Written by The Business Journal Staff
Lyman W. Whitlatch aka Bill, Co-Owner/Broker
The Whitlatch Group
What you do:
Commercial real estate broker, general engineering contractor and developer.
EDUCATION: Attended California State University, Fullerton (left just shy of 12 units to graduate)
Married to Clare Whitlatch (47 years). Three children: Bill Whitlatch, Jr. M.D, PhD neurosurgeon; Lynn W. Gonzales, Licensed Clinical Social Worker; and, Dan Whitlatch, Freight Broker, Clovis. Six grandchildren.
How did you come to be in the commercial real estate business, Bill?
My career path took a lot of twist and turns. I started out in the Navy as an air controller. I loved my job because I got to be in air conditioning. When I got out, I joined the police force. Eventually, I transferred to Visalia. Later I went into sales and sold PVC all over the state of California. My wife, Clare, and I decided to open our own irrigation supply business. We did all right until the rains of 1982 wiped us out. During that time, I was studying to get my General Engineering Contractor license. My experiences as a contractor and developer led me into the commercial real estate business. Like I said, a lot of twists and turns.
How is your company unique from others in your industry, Bill?
The Whitlatch Group is headed by a husband-and-wife team. That family feeling permeates the office. Clients tell us we handle their transactions as if they were our own.
What are some of the projects The Whitlatch Group has developed, Bill?
We developed a residential gated community called Quail Run on Akers Street in Visalia. A friend and investor from San Jose had purchased it “as is.” It was an overgrown mess that had been neglected for 15 years. We also developed Riggin Ranch, another residential-gated community in northwest Visalia. A commercial development, The Courtyards at Seven Oaks (Akers and Hwy 198) houses offices including the post office, which I convinced to locate there. All of these projects benefited from my know-how with respect to developing the infrastructure to get the land ready for building.
What’s new with your company, Bill?
My wife, Clare, joined the business six years ago as my assistant. But soon her ambition took her on to obtain a Broker’s license. She is already developing her own clientele along with handling commercial property management and business accounting. Needless to say, I’ve lost my assistant! We recently hired an employee to assist both of us.
Do you use traditional or “new” marketing techniques, Bill?
Our marketing is primarily traditional. We attract most clients from my 40+ years in the business community. I’ve always done a lot of networking. With respect to “new” marketing, we do have a website that brings us new out-of-town customers. Currently, we’re in the midst of redeveloping it to bring it up-to-date.
How did your company respond to the Great Recession beginning in 2008?
It really hurt us. The good thing was we used that four to five years of dead time to revamp our business. We changed the name from Whitlatch Realty to The Whitlatch Group in order to emphasize our commercial real estate focus. I concentrated on nurturing my existing clients. I also got out into the community even more to show we were alive and stable. Our other commercial agent, Wayne Millies, used his advertising and marketing background to bring The Whitlatch Group to the forefront of the commercial world in Tulare County. When business picked up in 2013, we were ready!
Has commercial real estate fully recovered, Bill?
Recovered to that 2005 year? No. And that’s probably best because the market was crazy high then. Recovery is healthy now because people are not afraid to do things. Spaces we have had listed for five or six years are now being leased eagerly and for longer durations.
What surprises people the most about your business?
We are small but powerful. Holding a commercial escrow together can be involved and tough because of government regulations. Because of my relationships with city and county officials, I am able get deals through zoning and other regulations with less hassle. My clients like that.
Did you have a mentor, Bill?
Both Clare and I were blessed with self-employed, dedicated parents who fostered us with a strong work ethic. With that, it’s safe to say my late father-in-law was my mentor. Besides liking a good Scotch, his advice and support was invaluable. When Clare and I started the irrigation-supply business in 1977, he was there for us. When times were rough he said, “You can’t quit.” Although, we eventually did have to close that business. When the 2008 recession hit, I could still hear his spirit saying to me, “You can’t quit. Just think onward and do it. Real estate will come back.”
How do you give back to the community?
I am extremely active in many organizations. Presently, I’m in my 15th year as a Tulare County Planning Commissioner. I’m also an Alternate Member for District 3 on Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG); President of the Board of Directors of The Samaritan Center; Board Member of Imagine U Interactive Children’s Museum; member of Visalia Rotary; and, member of Executive Association of Tulare County. Past affiliations include being a charter member of Visalia County Center Rotary Club, founding member of The Samaritan Center, Tulare County Private Industry Council, Board of Director’s ABLE Industries, President of Visalia Catholic Social Services (Good News Center), and founding member of Imagine U Interactive Children’s Museum.
What was your first job growing up and what did you learn from it, Bill?
At 17, I got a job working at a liquor store in Altadena, California. I made home deliveries. I learned lots of bad things. Enough said.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Bill?
I love hanging out with and cooking for our six grandchildren, ages two to eleven. Plus I like gardening, reading, and handgun activities. I enjoy watching the military channel and any police story programs — my short career in the Navy and as a police officer is still in my blood.