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Repetition Strategy

Design-builder narrows focus, expands territory for repeat clients

Kuehler Shaylon Shelby Kuehler Art Kuehler Grouppicture 1
Shaylon Kuehler, Shelby Kuehler and Art Kuehler

Within a few years after Nancy and her husband Art Kuehler took over Hastco Construction in 2005, the couple determined the company’s business model wasn’t sustainable. The Kuehlers reorganized the company, and today, Hastco Construction is poised to grow and endure.

Company Reorganization

Nancy Kuehler bought Hastco Construction, then based in Emporia, Kan. Afterward, she became COO and Art Kuehler became president, and they broadened its territory while simultaneously downsizing and making its workforce more efficient.

“Nancy and I decided to make a significant change in the company,” Art Kuehler says. “Basically what we said is, we are going to find repeat customers. We are going to offer a service to solve their problems, come up with a solution for them, and basically put their projects together. I always
say, we build the right product for the right price.”

They grew the company’s market beyond the local projects in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri it had been doing. With more than 40 employees performing most aspects of construction including concrete work, metal building erection and carpentry, payroll was difficult to sustain.

“What we did is step back and said, why do we want to retrain our own employees every day when we can go out and hire the professionals that are in the business, the subcontractors?” Art Kuehler says. “[Now we] bring the right subcontractors to the job and manage the job for the owner.”

The Kuehlers drew on their life-long experiences in construction to create a new business model for the company. Art worked in sales and marketing at a general contractor in Lawrence, Kan., for more than 28 years. Nancy grew up around the industry; her father, brothers and uncles had careers in construction.

Choosing Customers

In 2010, the Kuehlers decided to focus all their energy on acquiring and maintaining clients with an ongoing, long-term need for multiple construction projects, three-quarters of which use metal building systems. They also moved the company’s office from Emporia to Topeka, Kan. 

The Kuehlers expanded Hastco Construction’s geographic service area to the entire U.S., and narrowed the company’s focus to project oversight and management. It employs 15 people including superintendents and project managers, and subcontracts architects, engineers and contractors.

“It’s a conscious choice,” Art Kuehler says. “We just choose not to bid work, and it’s more of a relief if you know you don’t have to be the low bidder to get a job. Typically you’re negotiating and you are hoping you’re going to get the job.”

Art and Nancy Kuehler

Clients are presented multiple estimates for all project parts. “We provide owners three bids on every aspect of construction for all of the projects we do to prove to our customer our bid is competitive,” he says. “We go out and find three subcontractors and three suppliers in each aspect of the project, and then we sit down with our owners and go through those together, and we pick which subcontractor and supplier we’re going to use.”

The Kuehlers’ reorganization of the company worked. More than 90 percent of its projects are for repeat clients and referrals. For Hastco Construction’s largest single client, dealers of equipment from Moline, Ill.-based John Deere, it completed 32 dealerships in 11 states since 2010.

Customer Focus

One key to Hastco Construction earning a high volume of repeat clients with long-term needs is to build a deep knowledge of those companies.

“I can sit and interview a John Deere dealer today, and if they tell us how many techs they have in their shop and the dollar volume of parts, within an hour we can tell them what size their new dealership should be,” Art Kuehler says.

It took persistence for Hastco Construction to garner a positive reputation among John Deere dealers, he says. In 2011, the company designed a dealership it didn’t end up building. The owner wanted to hire all the workers locally. That proved to be a costly choice; it took a year and a half to complete. “Most of our projects that are about the same size will average eight months. Since then, we have designed and built four other projects for [that owner] and convinced them this is what we do. Now [the owner] says he does not have to worry about being on the job because he knows he’s got the right people to do the job.”

Ag Power Enterprises Inc., Owatonna, Minn.

Addressing the objection to hiring only local businesses, Art Kuehler says he explains to clients his company hires as many local contractors and suppliers as possible. “We just put a superintendent on a job; we find all the local people to do the job,” he says. “So basically it ends up being a local job anyway. We try to convince our customers we’re not taking any work out of your town. We’re leaving everything in this town we can, finding every sub and supplier to do the job that you work with every day.”

The company keeps close tabs on its clients and projects. Art Kuehler travels extensively and Nancy Kuehler oversees employees and office operations. Superintendents on-site oversee projects from start to finish. Job-site cameras can be accessed 24/7 by employees and clients to track progress and provide security.

“We make sure that our job is done beyond the owner’s expectation and that the customer is happy at all times; that’s the key to repeat business,” Nancy Kuehler says.

Future Plans

Hastco Construction’s business dipped in 2017 when commodity prices dropped because its client base was heavily concentrated in the agricultural market sector. “The markets turned down, the pricing wasn’t there; we were scrambling looking for work, fortunately we found a couple more clients,” Art Kuehler says. “We know now that we’ve got to find three or four more clients, and I think the key is we concentrate on those clients that are going to be doing multiple, repeat business.”

For one new client that adds diversity to the mix, a national moving equipment and storage rental company, Hastco Construction completed three projects. “We’re hoping to make sure they’re happy with our work, and hoping to do three, four projects a year with them, if not more,” he says.

Another prospective client, a national automotive parts retailer, Hastco Construction received approval at the corporate level and is awaiting an opportunity to bid. “We’re hoping to do our first project for them, and believe me, as soon as we do, we’re going to be living on the owner’s doorstep to try to convince them that we’re their right contractor; and that’s basically what we do,” Art Kuehler says. “If we can do that first one for them, we just live with them everyday and try to convince them we’re the right people to do it.”

The Kuehlers have a succession plan for Hastco Construction. Their two sons are gradually assuming greater shares of responsibilities at the company. Shelby Kuehler, vice president, secretary, has been working on its information technology needs, and Shaylon Kuehler, vice president, treasurer, has been working on field operations.

Nancy Kuehler says there’s another reason why Hastco Construction has such a high proportion of repeat clients. “I have a good salesman; that’s how,” she says. “Art is my salesman; he has the personality. And I think once you get to know the person and they like you, you have half the battle won; and they all seem to like him.” Art Kuehler chuckles and says, “I have to agree with her, she likes me most of the time, but not all of the time.”

Hastco Construction received an MBCEA
Award of Merit in 2013 for PrairieLand
Partners Inc., McPherson, Kan.

Concordia Tractor Inc., Clay Center, Kan.