Keller Inc. is known throughout Wisconsin for the high level of quality it provides on a wide range of projects.
By Staci Davidson, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Publishing
Keller Inc. approaches its work with one simple philosophy established by its founder, Walter Keller: “Complete the project as though you were building it for yourself.” This is how the operation took on its projects when Keller founded the firm in 1960, and it continues on today, maintaining Keller’s values of integrity, honesty and a commitment to putting the customer first. These values, combined with its cutting-edge design/build services, have made Keller one of the leading design build general contractors in Wisconsin.
“We are known as an architect and builder for all sort of projects,” Corporate Manager Bob Poch explains. “We have built restaurants, healthcare clinics, manufacturing facilities, cold storage facilities, food processing plants, distribution centers, convenience stores, office buildings, automotive dealerships, retail stores, hotels and many other building types.”
The company specializes in commercial, industrial, municipal and agricultural construction, and can maintain a high level of quality in all of its work, Poch stresses, because of its skilled team. Walter Keller oversaw the operation’s conversion from a family owned business to an employee-owned enterprise with the establishment of an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in 1986. Keller Inc. now has more than 265 employee-owners, ensuring clients are always working with an owner on every project.
“We are 100 percent employee-owned, so everyone has a vested interest in the projects going well and keeping customers happy,” Poch says. “Being a customer-driven organization really sets us apart, and it’s an added benefit that we all share in the success. The culture is very positive, and the ESOP gives everyone the incentive to put in extra time or go the extra mile for the customer. At the same time, Keller is still like a family – multiple generations of families have worked in this company.”
‘Over and Above’
A current project on which Keller is demonstrating its dedication to quality is a new Mineshaft restaurant in Oshkosh, Wis. This is the second location for Mineshaft, which is known for its family atmosphere that offers high quality homemade food, a bar and an entertainment game room. With one location already popular in Hartford, Wis., Mineshaft is making a $16 million investment in its 35,000-square-foot second location.
Keller collaborated closely with Mineshaft and the City of Oshkosh, Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce, auto accessories store Extreme Customs, Rogan’s Shoes and Invista Analytics to get the project off the ground. The new Mineshaft will be located at the gateway to Oshkosh, on the site of former Wal-Mart. The city created a tax incremental financing (TIF) district to support the construction of the restaurant and revitalize the empty JC Penney building. The Mineshaft is expected to draw more than 300,000 people annually and create up to 200 new jobs. Keller broke ground in August 2019, and is expected to complete the work in late May 2020.
“We saw some storm water design challenges in working with the site. Two adjacent neighbors are part of this development and we all needed to work together to make all the projects come to fruition including the Mineshaft Restaurant. The city wanted the existing regional storm water design to be updated to today’s DNR standards,” Poch explains. “There were a lot of players involved, and we had a lot of meetings to work through the storm water design concept. In order to make the costs for the storm water component financially feasible for all the businesses involved, a TIF (tax incremental financing) was created, which was a win-win for the business owners and a win-win for the city.
“Now there is cleaner water and there are storm water benefits for the city so they can abide by the Department of Natural Resources regulations. The TIF will help cover some of the costs in conjunction with an Idle Sites Grant that was administered by the City of Oshkosh through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. It certainly was a challenge to get everyone on the same page and get everyone to agree on all the dynamics of cost impacts, but it worked out well.”
He notes that was the biggest preconstruction challenge, and now that it is resolved, Keller doesn’t see many issues arising during construction. “There is unsuitable soil on the site (buried topsoil), but we knew that going in,” Poch says. “We were ready to deal with it, and our plan to attack it went perfectly. We don’t see any other hurdles at this point – the work is going smoothly and we are on schedule.”
Pride and Trust
Poch has been with Keller for 14 years, and in that time, he has seen the company nearly double in size. He credits this to the team’s ability to keep customers at the forefront, and the company’s dedication to have people and systems in place to handle any growth for which it strives.
“Our architects and interior designers are huge for us – they do excellent work and listen to our customer’s needs, and that’s where our value starts for our customers,” Poch says. “We make dreams come true, and our customers say we take what they are envisioning and turn it into reality. It’s about taking their ideas and transforming them into an efficient and aesthetically pleasing building that is an invigorating work environment for their employees. It’s a process that provides client satisfaction and pride for Keller on what we deliver.”
Keller already has loyal customers throughout Wisconsin, but our long-term plans include additional offices throughout the state to ensure we are continuing to meet customer needs, and to accommodate our continued growth. Poch notes the company would like to work more in the hospitality and elder care sectors because we see that as an area of growth for the company since those markets are very hot right now and should continue to be strong in the future.
“We have four offices in the state of Wisconsin and we are well known with 60 years of history and projects happening all over the state,” he says. “Our longevity has helped us gain experience in diverse projects and we’ve developed expertise in many different markets. Our architects also are very experienced and can speak a customer’s language which makes them feel at ease that we can relate to their business. Once we have a customer, they usually stay a Keller customer. One way we know that is because we are very fortunate to have 70 percent of our business in any given year from past customers. They know what they are going to get from us, trust us and like the way we do things because they know we care about their business and we want them to succeed.”