From The Ground Up
Keeton Contract Services, Inc. finds success in diversification
If you’re going to start your own business, you want to begin with a strong foundation. For Jason Keeton, President and founder of Keeton Contract Services, Inc. (KCS Inc.), that foundation was made of solid concrete and built to support a business that continues to grow, expand and diversify.
Jason graduated from Texas A&M University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a minor in finance, and within two years had found his calling in construction. In 2001, he set out on his own with Keeton Construction Services, Inc., following that up a year later with Keeton Contract Services, Inc., based in the Houston suburb of Cypress, Texas.
“We started out doing concrete work and site work,” Jason says. “Over time, we began providing a wider range of services, from industrial painting to general contracting. The last six to eight years, we’ve grown into doing real estate development, either for clients or for ourselves. We’ve developed shopping centers, medical clinics and industrial parks, just to name a few.”
Jason’s background in the business of construction, combined with an ability to identify and capitalize on new opportunities, has been the primary driver of the company’s success, says Shannon Crippen, Director of Business Development for KCS Inc.
“Jason got his start in concrete,” Shannon says. “That’s how he got into the construction business and worked his way into general contracting. It was about 10 years ago he started investing in real estate—some of it he sold, some of it was developed and some simply leased. A lot of what our company does now is development, but we haven’t left our roots behind—we still do lots of concrete.
“Jason’s knowledge is one of the real keys to the company’s success. If you listen to him talk to people, it’s obvious he understands the business intimately,” he continues. “After 20 years, there are so many things he’s done. A lot of our development jobs come in with plans already done, just as a bid request to build the project. Jason will look at the plans and know exactly what to do and what might need to change.”
Identifying areas where plans might need to be changed or improved to lower costs for owners is a point of pride for the company. For example, KCS Inc. has built multiple locations for Kiddie Academy day care facilities. Each design is slightly different, and from time to time the plans have come from an architect based in a place like New York, who has created a plan with a steeply pitched, heavily reinforced roof meant to accommodate the weight of snow. Heavy snowfall is hardly a significant concern in the Houston area, and by lowering the pitch of the roof and substituting hurricane security measures in place of snow reinforcement, Jason has saved the client thousands of dollars in construction costs, not to mention long-term operational savings by reducing the amount of space that must be cooled by air conditioning.
“I think what really sets us apart, what’s responsible for our success, is diversification of industries and clientele,” Jason says. “We’re always looking for new opportunities to grow in different areas of our industry.”
Casting A Wide Net
The list of industries served by KCS Inc. is indeed diverse. The company has developed business parks, shopping centers, automobile dealerships, industrial facilities, self-storage facilities, oil and gas projects and private residences, to name a few. At the same time, it continues to offer concrete services, turnkey construction, design-build, roofing, painting and sandblasting, metal buildings and fire and water restoration.
“Our average project size has grown over time from $100,000 to more than $2 million,” Jason says. “Some projects are larger, some smaller. We do, on average, between six and 10 large-scale projects every year. We’ve just begun work on a $6 million project—a restaurant and retail center in Katy. At any given time, we have about 10 projects going. Some of those are multimillion-dollar construction projects, others are $30,000 paint jobs.”
Some of the company’s most prominent clients include national chains, such as Rooms To Go, LA Fitness and Kiddie Academy. The company has also done extensive work for LandPark Commercial, a property management company; several national and international petroleum companies, including Pennzoil and Trelleborg AB; as well as manufacturing companies, such as new client Wyman-Gordon.
“Kiddie Academy is a great chain of day care facilities,” Shannon says. “We’ve built several, and currently have two more under construction. Recently, we’re concentrating on a lot of retail. We’re building strip centers with three retail centers currently under construction. We’re also doing a lot of office and warehouse developments, putting up seven or eight buildings at a time that people rent out for warehousing.”
“We do a lot of work in manufacturing plants as well in plant construction services, both big and small projects, but they all add up,” Jason says. “It could be anything from adding a building to repainting a parking lot. All these facilities need maintenance. Being able to handle all their needs builds the relationship with the customer.”
The company’s diversification is by design. “Back when the recession hit, I learned that if you just do one thing, and the need for that thing goes away, you’re going to be in trouble,” Jason says. “Now, people ask what we do, and it takes a while to go through it all.”
Jason has plenty of opportunities to discuss his business. Not only is KCS Inc. active in Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce, Jason is also a member of the Associated General Contractors of America, the Houston Apartment Association and the Greater Houston Builders Association.
A Trusted Team
While the company maintains its own concrete and painting crews, much of the other construction work overseen by KCS Inc. goes to a trusted network of subcontractors. The staff at KCS Inc. itself is limited to a dozen people, a trusted team that Jason has assembled to help him bring his company to new heights.
“Jason is a very generous guy who trusts his employees,” Shannon says. “He knows what needs to be done, and he knows we do, too. Getting the work done is what matters to Jason—not the clock.”
Jason’s priority—and his greatest point of pride—is the quality of his team and the dedication of his people.
“Over time, we’ve been able to assemble some extremely confident and dedicated folks who all think like the business owner,” Jason says. “Everybody is dedicated to pitching in and working as a team. We don’t have anyone who says, ‘That’s not my job.’ Everybody’s cross-trained in a lot of things. That’s what I’m most proud of,” he says. “When I started my business, it was just me. I had to wear a lot of hats. I have people now I trust who do the right thing, who have their priorities in line.”