Kirby Says Lone Star State Business Environment Made Move an Easy Choice
Nearly a decade ago, Kirby-Smith Machinery made a major expansion into north and west Texas with the acquisition of the former Komatsu dealership serving those areas. President Ed Kirby believed the Lone Star state’s business-friendly environment, diverse construction opportunities and large highway budget were attractive to his Oklahoma City-based company.
“The size of the markets and the potential they offered made Texas a logical choice for us to expand,” recalled Kirby. “We had a very small dealership in Gainesville, and we wanted to grow. Fortunately, the right opportunity presented itself, and, in 2009, we became the new Komatsu distributor for all of north and west Texas.”
Since the initial expansion, Kirby-Smith Machinery has continued to add product lines, staff and locations to its Texas operations. Today, it operates six branches in Texas that include Dallas, Fort Worth, Abilene, Midland-Odessa, Lubbock and Amarillo. Plans are in the works for a new facility in Lubbock, a major expansion to the Midland-Odessa branch and a new store and yard in Anna – just north of the Dallas/ Fort Worth Metroplex – that will better serve the greater north Texas area. Kirby anticipates those facilities will be completed by the end of 2018 and looks to add future locations in Waco and Wichita Falls.
“We anticipate that within the next year or two the company will have more than 300 employees in Texas,” said Kirby, noting that Kirby-Smith Machinery also has two locations in its home state, as well as one each in Kansas and Missouri. “That’s up from approximately 60 in 2009, and around 200 employees today.”
The staff expansion in the state includes an increase in both sales representatives and management personnel. Kirby has placed several new managers in Texas to address market needs quickly and efficiently.
“Top individuals with the ability and autonomy to make key decisions are a necessity,” shared Kirby. “Without question, putting those people in place has and will continue to create growth and opportunities. I know that I can trust them to do what’s right for Kirby-Smith and its customers.”
Kirby pointed out that the company serves a diverse customer base. In North Texas and the Metroplex, it tends to be largely earthwork contractors that offer services such as grading, utility installation, paving and more for residential, commercial, industrial and municipal clients. West Texas is more rural, with a focus on agricultural as well as oil and gas.
“With a diverse customer base, you need a broad equipment lineup, and we provide that with machinery from what we believe are the leading manufacturers,” said Kirby. “No matter what business sectors our customers are from, we have knowledgeable people who can find the right products to meet their needs. In addition, Kirby-Smith fully supports manufacturers with a sizable parts inventory at each location, as well as comprehensive service capabilities that include everything from routine maintenance to complete rebuilds.”
Highway Funding Fuels Growth
Texas voters overwhelmingly approved highway-funding-related propositions in 2014 (Prop 1) and 2015 (Prop 7). The first splits the state’s oil and gas production tax, with half continuing to flow into the Rainy Day Fund and half now going to the state highway fund. Prop 1 generated $1.74 billion in additional highway funds in its first year.
Starting in 2018, Prop 7 will create at least $2.5 billion for highways from a portion of the state’s general sales-tax revenue. The following year, a percentage of the sales tax on vehicles also will go to the state highway fund.
The Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Texas estimates the propositions will increase highway funding by as much as $70 billion throughout the next 15 years, creating more projects for businesses that need equipment, materials, services and more.
“At the time we acquired the Komatsu dealership, Texas’ highway budget was larger than the entire budget for the state of Oklahoma,” Kirby pointed out. “That was certainly attractive, and the additional expenditures provided by the propositions make it even more so. Those factors played into our recent and future growth decisions, but ultimately it came down to the need to increase staff and facilities to service our customer base properly.”
Continuous Recruitment, Training
Like other equipment distributors, Kirby-Smith Machinery faces a constant challenge to and new service technicians. During recent years, it took proactive steps to address the situation, including creating recruiting/mentoring programs and partnering with technical schools such as Texas State Technical College in Waco (TSTC) and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT). Kirby-Smith Machinery has 86 technicians covering its Texas operations and 162 company-wide. More than a quarter of all Kirby-Smith Machinery technicians graduated from either TSTC or OSUIT.
“The only way we are going to meet the labor demands in the industry’s current state is through continuous recruitment and training,” Kirby emphasized, noting that Kirby-Smith also actively recruits military veterans.
In many cases, students who commit to work for Kirby-Smith receive financial assistance and a basic set of tools upon graduation. Within the past year, Kirby-Smith has hired more than 40 graduates for positions company wide, with approximately half being in Texas. Kirby-Smith places the new hires in a branch shop where they begin the company’s on-the-job training program. They are assigned mentors, who provide assistance and guidance as well.
“Kirby-Smith promotes lifelong careers,” said Kirby. “We use a deliberate selection process to choose from the graduating classes those to whom we make a job offer. Maturity is a factor – not by age, but by a display of knowing what they want – as well as who shows commitment and those we believe will be a good long-term addition for our shop culture. In turn, we provide a living wage with full company benefits, and their pay increases along with their skill level.”
New hires and seasoned technicians alike receive ongoing education both from Kirby-Smith Machinery corporate trainers and the manufacturers it represents. “Mentors and training are effective in teaching technicians how to be more efficient in diagnosing and fixing equipment,” explained Kirby. “The technicians’ knowledge increases constantly, as well as their practical skill sets. Kirby-Smith and our customers both benefit from educated, well-trained service technicians.
“Today’s equipment is much more sophisticated than it was when I first got into the industry almost 50 years ago,” he added. “Changes are happening at a rapid pace now, so continual education is essential to ensure all our techs’ skills and knowledge are up-to-date. We provide training for other employees as well, including our sales and parts personnel.”
Priority to Join AGC of Texas
Kirby believes in giving back, and that’s why he supports organizations such as the AGC of Texas, which provides scholarships to students committed to the construction industry. This year the organization raised nearly $872,000 for its scholarship program.
“Joining AGC of Texas was a priority when we expanded in the state,” remembered Kirby. “It’s a close-knit group of individuals and companies that are active in promoting the construction industry. Many of our customers are involved with AGC and other institutions. They support us, and we think it’s important to support them. The AGC of Texas members are part of our lifeblood and success in the state. Participating in its auctions and other fundraising efforts for scholarships is an honor and helps the future of our industry.”
‘Having Fun Again’
Kirby admits that several years ago he “had a lull.” The opportunities – and challenges – of building a solid structure in Texas helped bring him out of it.
“I’m having fun again,” Kirby stated. “Gaining a foothold in Texas with the right people in place, a great business environment as well as the size and potential of the markets is exciting. We are growing, and business is good.”