When he was on the U.S. National Water Polo Team, Joe Vargas often wondered about the next chapter of his life, post Olympics.
Coaching? Working in an executive position with U.S. Olympic Water Polo?
He chose real estate.
His inspiration was Olympic teammate Jim Kruse, a NCAA All-American at the University of California Irvine and a member of its Hall of Fame. Kruse wound up working for some of the biggest firms in the nation – CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield, and Grubb & Ellis – and is currently with Kidder Matthews as the Regional President of Brokerage for Greater Los Angeles.
Motivated by Kruse, Vargas found himself in similar roles, holding executive positions at Grubb & Ellis, Cushman & Wakefield — where he was President of the West Region– and Executive Vice President at Lee & Associates. In 2017, Vargas became President of Wonderful Real Estate Development (“WRED”), an industrial real estate development firm responsible for the growth of Wonderful Industrial Park (“WIP”), a 1,625-acre logistics park located in the Bakersfield/Shafter region of California’s Southern Central Valley. The park is entitled for 25 million square feet of development and currently has ~10 million square feet of occupants in the complex.
WIP represents the pinnacle of WRED’s development work. From its one-of-a-kind amenities center, which will include a manufacturing tech vocational school to the flexibility provided by the park’s large lot sizes and ability to develop clear heights from 40 ft to more than 100, the park excels as a result of its in-house development expertise, cost-effectiveness, speed-to-market, and tenant employee retention.
“We distinguish ourselves through the product that we develop and our occupancy roster. We don’t need to borrow money to build. We utilize our balance sheet,” Vargas told California Business Journal. “We put a great deal of effort into being a valued partner to our community and building a credible relationship with its residents. As a result, we experience less than 7% turnover for park employees.”
Vargas has always been attracted to high-profile business. “Whether you’re running a company or creating a product, I like the competition,” he says. “It goes back to my Olympic water polo days; it’s important to stimulate the best out of everything, and we consider Wonderful Industrial Park as the premier logistics park in the Western United States.”
The parent company, The Wonderful Company, is masterful at its craft: it provides in-house services including legal, accounting, construction management, and property management. As the owner-operator, the firm fully understands supply-chain obstacles that its tenants face daily and provides firsthand knowledge and solutions to help them tackle and overcome the challenges.
WIP provides and subsidizes training for occupants of the park. The onsite vocational school will provide tenants with customized curriculum to upscale their labor – and add value to the firm.
“Imagine having someone who drives a forklift and it breaks down. With an increased skill set that employee will not only be able to operate but also fix that machinery, so a third-party service provider would not have to be called in. We develop buildings and an onsite pool of labor with advanced skills, thereby creating opportunities for employees to progress within their companies,” Vargas says.
Since becoming President, Vargas has focused intensely on marketing and brand recognition.
“I’ve always thought that we were the best-kept big secret in the country,” he says, pointing out that WIP flexes its powerful brand name with innovative marketing and promotions, major industry conferences and major broker-industrial events.
“We were in an emerging market that was often overlooked. You always have to be out there, engaging your audience and always innovating. We’ve overcome that challenge and are thriving. These days, Wonderful Industrial Park has a become a recognizable brand name, well-respected in the industry.”
Vargas’ leadership team includes industry veterans John Guinn, Executive VP and COO; Jason Gremillion, Senior VP; Todd Bomberg, VP of Commercial Real Estate; and Erin Poulson Morris, Senior Director of Business Development and Marketing.
Similar to Kruse and President of Newport Water Polo Foundation Bob Warmington as early advisors for Vargas, John Cushman and Robert Ortiz played roles as inspirations for Vargas too.
Cushman, the current Chairman of Global Transactions at Cushman & Wakefield, built his real estate career over the course of the last half-century and is regarded as the one of the leading leasing brokers in the nation. Similarly, as the Executive Managing Director for Cushman & Wakefield, Ortiz is acknowledged as the top Managing Broker in the country.
“In this industry,” Vargas says, “there’s constant change. One has to be inspired and has to want to educate themselves. How can you promote yourself and build your brand and make yourself bigger and better?”
Vargas is on the principal and ownership sides now. Previously, he was on the service side. He was running a service business, where “I was retaining people, recruiting people, developing business, solving problems – a 24/7 job. I slept with my phone every night,” he says.
He’s still in a 24/7 job – “but it’s different,” he concludes. “We’re a small, nimble team, and we have great subject-matter experts. We have very, very bright people that have specific roles within our group, and they do them very well. We always want to do more than is expected of us. We’re always adjusting our goals to build more product, bring in more tenants. I always say ‘bigger isn’t better, better is better.’”
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