J.W. Koehler Electric Inc.
For 45 years J.W. Koehler Electric Inc. (Koehler Electric) has been a believer in responsive service. “What sets us apart at the end of the day is we answer our phones and we return our phone calls,” says Tim Koehler, second-generation president of the Iowa-based union contractor. “That sounds simple, but it seems to be an oddity in this industry and I’ve experienced it on a personal level trying to get things done around my own home.”
Someone to lean on
Tim says the family-owned and -operated company focuses on being down to earth and friendly. “As a result, people like to deal with us because they know we like working with them,” he shares. “When you work with Koehler Electric, you feel like you’re talking with someone who truly cares; it’s a sense of ‘we’re in this together.'”
This philosophy stems from James and Marcia Koehler, who founded the family company in 1969. In its early years, Koehler Electric concentrated on residential service work, including home wiring and HVAC control systems. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the home construction market began to slow and the Koehlers decided to expand into the industrial sector.
As a result of high customer satisfaction and quality installations, Koehler Electric experienced rapid growth in the commercial and industrial realm. Today, the company offers a diverse set of services, including 24-hour service, design-build electrical expertise, automation and control integration, professional CAD service and a full data and communications division.
Tim, who now runs the company with his two sisters, says it’s much easier to say what Koehler Electric doesn’t do, because the company’s offerings are so extensive. “We don’t do high line high-voltage work or traffic signals,” he says. “We do everything from large industrial and commercial to individual homes; service calls, fiber optics, phone systems, security cameras and we have a full information technology department.”
Strength in flexibility
For Koehler Electric, it’s all about flexibility and adjusting to consumer demand. “That’s what has allowed us to grow,” says Tim. “In order to be a successful company, in any particular area, you need to be flexible and do what customers want done, because the customer is not a single user, everyone has different needs and they want to call one provider for a single-source solution.”
Based in Davenport, Iowa, Koehler Electric now employs a range of 100 union-contracted professionals, serving an approximate one-hour radius of its home base. “We stay within about a 60-mile radius, because that’s where we can offer the best service and be most competitive,” notes Tim.
In its 60-mile range, Koehler Electric has served some major names. “We have just completed a $2 million electrical addition for 3M and a $7 million electrical addition for Alcoa,” reveals Tim. “At the new Metro LINK bus station on Moline, Ill., we completed $3 million of new electrical systems. We also completed a $2 million overall plant turnaround at the Clinton Lyondell Basell Plant; 2013 was a bubble year for us, well exceeding average numbers.”
Landing jobs, even in a post-recession economic climate, hasn’t been the issue for Koehler Electric, according to Tim. The biggest challenges are the ever-changing third-party regulations and keeping pace with new technology. “Our larger customers have been moving into outsourcing areas of their administration to third parties in an effort to cut those departments or layers of overhead,” he explains. “For us, this means new rules, new process and generally more paperwork. From my desk, over the last few years, there have been little signs of streamlining the paperwork process in our customers’ administrative applications.”
Staying well-connected and consistent
Fortunately for Tim and his team at Koehler Electric, the company has a network of strong industry relationships to communicate with and learn from. As a longtime member of the National Electric Contractors Association (NECA) Quad Cities Chapter, Tim says if his company needs a helping hand, it’s always there for support.
“Being a NECA member is all about being involved,” he says. “You get back what you put into it. Anybody can send in money and get a newsletter, but if you’re actively involved you’re going to be in the know of what’s happening.”
Tim currently resides as the president of the Quad Cities chapter. “NECA gives me insight into what’s going on in our industry and how it all works together, not to mention I have friendly relationships with fellow competitors in my chapter so when we need a helping hand or suggestion, there’s a willingness to work together,” he explains.
While Tim says he doesn’t see a huge spike coming in the Iowa contracting market, he doesn’t see a big drop coming either, which is cohesive to the way Koehler Electric stays afloat; through consistency. “As long as we’re consistent managing our risk, we should win more than we lose; you’re going to experience mistakes, however, they’re generally driven by the spirit of continuously being competitive,” he assures. “Our methodology is based on value for the customer, fairness for both parties and if we can deliver on schedule; if those three things are in place, then it’s a win-win for everyone.”
After more than four decades of family ownership, Tim and his sisters keep J.W Koehler Electric Inc.’s mantra of quality, consistency and responsive service moving forward.
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