Koontz-Wagner Services was founded roughly a century ago with a very simple mission. At first, the company repaired motors, but in very short order, its range of services expanded.
“We began in 1921 as an electric motor repair shop, but along with the need for electric motor repair quickly came the corresponding need for certified electricians to hook up the motors,” explains Director of Sales and Marketing, Dan Garnett.
The South Bend, Indiana-based firm still offers electrical motor and equipment repairs today but also has branched into new equipment sales, predictive maintenance, automation and controls, electrical contracting, design and installation, tech systems such as VDV and fire alarm, and more.
“We have a large breadth of services that are complementary to each other,” Garnett says. “We may have competition for electricians, we may have competition for motors, we have competition for drives, controls and automation, for low-voltage systems – but none of our competitors do all of it. We’re trying to market our organization as a full-scale electro-mechanical solutions provider… It’s one of our differentiators. You can make one call, get teams of KW technicians to come out and perform all these different [services].”
Koontz-Wagner works for industrial, commercial and institutional clients at construction sites, industrial plants and on renovation and expansion projects. The company has also moved into new markets, recently undertaking work on wind turbines and solar arrays, for example. “We’re positioning our organization to be more progressive with energy conservation and management,” explains Garnett.
In addition to the South Bend headquarters, the company has a branch in Fort Wayne, Indiana and a location in Ohio.
“Although we’ve done work nationally on wind farms, primarily we’re a regional company; we perform work in Chicago, Northwest Ohio, South Michigan and Northern Indiana,” with around 200 employees in total, depending on projects. “We’re largely a union shop. Most of our team members are unionized, such as the electricians and motor shop technicians,” says Garnett.
The company self-performs the vast majority of its projects. Occasionally, Koontz-Wagner takes a job outside its usual territory. When doing so, the company can provide its own supervisors but, “we can also bring on local talent to assist with the project,” says Garnett.
Besides its long history, other factors that set Koontz-Wagner apart from the competition include the quality of its workmanship, its world class customer service, a desire to stay on top of technology trends and the ability to offer multiple services. The latter capability benefits both customers and the firm’s bottom line.
“Our services are diverse, so we are well-positioned to navigate through downturns in the economy,” explains Garnett. “If we were solely focused on electrical construction and the state of that industry goes down, then we’d have to ride that rollercoaster and concede much of our ability to control our own destiny. With our broad range of services, we are able to pivot and focus elsewhere.”
The company’s electrical work ranges from installing advanced lighting systems on large construction projects to working on low-voltage systems inside buildings involving camera systems, fire alarms and security devices. Its automation work centers on machine controls, Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) systems, and similar. Predictive maintenance work involves the inspection and monitoring of client equipment to make sure everything is functioning as it should be. Diagnostic tests, repairs and tune-ups are also provided as needed.
To best serve its clients, Koontz-Wagner is determined to keep up on all the latest high-tech developments in its field. These developments include the Internet of Things (IoT), remote monitoring, Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, solar and wind energy systems, and much more – solutions that would have astonished the company’s original founders in their motor repair shop.
The goal is to guide clients who want to use high-tech tools in their work environments. Remote monitoring and the Internet of Things, for example, offer substantial benefits to manufacturers and industrial firms in terms of increased productivity and efficiency, says Garnett. In an IoT network, sensors on equipment and machinery track performance and output, and this data can be securely and remotely monitored wherever there is an Internet connection.
The company also sees merit in the “smart building” concept in which systems ranging from heating to lights, air-conditioning, ventilation and security are controlled automatically. The goal is to save energy and make the work environment more pleasant and efficient. As an electrical contractor, it makes good sense for Koontz-Wagner to stay abreast of such high-tech developments, says Garnett.
Embracing high-tech tools is another way Koontz-Wagner offers the best possible customer care. “We’re trying to be an organization that brings more progressive solutions to our clients,” says Garnett. Internally, Koontz-Wagner uses BIM software to create 3D models for design purposes.
In addition to excellent customer relations, Koontz-Wagner has a long-standing reputation for high-quality workmanship. The goal is to let clients sleep easy at night, “knowing that when they give us a task it’ll be done right, the first time, every time. They won’t have to babysit us along the way. We want to create what we call continuing customers – that is, customers that want to continue to do business with us over and over again,” states Vice-President and General Manager, Tony Maloney.
An emphasis on quality is backed by stringent safety measures – the company aims to “deliver quality workmanship in a safe manner,” explains Garnett.
The firm’s high-quality work has been recognized by industry groups. Koontz-Wagner recently teamed with electrical contractor ERMCO for a project at Nanovic Hall at the University of Notre Dame. The project earned a 2018 NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association) Project Excellence Award in the category of educational buildings valued at over $1 million.
Koontz-Wagner has also recently performed electrical work at Notre Dame Stadium and is currently “doing a major renovation of a former Studebaker assembly plant in South Bend. It’s being turned into a mixed-use development with several smart building technologies in play,” states Maloney.
Maintaining quality is largely a matter of “hiring the right people,” states Garnett. Koontz-Wagner likes workers with “a fantastic mindset” and a “[positive] outlook on what’s important to the customer – putting the customer first in terms of on-time delivery and high-quality service,” says Garnett. The company can train workers to improve their technical skills, if need be, something that is often done by pairing veteran employees with new hires in a mentorship capacity.
Once the Koontz-Wagner team feels confident in a worker’s abilities and attitude, they like to keep them on staff for as long as possible. “We have very low turnover rates, both in the office and in the field,” says Maloney. “We have people who start here as apprentices and go all the way to retirement with Koontz-Wagner – we’re the only firm they ever worked for. That’s kind of unusual in the construction and facility services business.”
Asked what accounts for this loyalty, Maloney cites, “recognizing our people for being the valuable assets they are. We try to treat them as family members; we were a family-owned business for a long time. We are private equity-owned for now but it’s the same philosophy. We try to invest in our people, allow them to grow.”
This loyalty has also extended to the company’s customer base. “Over the years, [a lot of sales] have been based on referrals because of the quality of our workmanship and trust. We haven’t had a direct sales marketing organization in play in many, many years,” shares Garnett.
Historically, the company’s approach to gaining business was somewhat reactive, he continues. Calls would come in (often from repeat customers or new clients who had heard good things about Koontz-Wagner) and the work would follow. Recently, the company has decided to become more proactive on the promotional front. The firm is revamping is website, rethinking its social media strategy and has come up with a new motto. “Our new tagline is ‘Power, Performance, Progress,’” says Garnett.
As for challenges facing the company, he says, “It’s becoming more difficult to find great talent. Not as many [young people] are entering the trades. As a society and broader culture, there unfortunately isn’t as much interest in getting into the trades.” Koontz-Wagner has addressed this in part by creating a program it calls KW University, in which the company provides additional in-house training and education for young employees in order to “train the future leadership.”
Koontz-Wagner is also involved in a nationwide NECA initiative that aims to double the number of new apprentices entering the union electrical sector each year, from roughly 8,000 to 10,000 people to 20,000. “I sit on our labor management cooperative committee,” explains Maloney. “We fund programs to run advertisements for people to come into the industry – radio, TV, social media advertising. It’s a great living to get into.”
Meanwhile, Koontz-Wagner hopes to grow by continuing to “be more progressive in bringing our customers new and innovative ways to increase their productivity and uptime” while also considering new strategic acquisitions, says Garnett. The Fort Wayne location, for example, was an acquisition.
The goal over the next five years is to “grow regionally” and for existing customers “to become fully engaged with our broad portfolio of service lines and to be viewed as ‘the’ trusted facilities solutions provider,” he concludes.