parts of the process are totally unique and without precedent. With Friede & Associates working on a project, expectations can be exceeded. Through a combination of skill and experience, Friede & Associates commits to being a reliable full-service general contractor to its clients, regardless of how unusual or unprecedented any part of the process may be. Unsurprisingly, the quote on the company’s website,
‘We Do Weird Well,’ is as much a promise as it is a motto.

The kinds of projects that epitomize this outlook can all be found in the Wisconsin Dells area. Projects such as the Chula Vista Waterpark, an enormous space that also contains a golf course, and the Kalahari Resort, an African-themed resort featuring an indoor adventure park, a bowling alley and escape rooms. All of these kinds of projects fall squarely in Friede & Associates wheelhouse. As an example of the technical innovation available to its clients, the company recently built a swim-up bar that was both indoor and outdoor. This required work being completed around the simultaneous construction of an indoor go-kart track, something which Truehl described as “building a ship in a bottle.” Friede & Associates is one of the few companies that would actively seek out these kinds of challenging endeavors, which gives its team a competitive edge.

Projects in the Wisconsin Dells tourist area are guaranteed to be unique. That incentive, combined with the company’s drive to constantly innovate, fosters a wide array of niche capabilities. One of these is panelizing, also known as modular or offsite wall systems. Panelizing is a technique that became necessary for Friede & Associates on account of the incredibly low temperatures in the Wisconsin winter months. This poses as much a problem for the construction of wood frames as it does for the employees themselves. When a solution was needed, the team did not fail. In the early two-thousands, the company sought out a way to work on its usual projects during the winter tourist off season while still adhering to its usual time window for projects. The strategy is incredibly effective as, as the conception and design stage it allows the team to adapt the developed set of architectural plans to be able to build walls, wall systems and any other module pieces within a climate-controlled warehouse. This protects workers and physical components of the builds from cold-weather damage. Friede’s panelizing system allows the company to save almost half the time it would take the company to build the same projects on-site.

“Friede & Associates is one of the few companies that would actively seek out these kinds of challenging endeavors, which gives its team a competitive edge.”

Another area in which Friede & Associates has had to innovate is in the refurbishing of certain projects, something which has as much to with the weather conditions as it does the number of wooden attractions that have been built there over the years. Similarly, building waterparks indoors generates a specific type of chlorinated and humid environment where the structures decay at two or three times the speed that they normally would. With this in mind, many of Friede & Associates’ projects have come through repeat business, even on builds where the structures had not been constructed with the intention of going back in and renovating. While this can prove to be a challenge, Friede & Associates has started using plastic lumber alternatives in many of its structures to counter-act this kind of decay in future projects. This kind of innovating and problem-solving helps to ensure that the company’s customers can remain in business year-round with significantly less upkeep and is why so many attractions give Friede & Associates their business in the first place.

Friede & Associates has more than just positive reviews and repeat business to its name, however. The company has also won an incredible sixty-three awards for its work since 2015. One of these was awarded to the company for using the most sub-contractors and members from the Associated Builders & Contractors, Wisconsin. While its continued relationship with other contractors and clients clearly takes time and effort, just as much consideration goes into valuing its employees. Truehl tells me that ‘We Do Weird Well’ serves to ‘make all the employees smile’ as they implement it, and Friede & Associates still endeavors to maintain the family-run business mindset that it was built on. The result of this is that its employees feel like family with many of its staff having worked for the company for decades. Truehl points to a general superintendent who worked his way up from laborer, to superintendent, to general superintendent, before retiring after forty-six years while a pair of brothers have worked for Friede & Associates for forty and thirty-seven respectively.

Friede & Associates is growing still. In 2021, it opened an office in Madison which allowed it to break into new marketplaces and the company has added seventeen staff members to its team in the last year alone. The plan for Friede & Associates is to continue this trend of growth while bringing new talented professionals into an office culture that is as unconventional as its field projects. This is evident in its decision to close its offices on Friday afternoons in order to give staff the opportunity to make weekday appointments or simply have that time to themselves. As Truehl himself says, “My business partner and I have both raised our own families while we’ve been in leadership positions, so we’ve tried to be very accommodating to our staff in terms of realizing that they also need to be with their families.”

In terms of continued future growth, Friede & Associates is having “a great deal of success in the Madison marketplace.” While this welcomed expansion will continue to develop and strengthen the Friede & Associates name, there is clearly no slowing down in the Wisconsin Dells area. And the challenging projects continue with Friede & Associates currently working on the development of a Dungeons and Dragons style theme-park with a fantasy concept that will even have a formal event space on-site to satisfy the massive demand for themed weddings. As ever, for a company that has built a reputation on doing weird well, Friede & Associates is happy to deliver both the weird, and the wonderful.

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