George Kellett & Sons Inc.
- Written by: Jeanee Dudley
- Produced by: Chuck McKenna
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
George Kellett founded George Kellett & Sons Inc. (GKS) in 1896 as a small forest product distributor in Metairie, La. Today, 117 years and four generations later, George’s great grandson, also named George, operates the family business as president.
The company has grown significantly for over a century and now distributes building products to commercial contractors throughout southeastern Louisiana. The younger George has been with the business since 1970, and is proud to continue the family legacy.
“I first started out working in the yard,” the younger George elaborates. “I was getting orders together, unloading boxcars and driving forklifts. I’m pretty sure we had the first forklift in the city, which we bought back in the 1930s.”
After more than 40 years, George is still involved in daily operations, although not as much as he used to be. “I do a lot of work at home,” he notes. “We have entered our fifth generation of family involvement now, with my son, Bradley Kellett, working in sales.”
The company employs 25 people from a single 85,000-square-foot facility. “Our insurance range is about a 100-mile radius from our shop, so that’s about how far we deliver,” George explains.
Building a Niche
A majority of GKS’s work is serving commercial and industrial contractors, although many of the company’s clients are residential builders. “We usually carry a better grade of material because it’s warranted and asked for by the commercial contractors,” George notes. “We concentrate more on service than anything. We handle Materials that are LEED-certified, FSC-certified, and we handle specialty treated materials, such as fire-retardant treated lumber, as well as preservative treatment lumber. Our product lines cater more to the demands of commercial contractors than homebuilders.”
The team has been involved in supplying materials for a number of major projects over the years. With the rebuilding of New Orleans still ongoing post Hurricane Katrina, George and his team have been busy helping contractors and nonprofits restore the city.
“We supplied Brad Pitt materials for his recovery homes, Make it Right, in the 9th Ward of New Orleans,” George explains. “We have done big jobs at Lafitte and BW Cooper, both commercial housing projects. Crews have torn down the multifamily projects and they are making more single-family and double family homes in the area. This work is definitely rewarding. We are helping to rebuild the local economy.”
George goes on to explain that GKS’ vendors travel the Gulf Coast region, and New Orleans is still one of the busiest areas today. “In the future, it looks like homebuilders will continue to make up a significant portion of our customers,” he continues. “There are still many properties damaged from Katrina that nothing has been done with. It has become a thorn in people’s sides because you can put a $500,000 house on a lot, but if there is a rundown home next door, property prices are affected.”
A Challenging Market
Despite the recent economic downturn, GKS has experienced steady business over the last few years. “We are fortunate to live in Jefferson Parish, which is a good parish,” George explains. “It is well run with good city services. To retain a steady work flow, we stay geared toward service and conscientious of customer needs. Our customers know us for that and in this business, service often trumps price.”
GKS relies on a set network of suppliers to ensure projects are delivered successfully. Therefore, George understands the importance of keeping those in his network satisfied. “The best way to maintain a healthy relationship is to pay our bills on time,” he says. “They put more weight in that than anything. If you can establish that rapport, you get better treatment in service, although not necessarily price. We depend on them and our contractors can depend on us. Our banking relationship goes hand in hand with that so we can borrow money when we need to in order to pay those bills.”
George foresees the company’s outlook improving in the next couple of years. “We had some down years over the past four or five, but this year was a big turnaround and things are looking up for us,” he says. “As for the rest of the country, the politics make things difficult.” Like many businesses, GKS has yet to see the outcome of recent health care reforms.
Aside from balancing the books, George and his team measure success on two margins: customer satisfaction and repeat business. He considers himself fortunate to work with a great crew, and he tries to return the favor when he can.
“We try to develop and motivate our employees to allow them to help us compete at the highest levels,” he explains. “Employee retention is a cause for pride. The total sales experience in our office is over 200 years. Between me and our top salesman, that is already over 100 years’ experience.”
With a strong and reliable team, GKS is on a steady course of stability and growth. The business offers high-quality construction materials, overshadowed only by leading customer service. George Kellett & Sons Inc. will continue to cater to the needs of commercial contractors throughout the region into the next generation and beyond.
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