By Chris Wadsworth
Ashburn is growing – of that there is no doubt. New residential communities, new schools, new shopping centers and office parks. Every time you turn around, it seems another “coming soon” banner is hanging on a building or storefront.
Another sign you might see next to the banner is one featuring a shark – a hammerhead shark, to be precise. It’s a sign, pardon the pun, that Hammerhead Construction has landed another contract to help bring a new business to life.
One of those signs can be found in the window of the future X-Golf indoor golf facility under construction in the Broadlands Village Center.
Shane Sloden is an owner and managing partner of the new X-Golf. He already owns several other X-Golf locations around the country, but opening one in Ashburn has been a goal for this longtime Brambleton resident.
“I’ve been looking at Ashburn for quite some time,” Sloden said. “And I really wanted to have a local general contractor that I could work with and build a relationship with because I have plans for other locations here in Northern Virginia. Hammerhead was specifically chosen because I felt like they were the construction group that I could have that relationship with.”
Hammerhead must be doing something right, because the company is busy all over Ashburn. In addition to X-Golf, its team is handling construction for the new Lacrosse Unlimited store in Lansdowne. And it’s under contract to build the Celebree School childcare center planned for the Kincora development near Routes 7 and 28.
The company is the brainchild of Craig Carlson, a longtime resident of Brambleton, and his business partner, Tom Nicholson, who lives in Purcellville. The two have spent their entire careers in construction, and their paths often crossed as they worked on various projects in Northern Virginia. In 2005, they decided to start Hammerhead.
“We were sitting around drinking beer one day and trying to figure out what to call the company. There are a lot of companies with last names, or just initials – and a day later, you just can’t remember it,” Nicholson said. “And then I said something, and Craig looked at me and said, ‘You’re a fricking hammerhead,’ and we looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it.’ We’re not fishermen. We’re not sharks. But we wanted a name that people would remember, and it seems to work.”
If you’re not familiar with the world of GCs – or general contractors – it’s highly competitive. Scores of firms chase every project, using every tool at their disposal – from privately whispered tips to national websites – to find out about new business coming to the area. They try to build relationships and make competitive bids to win a contract. The bidding can be cutthroat.
“The general contracting market can be very competitive, especially when times get lean,” Carlson said. “Because this area always seems to have work, it attracts a lot of GCs from other areas [of] the country. Many times, they come to the area and take jobs for no profit so that they can break into the market, which isn’t sustainable. But it happens and has cost us work.”
The team at Hammerhead says they are often able to win bids by following a conservative approach when it comes to the costs associated with a project.
“We keep our overhead low, and our people know that we don’t ask them to do anything that we wouldn’t also do,” Carlson said. “For a very long time, our office only consisted of the two of us along with our field superintendents.”
Hammerhead’s first big project was the Oak Grove Center, a strip mall off Old Ox Road in Sterling. They built some restaurants in the area that longtime residents may recall, including Callaloo Cuisine and the Spicy Pickle in Ashburn. They’ve also had a longtime relationship with the folks at the Loudoun School for Advanced Studies and built the school’s landmark new facility on Ashburn Road.
Today, Hammerhead, which has offices in downtown Leesburg, has grown to 13 employees in addition to Carlson and Nicholson. This team works as project managers and site superintendents and subcontracts out most of the actual construction work, including drywall, paint, flooring, plumbing and electrical.
Over the past 18 years, the firm has completed some 300 projects, with annual revenue rising from $8 million a year to nearly $20 million.
“We have doubled our volume over the past couple of years,” Carlson said. “We intend to continue growing to a point, [but] we never want to get so large that we can’t be personally involved in our projects. This company and our reputation mean too much to us.”
Running their own successful company, making bids, fighting for deals – it’s a lot of work, but it’s also living a dream for a couple of guys who have construction in their veins. And they’re not the only ones whose dreams are coming true.
“Being a general contractor allows us to see an entire construction process from the conception of an idea all the way through to the day the owner takes over the property,” Carlson said. “There are times when the [project] may be a longtime dream for the client, so helping them get to their dream is great.”
For Shane Sloden and X-Golf, collaborating with Hammerhead is a perfect match.
“We sat down with their team and talked about our vision,” he said. “They were on board in every single category – helping us deliver on the vision and even making the vision better in the process.”