With 127 years of experience to their credit, the Kinder family’s construction business, now helmed by a fourth generation, specializes not only in design build, but also site selection, remodeling, finding the right partners for every project, and helping non-profits raise money, all while locating existing buildings for a variety of projects. To say ‘they do it all and do it well’ is not an exaggeration.
Everyone involved with Michael Kinder & Sons (MKS) takes immense pride in the company’s strong family history, its dedication to growth, personal relationships with employees and clients, and its ongoing dedication to helping the community.
While based primarily in northeast Indiana and the surrounding market, the company has changed over the years from an old-school general contractor to a plan, design, build firm, with family members firmly at the forefront.
“Often times in a family business, the expectation is that you will inherit the company, usually being groomed from a young age; our experience has been completely different,” says Bill Kinder, who now owns MKS with his brother Doug. “We’re the fourth generation, and there was never any idea how that was going to play out, who was going to take over or buy it.”
Bill and Doug both graduated from Purdue in engineering and construction management, and both worked for large contractors prior to MKS. Doug came first in the mid-90s, and was trained by their father, Tom, before taking on the estimating and accounting side of the business. When their uncle retired in 2001, Bill came on board as well, handling the operation side. MKS was small at the time with only 20 field people, but had carved its own particular niche, working with repeat clients.
“Fort Wayne was behind in how things were done in construction in 2002,” says Bill. “We really started to build relationships with current clients and also, new clients. We helped our partners focus on their dreams, plans and growth, and it’s grown tremendously from there. We changed the landscape of Fort Wayne.”
MKS was one of the first companies in the area with a business development professional, someone to sell and negotiate work for them, and assure owners they were the right partner for them.
“Contractors were looked at, a lot of times, as commodities, and we wanted to change that. That should be the last thing any client or partner should define as a commodity. How often do you build a house or a building?” says Bill. “You might do it once in a lifetime, and that building might be there for 100 years. You only get one chance, so you’d better have the right partners.”
MKS works hard to assure clients that cheapest is not necessarily best, especially when it comes to construction bids. Bill advises everyone that in construction, 89 percent of the cost of the lifecycle of a building is spent after construction on maintenance and upkeep, and only 11 percent is spent on design and construction. This makes it critical to get the plan right.
“People want to go out and get the cheapest bids on everything, but won’t necessarily get the best end product at the end of the day,” he says. “Do it right. You only get one shot.”
Changing that landscape means continued volume, revenue and sales growth every year since 2001. This is due to the fact that the company is bringing a service to the client that’s not just a low bid, but providing a great end product.
“If you tell me construction was more painful than pre-construction, then we didn’t do our job,” says Bill. “Because construction should be simple. You should know what you’re getting before we put the shovel in the ground, and we should make sure every detail is there on the front end. If it’s not, you’re relying on someone out there in the field to make that decision who probably isn’t qualified to make the decision.”
MKS prides itself on its dedication to ensuring that customers not only receive top-notch service from pricing, pre-construction, and construction, but also personal assistance every step of the way, even after the project is complete.
“We’ve been blessed with multiple client testimonials, expressing how our relationship has become an extension of their organization,” says Zach Kessie, Business Development. “We are that trusted advisor all the way through the process. With design build work, we’ve really pushed our team in the last five to eight years, taking it to the next level, and really getting the plan right before we even get into design.”
And that can include anything from a master plan for a financial client looking for site locations, to new businesses coming to the region, all the way to coming up with great designs and leading the process, but always starting with getting the plan right, no matter the project.
Bill agrees, saying awards are great, but the number one reward for him as the owner is having a repeat client, one who returns because the company did such a great job.
“In most market sectors we’re at 90 percent repeat clients,” he says. “We continue to grow in different sectors, higher education in particular, and they love us because they’ve had the opportunity to work with other people and all their pain goes away when they use our process. Those types of clients, we love to work for. We really like to concentrate on people who have continued work down the pipeline.”
Responsible growth is vital for MKS, meaning volume and revenue only matter if there’s a good team to grow with. While the past three years have been profitable for the industry in general, Bill says the company may have taken on a bit too much at times, and while that’s good for business, it can adversely affect employees.
“The client didn’t suffer, but our people suffered, and we realized that. We pulled back a little bit,” he says. “We slowed things down, solely focusing on our key clients this past year to make sure our people had time to breathe. Lots of people in the industry are burned out right now, and they tell us they’ve heard we’re a great place to work and our culture understands that people need their home time. A healthy business means not only a professional life, but a personal life.”
For him and for MKS, growing in services is just as important as revenue, working to do more for the clients as a true design builder in an industry where that term is often tossed around without grasping its true meaning.
“Everyone says they’re a design builder, but there are all kinds of things incorporated in a building that are left up to the owner. We really try to look at the whole picture for our client, and the more we can do for them, means they can do their day job and keep bringing success to their own company. The last thing anyone should do is spend their life in construction when they’re not an expert at it.”
Minimizing pain points that clients still have, even with design build, is top priority for MKS, allowing the company a great opportunity to grow with designers. While the MKS team isn’t in the business of real estate or property investment, they do help their clients look for suitable properties and help them find the right sites and demographic. This type of dedication to both clients and employees stems directly from founder and dad Tom, who still works at the company today.
“My dad’s work ethic meant nothing was handed to you. Too many family-owned companies are just handed down. I thought I might work here one day, but there was no plan for me to be here. I had to go make my own career and work hard at it. As with anything in life, if you work hard and put the effort in, you’re going to win. That’s who we are.”
Finding others with that level of passion and commitment is MKS’s biggest challenge, says Bill.
“We are very involved, my brother and I as owners,” he says. “We understand the business from top to bottom, so there’s no fooling us that you’re doing your job when you’re not. We can see it.”
That passion extends to finding the right type of clients to work with as well, those who understand and appreciate quality, a strong work ethic, and the time that MKS puts into making any project successful.
“We look hard for those types of people. We not only want to have them as a client, but also have them as a friend! And most of our clients are our friends. At the end of the day you see them out and about and we do things with them. It’s one of the ways we’ve built our business.”
MKS also does a lot of not-for-profit projects, such as a Paralympics dome and helping the Boys and Girls Club, expanding the reach of skilled construction trades in the area.
“It’s not just about giving money back or doing a project for us; it’s about how we can better the community we live in,” says Zach.
And MKS loves giving back. “If we’re not giving back then we’re not successful,” says Bill. “We want everyone to win and if we can help others win, that means more opportunities for us and our company for the future.”
As Bill says, giving money is easy: his people do an awesome job at getting involved and doing the legwork to help others, including helping kids and youth consider trades within the industry down the road.
“We have the giving mentality,” says Zach, who spends a lot of time getting kids interested, providing exposure so years down the road they may consider what a carpenter or electrician does. “They may choose another career path, but at least they’ll be handy around the house!”
In all things, MKS puts passion for work and people at the top and has been proud to do so for the past 127 years. Bill doesn’t see that stopping anytime soon.
“If you don’t love your job, you’re never going to be successful at it,” he says. “There are ups and downs, but it’s not hard to come to work here every day, and I think we have a lot of people who feel the same way who love what they do. You have to love what you do every day to be successful at it, and if you don’t, you’re never going to make it. That’s kind of the core philosophy and we preach that to our own people: Love it or don’t do it. Life’s too short.”