Kokosing: The Ability to Exceed Expectations

Sept. 28, 2010

If a vendor has a suggestion for Kokosing Construction Co., Barth Burgett and his colleagues want to hear it. Those vendors can expect the same in return.

"You've got to be involved in the industry," says Burgett. "If you're not involved in the industry and hoping to improve the product, then you've really got nothing to complain about."

Kokosing Construction Co.

Headquarters: Fredericktown, Ohio

Specialties: Heavy highway, heavy industrial, underground utilities, asphalt paving, marine

Equipment Replacement Value: $199 million

Fleet Makeup: 1,143 total pieces, including 386 pick-up trucks, 93 excavators, 92 dozers, 79 mechanics trucks, 56 backhoes, 55 forklifts, 49 compactors, 40 dump trucks, 39 off-road trucks, 38 scrapers, 34 cranes

Support Staff: 213 maintenance division personnel, including 161 technicians, 21 foremen and leads, 21 support and 10 supervisors

Facilities: 5 permanent maintenance facilties in Ohio, 1 permanent maintenance facility in Michigan, 3 temporary or mobile maintenance structures

Market Range: Based in Midwest, but currently at work in 7 states including Hawaii

As Kokosing's vice president responsible for the equipment maintenance division, Burgett joins general field equipment manager and 36-year company veteran Dean Rinehart on annual jobsite visits with individual key suppliers to discuss how both parties can improve their operations. "We want a win-win relationship," says Burgett, pointing out how discussions initiated in such meetings have led to tangible results on both sides. Kokosing reps have been invited to manufacturers' factories to participate in product enhancements that ultimately better equip the contractor; Kokosing has taken the advice of vendors to enhance direct communication of its buying intentions, so that those vendors can be prepared for future business from Kokosing.

A multi-million-dollar general contractor at work in the heavy highway, industrial, underground, asphalt paving and marine markets, the Fredericktown, Ohio-based Kokosing is the private-fleet recipient of a 2008 Fleet Master Award — an honor Burgett says recognizes his family's long-standing business philosophy.

"The family's always looked at equipment as an opportunity," he says. "A lot of people look at equipment as a necessary evil, and we've always looked at equipment as a way to lead into other things. Therefore, we're always looking down the road at what's coming up. Is this something we want to get into our operations? How else can we use it? My father, William B. Burgett, was always strong in equipment and in hiring the right people to maintain it.

"First of all, you've got to hire the right people. Then, you've got to give them the tools to do the job, you've got to give them the expectations of the end result, and then give praise and credit for a job that meets the expectations."

The right employee, says Burgett, includes equipment managers who strive to improve the process of their work. "The construction industry is intensely competitive; you have to be constantly reviewing existing processes," he says. "One of Kokosing's goals is to be the industry benchmark for equipment management."

For equipment operators, a recently implemented expectations program starts right at the time of job orientation with special training pertaining to safe operation, care of equipment and communication of equipment concerns. Equipment managers then follow up on how the operators are achieving in meeting expectations by auditing the crew foremen on key indicators. "A good score means the crew is achieving expectations," says Burgett. "Individuals also are recognized who show great determination in equipment care in the company and maintenance newsletters."

As for giving Kokosing maintenance staff the correct tools, this was accomplished by incorporating a system "mirrored off other industries" explained to Burgett at a seminar by total productive maintenance expert Terry Wireman in the mid-1990s.

"Technicians tend to be very good at repairing assets, but sometimes one of their strengths isn't paperwork and the coordination of certain managerial duties, so what we have here now are parts planners, who each have five to seven mechanics who work with them," says Burgett. "The mechanics order their parts through their planner, and the planner is responsible for getting the parts, getting those parts delivered to the jobsite, and taking down any pertinent information," such as warranty claims, equipment history and time-card data. "Does the parts planner supervise the mechanic? No. They are there to support the mechanic, so the mechanic can concentrate on what he's good at — communicating with the jobsite, meeting the jobsite's needs — and not having to worry about the periphery stuff."

The trust the planner-mechanic relationship has actually goes back to Kokosing's key vendor relationships, under which equipment suppliers are required to provide supplementary data that ranges from tire sizes to how many bolts there are on a particular cutting edge. This info is placed into Kokosing's "quick-hit" computer system at the point of purchase.

"Whether it's Komatsu, Cat, Werk-Brau or John Deere, they know that's part of their responsibility," says Burgett. "If I have the asset, the purchase is not completed until the supplementary data and the manuals are given to us.

"Let's say the mechanic's not the one calling in, but rather the superintendent out there calling in for teeth on a backhoe bucket. If he gives us the backhoe bucket number, we know what the shank is, what the tooth is, what the keeper part number is. It keeps you from having to go do that research over and over again."

Having complete product information up front has led to a more efficient parts and maintenance operation for Kokosing, which had grown its major equipment count by 93 percent to 1,143 pieces in the 10 years ending in 2007, but conversely had cut its internal parts department's inventory from $4 million to $1.5 million in the last three of those years.

Burgett is particularly proud of the fact many of the employees in Kokosing's mechanics pool — who work in a career renowned for regular job changes — stick around once they arrive.

"We don't want them welding up bolts or anything like that. We want them to do the job right and to use their talents to do what they're good at," he says.

"One of our core ideologies about anything we do is we try to exceed the customer's expectations."