“I won’t buy another dozer without intelligent Machine Control”
In 2011, when Eric Merhiy became President/ Owner of KPH, Inc., his family’s construction company, he wanted to maintain the solid reputation that his grandfather and father had worked hard to establish. He also looked to leave his own mark on the Fargo-based firm. To do that, he enhanced the company’s focus on site-development jobs.
“I believed we could increase our offerings in site work to a point that we could perform all of it ourselves,” recounted Merhiy. “Before I took over, we only did the underground aspects – water, sewer and storm sewer. I saw an opportunity to do everything and offer it as a package to our customers.”
Merhiy’s hunch paid off, and KPH has grown from 20 employees to around 60 during busy times. The firm began to take on more mass-excavation applications of projects, in addition to the other utility work the company performed under Merhiy’s father, a move that added both employees and control for KPH.
“Today, we can handle everything up to paving in-house,” said Merhiy. “Because of this, we have a lot more influence over the time frame and quality of our results. We don’t have to wait for anyone or follow another contractor’s schedule. If it’s a KPH jobsite, it’s only KPH equipment and employees doing the work. I think our customers appreciate that.”
Merhiy has continued to look for ways to grow the business, and in 2016 he added crushing to the company’s service list.
“Similar to adding excavating, we thought crushing could help us fill a niche,” he explained. “We target smaller tonnages, up to 25,000 tons. We can crush concrete on site and reuse the material as base, or we can go to a site and crush for someone, and they can transport it. We have a mobile crusher, so our goal is to get in, crush and get out.”
While these additions occurred under Merhiy’s watch, he says the main reason for KPH’s success is its employees, like Vice President Patrick Hockett. “One hundred percent – our growth is because of our staff. We wouldn’t be where we are without people like Patrick; he’s been a phenomenal asset. We have the best people in the business here.”
Larger staff, bigger projects
As KPH added services and manpower it was able to pursue bigger jobs. In 2013, it served as a subcontractor on the $400-million Sanford Hospital in Fargo, completing water, sewer and storm-sewer installations in the last three years.
KPH’s largest contract came in 2016 as it completed a massive, $10-million remodel for North Dakota State College of Science. Beginning last April, the company installed new parking lots, roads, electrical system and water utilities – completing the job before the school’s fall semester began in August.
“We basically tore up the entire campus,” recalled Merhiy. “It was a great effort to be a part of. There was a lot to do in a short time frame, but we were able to hit our deadline.
“This was a landmark project for us,” he continued. “It is the largest we’ve done and was pretty well-known. This gives us something we can point to when we are talking to potential customers. The school and the engineers were happy, so we were pleased. It’s a nice feather in our cap.”
When KPH decided to move into excavating, it did so with an equipment advantage. Merhiy turned to General Equipment & Supplies, Inc. and Sales Rep John Gromatka for Komatsu intelligent Machine Control dozers. The company owns a D61PXi and a D51PXi and rents two more Komatsu D61PX dozers that are equipped with aftermarket GPS systems. For KPH, doing dirt work with no GPS control is out of the question.
“I won’t buy another dozer without intelligent Machine Control,” promised Merhiy. “We are 100-percent more efficient with them. Moving dirt once and being on-grade without using any stakes has changed our business. I don’t know how we’d ever do a dirt contract without these dozers any more. It just wouldn’t make any sense.”
KPH uses its dozers for parking lots and building pads, and has begun putting them to work on pipe jobs to help prep roads in front of the dirt crews.
The company also turns to Gromatka at General Equipment & Supplies for other Komatsu pieces. KPH has eight Komatsu excavators ranging from a PC138USLC to a PC490LC, as well as a WA380 wheel loader.
“We’ve been running Komatsu excavators for 15 years,” reported Merhiy. “We have such a great relationship with General Equipment and John that we always use Komatsu. They take great care of us.”
Building for the future
As with many family companies, the succession plan is already in place at KPH – however, it would be fair to categorize it as a long-term plan.
“I have two boys who love trucks and dozers, but they can only operate the toy versions,” joked Merhiy of his sons Gavin (5) and Gage (3). “The opportunity is there for them to be the fourth generation to run the business if that’s something they want to do.
“Until then, I think KPH has a strong future ahead of it,” he continued. “There is plenty of growth opportunity. Our entire staff is committed to this place, and that’s a great thing for us.”