Contractor of the Year Finalist: Kevin and Keith Urig

Brothers Kevin and Keith Urig got their start in the construction business from their dad. Whenever school and other commitments weren’t pressing they earned their keep helping out with their father’s basement rehabilitation business – digging out around old, deteriorating basements, repairing foundations and re-applying water proofing. The experience taught them the value of hard work and – due to the close proximity to peoples’ houses – how to finesse a backhoe.

In the early 90’s both brothers got jobs in a local construction company and continued to moonlight in the basement and foundation repair business. But working for others didn’t suit their ambitions. Keith was the first to venture out on his own and a year and a half later Kevin joined him, incorporating the business in 1998.

The brothers had lots of contacts and experience in the residential construction markets, and Kevin was able to parlay his contacts and reputation with local commercial clients into some small commercial jobs. That’s how they divide things today – Kevin focuses on commercial work and Keith works on the residential and basement side of the business.

Award-winning growth
Their growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. K.M.U. doubled sales to $4 million in 2005 and increased them another 50 percent in 2006. The firm was awarded the prestigious Weatherhead 100 Award from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University for their growth in 2004, 2005 and 2007. And they also picked up the Lorain County (Ohio) Golden 30 Award for their growth and contribution to local employment for the period from 2005 to 2007. The company currently has 18 major pieces of equipment, seven dump trucks and 31 employees.

When asked about the company’s success, Kevin modestly claims that the local economy has been good to them. But his and Keith’s business philosophy has a lot to do with it too.

Kevin is adamant about running what he terms a “no call-backs” kind of business. “We want it done right the first time. We want it done on or ahead of schedule, and we expect all our employees to think the same way,” he says.

Commercial competition
K.M.U. does about 25 percent negotiated and 75 percent bid work, but would like to see the negotiated business increase. One of the challenges the company faces currently is that the housing glut and mortgage market problems have driven a lot of residential contractors into the commercial market. “Since the housing market has softened, all the guys who were doing that have moved into the commercial market,” Kevin says. “It’s brutally competitive now.” And this has the effect of depressing prices for everybody.

In these circumstances the best defense is a strong offense – quality work and satisfied, repeat customers.

Mike Decesar, a builder and developer with Denison Homes, has been doing business with Kevin and Keith since the mid-90s and watched them mature from moonlighters to full-fledged construction contractors. “At first, on certain types of jobs, they would have to bring in subcontractors,” Decesar says. “But over the years they’ve done a fine job of expanding so they don’t have to outsource at all. It’s important for us to have a company that provides that many services. Over the years they’ve grown significantly but they’ve maintained working relationships with both small and large contractors and maintained the same level of service.”

Finding and keeping good employees is a challenge for K.M.U., as it is with any contractor. The employees they do keep have helped cement the company’s reputation in the eyes of its customers. “Their crews are very knowledgeable,” says Mark Lombardi, a sales manager for HD Waterworks, a supplier of water and sewer line materials. “They hire good people. They are always courteous. No one’s flying off the handle. They know their job and work very well together. And they’re very conscious about safety. They make sure I have a hardhat on when I’m on one of their sites.”

One of those services the Urigs have developed is their trucking business – most of which services other excavating contractors. “We work together around here,” Kevin says. “If I don’t have enough trucks for a job, I’ll call a buddy that does the same type of work and bring his trucks to my site. And vice versa. During the winter we haul salt for roadway deicing to keep the guys busy.” The company currently maintains three large dump trucks and four smaller trucks.

Good advertising
An important part of the trucking side of the business is the Urigs’ insistence on keeping the trucks looking clean and well maintained. Kevin’s father-in-law Russ taught him the importance of clean trucks and equipment and enjoys helping Kevin. “It leaves a good impression with the customers – and the police,” Keith quips. “You don’t want to give the police a reason to pull you over, and somebody who’s driving a ratty-looking truck is a lot more likely to be noticed for the wrong reasons.” Conversely, customers and potential customers frequently make favorable mention of the company’s highly visible, bright red trucks. “I’ve had lots of people tell me ‘Oh, you’re the guys with the red trucks,'” Kevin says. “It’s helped bring us business. It’s good advertising.”

The attention to appearance and details also transfers to the company’s off-road equipment. The Urigs partitioned off a section of their shop building to serve as a spray booth and they use some of the winter downtime to repair, repaint and make the machines look new again. They also decal a lot of their machines with a “tiger’s teeth” design which has become a logo of sorts for the company. The tiger teeth decal was something one of their laborers wanted to do after spending considerable time rebuilding a machine. So they let him paint the tiger teeth on the side and it became the unofficial company look.

K.M.U. owns quite a bit of yellow iron, but Kevin says they do a lot of rent-to-own business with his local Cat dealer as well. Business has boomed so much in the past two years that the rent-to-own strategy seemed the best route until they could see how much they would grow.

And while the Urigs run the usual line up of earthmoving equipment, they keep one unique machine around for a special once-a-year event. A few years back Keith built a kid-size bulldozer out of duct tape. As it turns out, Avon, their hometown, is where the original duct tape factory is located. Every year the town hosts a duct tape parade that showcases the residents’ creative talents in turning duct tape into various mobile displays. Keith’s duct tape dozer comes with a moving blade and dry-ice generated smoke coming out of the exhaust stack.

Just as Kevin and Keith got their start in construction with their dad, so Kevin’s 9-year-old son Kyle is learning it from him. “He just always wanted to hang with me,” Keith says. So Kyle started as a toddler sitting on his dad’s lap. Whenever there was a weekend job and a site where there weren’t any dangers or obstacles, Kevin would let Kyle have a hand at the controls. He’s done a house demo and loaded trucks, and, according to his dad, loves every minute of it. “He can literally run pretty much anything I have here,” he says.

Kevin and Keith are thankful for all the support they’ve received from their families, especially their dad Ken, who passed away in August 2007. “He started our passion for excavation and worked with us until a few months before his death,” Kevin says.