Kingsway Services Paves, Grows, Serves
When Nicholas Pickrel, Jared Lapp and Darren Schrock sat down to name their asphalt paving business in Millersburg, Ohio, they looked to their mission for inspiration. Friends since childhood, all three had been involved in mission trips through their church. “We share a philosophy of not leaving our faith at church, but bringing our faith into everything we do,” Pickrel said.
They wanted to build a service-minded business upon the concept of redemptive entrepreneurship, as outlined in the book The Redemptive Business, which aims to teach Christian entrepreneurs how to put their faith into practice in their businesses.
“When we landed on the name Kingsway Services, we all thought it encompasses who we are and what we’re trying to do,” Pickrel said, adding that the company aims to operate the King’s way (God’s way).
“The redemptive business is one that aims to serve rather than to take,” Pickrel said. “Growing up in the construction industry, I saw the way companies often treated their people as assets they’re trying to wring all they can out of. There are so many people working in construction who don’t seem to want their kids to be in this industry for that reason. If we want to solve the labor shortage, we need to change that.”
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we run Kingsway in such a way that the people who work here recommend working here to other people, would want their kids working here?’” Pickrel said. The answer was simple: Put people first.
The Golden Rule
At Kingsway, this simple phrase takes shape in a number of ways, from good pay and benefits to opportunity for career advancement and ensuring a good work environment.
“We very quickly put together a benefits package most small companies don’t offer,” he said. “Not just one that competes with the market, but one our employees can be proud of, that can take care of their families.”
Pickrel said the comprehensive benefits package has been key to recruiting younger employees to the company. “We want employees to feel like this is a career where they can support a family while also growing personally and professionally,” Pickrel said. “Our philosophy is to create an opportunity for this to be a career instead of just a job they have from age 18 to 22 until they figure something else out.”
Alongside Kingsway’s goal to give employees a career in which they can grow, the company itself is growing. “As the company grows, people who start as a laborer or something can work their way up quickly,” Pickrel said.
“Showing that college isn’t the only option, that this industry offers good opportunities, is a part of it,” Pickrel said, “but we also need to create a culture that people want to be a part of, one that treats people well.”
That’s where Kingsway’s desire to create a good work environment is so important.
When Pickrel was younger, he recalled being on jobs where a mistake was made and the crew would be yelled at or even fired on the spot. “No second chances,” he remembered. Kingsway is taking a different approach, opting instead for a culture of forgiveness. “We see those mistakes as lessons we’ve paid for. Why not take advantage of them and see them as an investment into that person who more than likely isn’t going to do that again?”
This mentality is particularly important for Kingsway’s younger workers, many of whom didn’t grow up around construction. “I was very fortunate to grow up with a father and a grandfather who taught me how to work, how to fix things, how to figure things out,” he said. “But a lot of people from my generation didn’t have those opportunities.”
Pickrel, age 33, sees giving people a chance (and a second chance) to learn as imperative to retaining those workers. “We want to give them a chance to try, but also to fail and to learn from their mistakes,” he said. “If they have an attitude where they want to learn, we want to give them opportunities to try new things.”
For example, the company’s main roller operator Regan Troyer came to Kingsway right out of highschool. “We set him up with the roller in a safe environment, gave him a lesson and let him practice,” Pickrel said. “Now, he’s our lead roller operator and training other crew members.”
Kingsway also tries to take a holistic approach to employee wellbeing. “If an employee isn’t performing correctly, we want to understand why,” he said. “Is there something going on outside of work? Is something happening with their family?”
For example, if a person shows up late a few times, the leadership at Kingsway wants to know why. “Maybe they’re up taking care of someone until 1 a.m. or they’re stressed and they can’t sleep,” Pickrel said. If a tragedy happens in an employee’s family, Kingsway doesn’t hesitate to send the worker home (with pay) when needed.
“There’s long been this tough-guy mentality in the dirt world where we don’t talk about feelings,” Pickrel said. “But we need to try to change that.” Last year, Kingsway invested in BuildWitt’s training program to help develop its workforce, not only because it gives new employees a general understanding of construction in general, but also for its focus on emotional intelligence.
The company also created its own training videos to assist in the onboarding process. “We don’t just cover our processes and procedures, but also our core values and our mission,” Pickrel said. “We want people to know why Kingsway exists, what our bigger picture is.”
Although Kingsway has tried to create an environment where employees want to stay long-term, Pickrel recognizes some people will choose to leave the industry in general or Kingsway in particular.
“One of my personal missions is to help people develop and achieve their dreams. Not to develop people to fulfill my goals or Kingsway’s goals, but to fulfill their own goals,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have many mentors that did that for me—my dad, my grandfather—who taught me how to figure things out, encouraged me to take on challenges, to dream bigger. I hope I can be that influence for someone else.”
“Even if someone leaves Kingsway for another paving company, I try to look at it as ‘We brought another person into our industry and hopefully they’ll have the opportunity to bring someone else into our industry who otherwise wouldn’t be here’,” Pickrel said. “I prefer to have an abundance mindset, that God will provide what you need.”
So far, it’s a mentality that has worked well for Kingsway. Some of the employees who were with Kingsway in the first season or two and moved on to other opportunities have now returned to the company. “That’s been exciting to see,” Pickrel said.
“We also have a lot of employees who are ambassadors for us, recommending us to their friends, recommending their friends to us,” he added. “We got to the point last year where we had two or three people on a waiting list wanting to join our team when a position opens up.”
When a career truck driver recently left Kingsway for another opportunity, Pickrel didn’t see it as a sign Kingsway has done anything wrong but rather a sign that the company is on the right track. “He told me he’s never worked in a place like this,” Pickrel said. “He was in tears, thanking us for the environment we’ve built and for being so supportive. When employees come to us saying, ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,’ we know we’re going the right direction.”
A Golden Opportunity
Kingsway’s company mission may chiefly rely on the simple concept of putting people first, but the complete mission is a bit more complicated. “Create a better future for all by elevating the trades and building infrastructure that moves our communities forward,” Pickrel said.
However, the founders behind Kingsway didn’t always have such a lofty mission. “We started off just wanting to work together,” Pickrel said. The trio all grew up around the construction industry in Maryland and had long been interested in starting a business together. When Pickrel moved to Ohio with his wife, he very quickly recognized an opportunity to make that dream a reality.
The only paving contractor in the area couldn’t keep up with local demand. “People were trying to get projects done and were having to wait six months to a year because there was just too much work and not enough people to do it,” Pickrel said. “I could see there was a major need for another paving contractor.”
Furthermore, a self-proclaimed equipment junkie, Pickrel had been closely watching the local equipment market. “I was seeing auction after auction, retirement sales, business closures, as the Baby Boomer generation retires,” he said. Not only did that offer a chance to buy more affordable equipment to get started with, but also illustrated that the local shortage wasn’t likely to go away anytime soon. “With the future infrastructure needs, it seemed like the problem our area was experiencing was likely to compound.”
He reached out to his friends and asked if they’d be interested in moving to Ohio and starting a residential, commercial and municipal paving business together. Four years ago, Kingsway Services was born.
Although all three founders had construction backgrounds, none had past experience in asphalt paving. A member of Pickrel’s church, Paul Troyer, joined the Kingsway team to teach them what he’d learned in his 40 years of paving experience.
“Having Paul on our team gave us some clout in the area when we first started,” Pickrel said, adding that Troyer was known as Paver Paul, “so his reputation, combined with our new reputation, has been a great mix in creating trust with our customers.” Troyer still works for Kingsway, but has moved into estimating and sales.
“We invested everything we had into this, but none of us knew how to run a paver,” Pickrel said. They had bought and refurbished an old Leeboy 8500 and some trucks, and Troyer suggested they run some millings in front of the company’s shop to learn the ropes of the machine. “We didn’t even know how to lift the screed. We thought it must lift with a lever, not a screw. That still cracks me up. But sometimes you just have to jump in and figure it out.”
They also had some training from Leeboy, as well as a lot of help from other vendors and equipment suppliers. “Ohio Cat has helped us out tremendously,” Pickrel said. Within a month of starting the company, Kingsway bought a Weiler P385B paver from Ohio Cat. “They came out and trained us how to use it, gave us tips and tricks. And if something’s not quite right and we can’t figure it out, we can call up their paver specialist and he’ll help us out.”
Today, Pickrel marvels at how much they’ve learned, how quickly they’ve learned it, and how much the company has managed to grow in four years. “I remember the first job we ever did took five of us 14 hours to lay 50 tons on a small driveway,” Pickrel said. “Now we can do 800 to 1000 tons a day, two to three driveways a day, no problem. The jobs that felt big a few years ago have become average for us now.”
Now, the company employs 20 people and has seen its tonnage paved double each year, topping 36,000 tons in 2022. “This year, I think we’ll hit 70,000 tons,” Pickrel said.
In the company’s first two years, Pickrel estimates 90% of its projects were residential, but last year commercial increased to around 40% of its work. This year, he expects it to account for 60% of their work. “I think it’s easier to start with residential, while you build up a good reputation,” Pickrel said. “Our reputation for good work is out there now. People know we treat our customers right. But, that takes time to build.”
In the future, Pickrel expects the company’s share of municipal work to increase. For example, in 2023, Kingsway has already bid and won several municipal street projects totalling around 5000 tons. “We feel like it’s the start of something new,” Pickrel said. “It’s exciting to be a part of building better communities.”
In his travels around the world on mission trips, Pickrel has seen firsthand the importance of top-notch infrastructure. “Often the countries that have the best infrastructure are the ones whose people have the best quality of life,” he said. “We’re excited to be a part of building new infrastructure, of building a better community and a better country.”