Therapy for Chip Kronau is 10 hours on a bulldozer.
“Leaving the phone in my truck and going out and leveling a parking lot or something is like heaven to me,” he says.
But the owner of Chip Kronau Construction & Equipment in Poestenkill, New York, doesn’t have much time these days to push the dirt. Despite being closed for two weeks during the pandemic, the business has been its busiest ever. This puts him on the company’s multiple job sites every day to make sure the work meets its high quality and safety standards, or in the office to make sure the company gets paid and the work keeps going. ‘to arrive.
Most of the company’s work is private commercial, such as excavation and site work for convenience stores, storage companies and retirement homes. He also performs emergency utility repairs for local municipalities.
It grew from $300,000 in volume in 1998, its first year, to $3-5 million a year. The company has steadily added loyal customers over the years and made progress in 3D machine control on its equipment to increase production and performance. He also added software to electronically track job costs in real time to streamline operations.
For these reasons and more, Chip Kronau Construction & Equipment is one of equipment world12 Entrepreneur of the Year finalists for 2021.
equipment worldChip’s introduction to the industry came from his father who started a home building business. From an early age, Chip went to construction sites with his father, and by age 10 he was driving a bulldozer.
“Dad said when you’re old enough to reach the pedals, you can start learning,” Chip recalls and laughs. “So the next week I got some two-by-four blocks and stuff from one of the yards he was working on and taped them to the pedals and said, ‘We’re good to go.
He was too small to sit on the seat. He stood upright while using it.
“And then it kind of took off from there,” he says. “Practically all through high school during the summers I worked for him.”
He turned to the earthmoving side of the business and yellow iron. In 1990, he joined his father full-time to carry out construction and foundation work for new houses. In 1998, he bought the excavation branch of the company and started on his own.
He was joined by Ron Brock, who also worked for Chip’s father.
“It was basically the two of us, then we hired another guy and built it over the years,” he says.
They started with residential jobs and after a year started landing commercial jobs. The big break came when they got a call from New York-based Stewart’s Shops, which has hundreds of convenience stores.
“We finished a job that another contractor had started but couldn’t meet the schedule,” recalls Chip. “And we continue to work for them today. He is one of our main customers.
Stewart’s projects are fast-paced jobs on a tight schedule with many other crews on a confined site. You are also expected to respond at any time.
“If they call, you pretty much drop what you’re doing and take care of what they need,” he says. “We have developed a good relationship with them.”
Chris Potter, project manager at Stewart’s Shops, would agree.
“They’ve been one of our top picks since they started working for us over 20 years ago,” he says. “We have very tight timelines for our projects, and they have never missed a completion date, and the quality of work is always excellent. As a project manager, hiring Chip Kronau Construction makes my job easier.
equipment worldChip believes in adapting to industry changes, especially when it comes to reinvesting in technology and equipment.
His first purchase of new equipment was in 2004 with a Cat D5G bulldozer. He had landed a job building indoor and outdoor equestrian arenas, and they had strict grading requirements. So he fitted the bulldozer with a laser guidance system, which he still uses today.
“It was my first purchase of new equipment,” he says. “There were a lot of sleepless nights and hemming and hawing, and ‘Damn, that’s a lot of money.’ But it was a good decision for us.”
In 2015, he started using 3D gear control on a mast bulldozer. He then added a bulldozer with a mastless system and recently purchased a next-generation Cat 323 hydraulic excavator equipped with 3D machine control.
He estimates that the technology reduces the time of a typical grading job at a Stewart’s site by around 30%.
“You can just have a guy go on the bulldozer and do the cut and fill, and he doesn’t even have to get off the machine,” he says. “You’re not out there pulling ropes and measuring under the rope or shooting with a line level.”
It also helps on congested sites because you don’t have to wait for other crews to move their trucks and stuff so you can do your layout work.
The new excavator’s GPS came in handy on a recent 100,000 square foot self-storage project.
“We were able to dig the foundation for this whole building without leveling a single stake,” he says. “We installed a laser just to check the slope and put the excavator in self-digging mode.”
In the past, a worker in the trench used a rover and a laser to constantly check the level and layout.
“It’s just a lot smoother and it goes a lot faster,” Chip says of controlling the machine.
“If you don’t use GPS,” he adds, “you’re going to be pretty much left behind and you won’t be competitive with the rest of the companies that use it.”
Another area of technology that has helped the company stay competitive, while reducing paperwork, is recently purchased software that electronically tracks employee time and equipment usage on job sites. Superintendents enter daily reports, including equipment they have used, photos, visitor logs, and any test results.
“So we have real-time labor costing and we know where we are at work at any given time,” he says. “It has simplified a lot of our accounting and made things much more efficient and easier. Previously, we had to manually capture data from paper timesheets or paper work reports and enter it into an accounting system. Now they are simply automatically uploaded to the accounting system. »
equipment worldAlong with reinvesting in the business, Chip believes in creating a family atmosphere within the company. “I consider every employee I have as a member of my family,” he says.
Kronau doesn’t have a lot of turnover, with many employees in place for more than 15 years.
“This company treats its employees fairly and they are respectful,” said Brian Carter, sales manager at the Milton Cat dealership. “Chip Kronau retains its staff, which contributes to the integrity and quality of its business.”
Maintaining this quality as the business grows is a top priority for Kronau Construction.
“I’m not looking to grow just to increase volumes, just to be a bigger entrepreneur,” Chip says. “As long as we’re profitable, doing quality work and have a great reputation, that’s more important to me than the size of the business.
He always strives to maintain long-term relationships with his clients. He does not advertise work and does not lack projects. Other than a two-week shutdown in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, Kronau Construction has been busy, and 2020 has in fact been one of its most profitable years.
“We want to do recurring business for the same people,” says Chip. “We want to be the go-to company that, when someone has a job, says, ‘I’m going to call Chip, because I know he’s going to do a great job.'”