Greg Kerkstra, left, and Larry Kerkstra are steering the family’s concrete supply business through its 50th year. Courtesy Kerkstras
Little did Larry Kerkstra know he would be digging up gold when he began installing septic tanks for residential projects back in 1962. Today, his business, Kerkstra Precast, is a leading concrete supplier to the construction industry. It celebrated its Golden Anniversary last week.
Over those years, Kerkstra Precast has developed a reputation for producing high-quality precast structural and architectural concrete products that have been used in a variety of commercial and residential building projects in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.
Larry Kerkstra retired about 10 years ago and now spends his winters in Florida. Greg Kerkstra, his son, became president and took over the reins of the family-owned company when he stepped down. Greg began working at the firm in the summer of 1987. His first job was pouring adjusting rings. “That involves a wheelbarrow, a shovel and working outside and making small adjusting rings,” he said.
An adjusting ring is used to level a casting with the height of a road. Now the company produces a full line of precast infrastructure products that range from manholes, bridge beams and vaults to sound walls, stairs, trusses and almost everything in between, including grease interceptors.
Kerkstra Precast has about 160 employees. It is headquartered on Busch Drive in Grandville and has another facility on Chicago Drive in Jenison.
Larry Kerkstra worked as a septic-tank installer for a builder before he started his firm. “But I couldn’t keep busy with just that one builder, so I asked if I could use his equipment and get other customers. That’s how it started,” he said.
“Then there was a road contractor who had some manhole forms who wanted to sell them, and I thought that if I bought the forms, I’d have a customer. So I bought the forms and I had a customer. Then I wanted to build a building and he also had some forms for that, and so we started building buildings,” he said.
Kerkstra said there was no business epiphany — no major project that appeared out of nowhere and led him to believe he had something special going on. Instead, he said the company was built the hard way, through steady growth over the next several decades.
“It just evolved to garage floors and a car wash and it just kept on growing,” he said.
“I think it was 20 to 25 years before we really got into it. One of our first jobs was the Holiday Inn in Holland for floors. The contractors asked whether we could do it or not, but we said we could and we did,” he said.
Kerkstra said Kerkstra Precast has grown by “leaps and bounds” the last 10 years. The company has supplied construction products to some fairly notable building projects for Meijer Inc., Gordon Food Service, the Spartan Foods YMCA and Family Fare.
He said more builders are looking for precast products now than in the past, and builders now have a precast supplier in the area from which they can get specs. “We’ve kept going very well. We’ve never had a slow time,” he said.
Greg Kerkstra said the company has been able to keep its full-time work force at 160 for the last seven years or so, with just minor variations to that number.
“When ’09 hit and in ’10 we dropped down a little bit and our sales dropped, but we’re building back up again over the last couple of years,” he said.
He pointed out that a good share of the company’s success and its longevity is due to its employees and front office team, including Vice President of Operations Steve Haskill and Senior Sales Consultant Randy VanHoven.
From his perch, Greg said the business future looks good for Kerkstra Precast. He noted that the company hadn’t previously done a lot of expanding into different markets, but is doing that now. The firm is getting more orders for architectural precast products, which have a higher finish than concrete pieces. And he said the company also is making headway into the medical, office, parking structure and school markets.
“There is a need for speed, and that’s one thing that owners love about our product. That’s definitely a part of today’s environment with the uncertainty going on. When they do go with a building, they want (products) quickly, and our products offer that,” said Greg Kerkstra.
“Plus, it’s energy efficient and can help with energy costs going forward, and it’s very durable. And I think being able to manufacture in a controlled environment is a big plus for us. I think we have some good opportunities. We have a very flexible product.”