Case Studies

Kistler & Knapp Builders Inc.

New ownership continues 35 years of better building in Boston and beyond

The beginning of 2014 marks a not only a new year, but a significant turning point for Kistler & Knapp Builders Inc. (KKB). With more than 35 years of building experience in the high-end residential market, KKB has established itself as one of the most respected general contractors in the Greater Boston area. Working with demanding architectural concepts and the finest level of craftsmanship, KKB continues to march to the same tune of open, effective communication throughout the building process under new owners.

Doug Stevenson, now president of KKB, and Renee West, principal and CFO, joined the company nearly 20 years ago and assumed ownership in January 2014. For years leading up to the transition, the pair worked closely with KKB’s founders, Dennis Kistler and David Knapp.

“Dennis and David worked collaboratively with Renee and me over the past five years to set up for a smooth transition,” shares Doug. “Ownership comes with great responsibility; the buck stops here, but we’re truly excited about the opportunity.”

Setting the stage for success

Dennis and David set the stage for KKB in 1979, starting out as a handyman service that Dennis formed shortly after graduating from college in 1972. “We had a very humble beginning,” notes Dennis. “With my background in carpentry and cabinet making I would take whatever little projects I could. David was a racing yacht builder and he joined me shortly after I started the company.”

KKB’s level of quality and transparency quickly became apparent. “What grew the company was the quality of our work, but also our ethics and our approach at keeping the lines of communication open between all parties involved – the architects, owners and subcontractors – to ensure everyone was on the same page,” shares Dennis.

The firm began to establish itself as a full-service construction company ready to handle the most demanding custom residential projects. Backed by the core principles Dennis and David founded KKB on, customers grew to appreciate the firm’s comprehensive management and open-book financial policy.

When the pair first started out, they noticed a particular lack in site work quality. “Quality starts with the foundation of the home,” explains Dennis. “If you start off with a nice, level hole, it makes it easier for the foundation crew to get their product plumb and level, which helps the framer get his product square and true and ends up with the finish carpenter, whose product everyone sees. It’s easier for him to shine if it’s started out right. So, in the beginning of our business, we took over the site work to ensure that everything was done right, down to the fact that David was one of the first builders in New England to put venting under the slab, so that if radon ever became an issue, the solution was a simple as turning on a fan.”

Finding the team to pass the torch to

With Dennis and David’s expertise, KKB began to grow from single-family homes and additions to town houses, auxiliary buildings and even light commercial buildings. But to further KKB, the founders needed a team to make it happen.

“We attracted the incredibly talented staff that we have, because we have focused on much more than just compensation,” says Dennis. “We understand that our employees have families and want to be part of their lives. No amount of money will ever replace the recital you missed or the graduation ceremony you were too busy to attend. We allow our staff flexibility and foster an environment of camaraderie, and in return we get employees who are more efficient, level-headed and do an amazing job on our projects.”

As Dennis and David neared the point of retirement the pair didn’t want to see the company they had put so much time and dedication into over the years close its doors or scale back; therefore, they turned to KKB’s team to focus on succession. The owners recruited Renee and Doug, who had joined KKB nearly 20 years ago, to tackle the role of ownership.

“I came from an insurance background and I was ready for a new challenge,” relates Renee. “Dennis and Dave had been clients; their integrity and work ethic attracted me to KKB. The specifics of the construction business were new to me, but I felt if I didn’t like it, I could pursue other avenues. It’s been 20 years now and I still love my job.”

Learning to lead and lean

Doug and Renee now oversee KKB’s day-to-day operations, inspired by a tradition of hands-on, lead-by-example management. “Dennis and David are still very much a part of the company,” says Doug. “You can still often find David operating machinery with our site work department.”

While Doug and Renee are leading the charge, its KKB’s trusted team that continues to pull through and further the company’s reputation. “Being in a leadership and ownership position, one must have a very keen sense of time and process management,” adds Doug. “When to delegate and when to recognize that you, the owner, must get involved comes up often. Building custom homes requires a team effort and we must set the tone and encourage, motivate and trust our staff and employees. We succeed together and really thrive when everyone believes in what they’re doing.”

High-end residences near and far

With a talented team, KKB continues to thrive and deliver some of the most outstanding residential projects in the eastern U.S., from Massachusetts to Vermont and Rhode Island to Prince Edward Island (PEI). “We recently finished a green home with Epstein Joslin Architects Inc. out of Boston,” notes Doug. “This project involved outstanding architectural elements and construction challenges, as well as energy efficient components. The home is like a lab for alternative energy.”

Dubbed The Floating Peak House, the single-family residence in Boston is situated within the historic gardens of a former estate. Natural materials, such as limestone flooring, fieldstone hearths, exposed heavy timbers and wood ceiling decking, harmonize with views of the garden. Energy efficient features include thin film photovoltaics on the south-facing roof of the main volume of the home to help power the geothermal heat pump that delivers much of the heating and cooling for the home.

From Boston to the remote PEI, KKB travels far and wide for specific projects. “We recently completed a 15,000-square-foot residence on PEI,” notes Doug. “We had two employees travel weekly to the island and KKB provided the necessary financial and management oversight necessary for this significant residential vacation estate.”

Mustering local PEI resources was a real challenge for KKB. “Our team was able to find some of the best craftsmen in the region to create a product just as if it were in our own backyard,” reveals Doug. “The architect, Michele Foster, was also based long distance, but was readily available and often on-site. The key to any project, especially when dealing with remote locations, is establishing a solid team and working collaboratively to achieve the goal.”

Duratherm Window Corporation (Duratherm) was also an integral part of KKB’s team on the PEI job. “Working with a firm as experienced and highly regarded as KKB on this beautiful PEI project was a truly professional, enjoyable experience,” adds Tim Downing, president of Duratherm. “Their dedication to quality and service guaranteed a very high quality outcome, as well as a chance to continue our valued relationship.”

KKB continues to build valued relationships with partners, subcontractors, vendors and customers, ensuring a long-lasting future for the company. “Our primary goal over the next two years is to build on the tradition that Dennis and David have established over the past three decades,” ensures Doug. “We have a solid management team and great employees. We need to continue doing all that we were doing well, and strive to perfect any areas that need improvement. We hope to take advantage of the more robust construction environment – timing should be good.” Kistler & Knapp Builders Inc. is in good hands for future growth, continued prosperity and building on a time-tested reputation.

Published on: July 9, 2014

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