Quality Surfaces—and Quality Beneath the Surface

McConnell & Associates
Written by Alan Tughan

When you operate a seasonal business that is busiest in the warmer months, the winters can seem very long. The nature of the seasons is changing for McConnell & Associates, an asphalt pavement service company based in Kansas City, Missouri. As the company’s website describes it, you can find its work ‘wherever you walk, park, or play.’

“The winters are getting shorter,” Scott McConnell says with a laugh. Scott is co-owner of the company, along with his brother Rob and brother-in-law Chris Hanson. “There’s more to do; we have a full schedule.” McConnell & Associates now employs about 100 people through the winter. That number spiked to around 180 this past summer, the largest headcount in the company’s history.

That history dates back to humble beginnings in 1960.

Scott and Rob’s grandfather Burton was a superintendent for an excavation company, and their father Troy worked for him as a bulldozer operator. They began moonlighting together for another company which was a pioneer in refined tar pavement sealers.

Although these sealants had been used for years in roofing applications, a company based in Ohio—the ‘cradle’ of sealcoating, according to Scott—was using them in low-traffic pavement repair. One of its franchises was owned by an entrepreneur named Patricia Lorenz, and in 1962, she hired the two McConnells—Burton and Troy—to operate the business.

It is a unique origin story. “You wouldn’t necessarily think of a woman in the road oil business in 1960,” Scott says, “but she ran that business really well. Dad always spoke fondly of her; he looked up to her.”

In 1965, a few years after the McConnells joined Ms. Lorenz, she decided to exit the business. Rob picks up the timeline from there: “The story goes that our dad and grandfather went to every bank in town to get the money together. It finally worked out, and the business did well. A short time later, they were able to pay the loan off.”

Pavement maintenance was the foundation of the company, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it started working on sport surfaces. Tennis was the craze, and new courts were in demand.

McConnell & Associates’ path is not uncommon in the industry. “When we go to the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) conference,” says Rob, “there are always people in the room like Scott and I, whose dads and grandfathers started the same way: one running a sports business, the other running pavement. They were at the right place at the right time.”

Growing up in the family business was a natural fit for the brothers. ”We both always knew that we were going to come into the business; it’s what we knew,” says Scott. After college, both moved into the business full time, moving from field work into estimating and sales and, ultimately, into leadership.

Today, the business not only has sports and paving divisions; it also manufactures the pavement coatings that its crews apply. It sells the products it makes to other pavement maintenance contractors through four retail outlets.

“There’s a lot of crossover in our business,” Scott explains. “With the services we provide and the trades we perform, there are natural bolt-on services to create more value for our customers. The businesses are run as different segments, but they complement each other.”

McConnell & Associates’ market segments cross over as well. Its customers include property and business owners as well as churches, but school districts, colleges, and parks and recreation departments are also ideal fits. “With schools, there’s potentially a need for everything McConnell offers. They’ll have a parking lot but also a running track; we can help with both. Similarly, a park might have exercise trails but also need a parking lot.”

For schools and civic departments, the cost of installation can be steep: a few hundred thousand dollars, up to half a million in some cases. These clients cannot risk a poor quality installation eating into their tight budgets.

With specialized and highly trained staff, McConnell & Associates offers end-to-end service. “We have the capability to help an owner design their project,” Scott says. “We have tennis court builders and track builders on our team, certified through ASBA. An architect or general contractor may not have the expertise, and we save them money and time because it’s a specialty project.”

And the surfaces are getting more specialized all the time. While many contractors can create asphalt surfaces, McConnell & Associates also competes with a smaller number of companies that install rubberized surfaces. “It’s a premium product, and those are specialty contracts,” says Rob. “The technology originated in Germany, and there are fewer companies here doing it.”

Rob underscores how McConnell & Associates builds trusting relationships with its customers. “The partnerships are something I’m really proud of. Our project manager will look at every school in a district, for example. We’ll evaluate each of the properties and give the facilities manager a plan: what needs maintenance this year, what can wait, and how much they should budget. We just take care of them; we give them a good experience.”

One unexpected dynamic about McConnell & Associates’ business surfaced in early 2021, when COVID emerged. At a time when businesses of all kinds were uncertain about what the pandemic would mean, the company’s phone started ringing.

“We heard from customers about work they wanted to do,” Scott remembers. “Schools were closing, so what better time to resurface the parking lot or rebuild the track? We went to our people and let them know that they didn’t have to work, that their job would be there for them no matter what. But everyone came in, and we got to work.”

Scott believes that it was a healthy thing for the employees. “For our community of employees, it was a good thing. We were able to work outside and be safe, and it helped to maintain a sense of normalcy.”

That dedication to looking after employees factored into a big decision leading into 2022. “The conversation started four or five years ago,” Scott says. “We started entertaining what succession planning looks like, but we wanted to be intentional about it. We have a strong management team; some of them have been with us for 15 or 20 years. We knew that they’d have to be a part of any succession plan.”

With consolidation happening in the industry, the owners did consider a sale to a private equity buyer. That is not what they chose.

“We think that this brand is worth continuing. We have a lot of very loyal customers; we have children that are going to come into the business, and we feel strongly about the management teams we have in place. So we looked at the options, and an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) just made sense to us.”

Companies everywhere strive to increase the level of ‘ownership quotient,’ hoping that employees will act with the same enthusiasm and dedication that an owner would. It was an easy decision for McConnell & Associates to create employee-owners in name, because it was an extension of what was already present in the business.

“ESOP made sense because we’ve got people who come in and do their jobs like they own the place already,” Rob says.

“It’s a lot more work,” Scott acknowledges, “but it’s worth it. We don’t have other business interests. We wanted to stay here and give the next generation of leaders the mentoring they need so they’ll be ready when it comes time for us to retire.”

Planning for the future also means putting additional structures in place. The competition for labor has become fiercer, so McConnell & Associates hired a full-time recruiter. “It’s tough to find people,” Scott shares. “Staffing is always a challenge; it’s a job that’s never done. We need that recruiter to strategically go after and hire the best people. To make sure our departments have the human resources they need.”

The company has also hired two people—one a new hire, the other someone who has worked with McConnell & Associates in different positions—into business development positions. These two are the first dedicated salespeople the company has ever had and will focus on the sports construction segment and the pavement maintenance and civil segment, respectively.

All of these elements working in tandem position the company well for the future. After nearly 60 years in operation, McConnell & Associates has an emerging cohort of committed leaders in place, a sense of true ownership among all its employees, and a broad range of loyal customer partnerships.



Storm in a Teacup

Read Our Current Issue


Food for Thought

June 2024

A Living Underwater Laboratory

May 2024

Achieving Equity Through Sustainability

April 2024

More Past Editions

Cover Story

Featured Articles