A Winning Team At Arrowhead

By David Huey | September 28, 2010

Jim Kissick, founder and current head of Kissick Construction Company, is a lifetime Kansas City, Missouri, resident and KC Chiefs fan. So when Jackson County voters approved a 25-year, 3/8-cent sales tax to fund renovations for Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums at the Truman Sports Complex back in 2006, he had his eye on the project from the first whistle. After some wily bidding, backed by a solid 12-year reputation of getting the job done well and on time, Kissick was awarded some of the projects (or packages).

Kissick Construction began work on the sports complex last fall as general contractor. They began with some site utility work for the practice field and then moved on to laying new sanitary water and sewer lines for the entire stadium renovation. It's a big job, run by Kissick superintendent John Dougherty. He manages a little more than a dozen workers and a variety of equipment, including excavators and other site utility machinery, along with a handful of trench boxes to shore up the 10-foot to 24-foot deep trenches his crew burrows every work day.

It may seem like lean assets for such a big job, but Dougherty has a not-so-secret weapon in his arsenal: United Rentals Trench Safety (UR) of Kansas City. The two companies have a long standing relationship the borders on partnership. They have worked on a series of projects over the years, with UR providing trench boxes, street plates, trench shields, and other utility excavating materials and equipment. The association continues and grows stronger because of Kissick Construction's pride in professional loyalty and UR's reliability.

"I can assure you that no construction business feels more frustration than not getting their stuff on time or not at all," Kissick said. "Being as responsive as they [UR] are, we know we can depend on them."

Dougherty concurs. He could use Kissick trench boxes and other site utilities equipment but he relies heavily on UR to keep him supplied. "Transportation is a hassle," he confides. "If I need some extra boxes or plates, I give them a call and they bring them right over."

When Kissick's leadership talks about United Rentals Trench Safety, they're mainly talking about UR reps Ed Wernsman and Blake Smith. Kissick knows that "John has called Ed at 3 a.m. needing something immediately and Ed will take care of it." It's that personal connection and responsiveness that has sealed the bond between the two companies. Either Wernsman or Smith will be on a Kissick site several times a week, checking on needs and scheduling future deliveries or pickups. When asked, Kissick will tell you that in Kansas City construction business (if not everywhere), building relationships between individuals and companies is what builds a business.

A History Of Service

Jim Kissick has been in construction most of his life. After years of learning his trade, Kissick partnered with his son-in-law, Peter Browne, in the fall of 1994 to start Kissick Construction. Kissick had the skills and knowledge, but no history among KC's builders. In those first months, they got a few good jobs, but they hit gold late that fall when they were awarded a bid to build a new Kansas City headquarters for pharmaceutical giant Hoechst Marion Roussel (then called Marion Merrell Dow, Inc.). That relationship would last about five years, keeping Kissick in business and building a history of reliability that general contractors need to grow.

During that time, another Kissick joined the company. Jim Kissick's son, Lloyd, started working for his father's company when he was around 15. Now, at 26, his unofficial title is assistant project manager. He likes the family business. "I have fun in the field," he explains, "but these days I spend more time in the office."

Kissick became known as a full-service construction company with the resources to handle large, multidisciplined projects in-house while providing personal service every step of the way.

They specialized in civil and structural work, deep foundations projects, and architectural services. Their goal was to build a history of quality work from the very beginning of every project right through to the last detail. Browne and Kissick worked hard to establish a standard "that every job must be completed on time, with master workmanship and attention to detail."

During most of 2004 and 2005, Kissick worked on a large Kansas City project. They were relocating sewer and sanitation lines in downtown KC. Between the challenges of working with traffic and existing lines, Kissick began calling on United Rental for trench boxes and shields, street plates and reliability. By the time the project was finished, the bond between the two companies was solidified.

When the requests for bids for the stadium renovation came out, Kissick had already built another important relationship. Turner Construction opened its Kansas City office in 1988 to provide construction management services for (then) Marion Laboratories. Turner was ranked as the city's third-largest construction company by the Kansas City Business Journal within just five years of coming to Kansas City. Kissick worked with Turner during the "Marion years." When Turner was named lead general contractor for the Arrowhead project, the two companies had established mutual respect for each other.

"In my opinion," Kissick states, "Turner is the best general contractor in this area." Good as their working relationship was, bids are mostly awarded to the lowest bidder. Still, an unknown who submits the lowest numbers may not be the best risk. Kissick bid on several packages of the renovation and won a couple of them, mostly on the numbers but backed up by a solid reputation.

By then, of course, Kissick had an ace in the hole: Wernsman and Smith. Kissick knew by then the going rates for nearly everything they needed to rent from UR. "We'd worked with Ed and Blake for so long, and their rates were consistent and fair, we could just plug in the rates as we put together our bids," said Kissick.

The original plan, that Kissick bid on and won, was for all the work to start at the end of the KC Chiefs' schedule: after January 1, 2008. That plan was shelved and Kissick was "asked" to begin work this fall. Much of the work they were doing needed to be completed before other work could begin. Kissick was ready to start but the change meant more work and expense not in the original bid. The company would have to start cleaning up the sites and fencing off the work areas on Friday for Sunday games. The disruption of work also added hidden costs. Fortunately, UR's participation and transportation services minimized those costs.

Currently, work is pretty much on schedule. Kissick should be finished before the spring of 2008. He's got a few things in the works but he didn't discuss them. He's fixed on doing the best he can with the renovation project. Whatever the next project is, it will probably not be far from his beloved Kansas City. It definitely will be a job that is completed on time and well done. It is almost guaranteed that it will include United Rentals Trench Safety. Kissick stands by those who have earned his loyalty.

He talked briefly about his business philosophy. "Part of our business is all about service," he remarked. I wasn't sure if he was talking about Kissick Construction or United Rental. Probably both.