Business analysts asked to create a short list of success factors for long-term survival will often default to the boilerplate elements of business planning, financial management, team-building, strategic marketing/sales, customer service and continuous improvement.
No argument there. Vision, planning and execution indeed are the building blocks. They are the foundational elements of decades-long business achievement. They can carry a company into a second, even third century. On rare occasions, more than that. But more than occasionally, there’s an element of luck involved. It can show up in a founder’s DNA: Will his offspring be inclined to carry that business legacy into a second, third or fourth generation—and beyond? Will the timing of an economic down-cycle synchronize with the growth of a young or struggling enterprise, or will that downstroke be the final straw? Will a major client unexpectedly show an interest and change the game through factors outside an owner’s control, like a major corporate relocation or key real-estate development that changes traffic patterns? Will innovation elsewhere render a business model obsolete? Again in 2019, Ingram’s recognizes companies that have endured for the long haul. They sharpened their No. 2 pencils and took the test of time, passing with straight A’s. Drawing on our extensive research into the regional business community (with feature reporting and our comprehensive lists of top area businesses by various sectors), as well as on state and local business registration data, we’re pleased to showcase the companies in our 2019 Milestones list. Each January, we recognize companies that will celebrate a key anniversary in the coming year. (We define those as dates divisible by even numbers of decades or half-decade increments.) Please join us in congratulating this year’s Milestone honorees. Did we miss your company? If so, let us know. We want you on our radar for 2024. Until then, if you’re looking for some guidance on how this year’s Milestone companies charted their courses and capitalized on the breaks that came their way, you might want to buy the owners or top executives a cup of coffee and pick their brains. Clearly, they know something that could pay off for a lot of businesses. Enjoy getting to know them.
Saint John Hospital
The dawn of the Saint John era in Leavenworth was as much an act of compassion as it was a matter of health care. Fleeing the ravages of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s rampage through the Confederate states, a Southern family made its way to Kansas and found shelter with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. The nuns in that order, founded just six years earlier, fed and clothed the refugees and sent them on to their new lives in the Midwest, giving rise to the first private hospital in a state that joined the Union just a year earlier. And they kept on providing compassionate care for nearly 150 years, until the Leavenworth facility and its larger sister hospital in Wyandotte County, Providence Medical Center, were sold to Prime Healthcare Services in 2013. More than just a community hospital, Saint John also serves military families from nearby Fort Leavenworth, as well as individuals affiliated with four prisons in the immediate area. It 76 licensed beds and a staff of more than 170 physicians and nurses, it admits more than 1,500 patients a year, and treats considerably more on an outpatient basis—nearly 26,700 in 2017 alone.
Pioneer Music Co.
Sometimes, a company’s name is more than a reflection of what it does: With operations in Lenexa, this company really does date to the days of pioneers in Kansas—it was founded in 1869, just a few years after the Civil War. Family-owned and operated, Lenexa-based Pioneer is a wholesale business-to-business provider of high-quality consumer electronic products. Humility, says vice president Alec Haight “is one of the largest factors in keeping the business successful” for so long. “It can be a confused word; not necessarily thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. A focus on our customer always told us what the customer needs to be successful, and as long as we continue to think of their success, ours follows.” Looking to the next 150 years, he says, “the landscape of business changes more quickly than ever before, and we are no exception to that. For us to survive another century, we must continue to focus on what is controllable. As long as we are doing that, we are implementing the right strategy, investing in the right expenditures, advertising the right marketing, hiring the right people, and serving our customers in the right way. We must remain the experts in what we do, uphold the mindset that we are winners, and never forget that we are a part of something much greater than ourselves.”
In some ways, Barstow School today is what education looked like in America when the school was founded in 1884: it has a low student-teacher ratio (10:1), and turns out kids who have truly learned. In fact, 100 percent of its graduates today go on to four-year colleges, and 85 percent of them do so at their first- or second-choice university. Long a figure at 115th and State Line Road, the school is marching forward with expansion plans following last year’s acquisition of a site that formerly housed a grocery in Leawood, nearly a mile to the south and across the border into Kansas. The school’s recruiting in the modern era reflects its commitment to a diverse student body; students hail from 67 ZIP codes, nearly 40 percent are of ethnic origin other than European descent, and they represent 31 nations. And yet, nearly one student in four attending the school receives need-based financial assistance. In the past eight years, Barstow has produced 33 Gold medalists in the Congressional Awards, which recognize students for voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration.
No, you can’t get a tooth filled, extracted or aligned at Goetze Dental. But the owning Brunker family has likely as not been involved if you’ve ever had any of those procedures: It has been serving private dental practices since 1884, and now counts more than 10,000 dentists as clients across a nine-state region. Don and Janet Brunker have brought a fifth generation of the Goetze family into the business with sons David and Ben, and expanded it from offerings of drills, lights and chairs into a full-service dental provider. Don Brunker’s recipe for success? “Good people, good culture and a whole lot of technology have made huge impacts,” he says. “Our employees have a ton of talent, industry knowledge and experience. With an average employee tenure of over 15 years, we’ve been able to attract and retain some of the best people in our industry because we strive to offer them a high-performance environment with a strong, family-oriented culture.” Leveraging advances in business technology has also been vital, he said, because it “enabled us to keep pace with the rapidly evolving needs of our dental customers, while allowing us to keep alive our heritage of being a nimble, privately owned and operated company.” Keeping that culture intact, he says, increases the odds that the company will be handed down to a sixth and seventh generation.
After 120 years, TriCentury Bank was the smallest bank in the two-state region of Missouri and Kansas, serving a population of just 86 people straddling the Mitchell-Cloud county line in Simpson, Kan. That was in 2014, the year a Kansas City banking veteran, Travis Hicks, acquired a stake in the ownership. The bank re-chartered in Johnson County—the most competitive venue in a broader regional market that itself is saturated with banking companies—and set about to increase the bank’s $4.6 million in assets. Through what Hicks called “a lot of hard work” penetrating the Johnson County market from its twin offices in DeSoto and Spring Hill, the bank has grown 26-fold since 2014, boasting $105.4 million in assets as of the most recent FDIC reporting period. Last July, TriCentury was recognized with a Top 10 finish in Ingram’s Corporate Report 100 listing of the region’s fastest-growing companies.
Tim Hickok is what you might call a straight shooter. Which one would expect, given that his family tree runs back to Wild Bill Hickok of Wild West fame. What one wouldn’t expect is the remarkable range of interests that compete for Hickok’s attention as fourth-generation owner of Hickok-Dible companies. Under his direction, the company has expanded from its roots as one of the region’s premier home-builders (a Dible-built home in Brookside/Waldo or northeast Johnson County has long been the imprimatur of quality for homeowners). Today, it builds, owns and manages multifamily residences, as well—more than 1,400 units in three states. And Hickok, a biologist by training, is also a published scientific author, founder of what is now Nucleic Sciences, and trained falconer who has sold birds to Middle Eastern royalty.
Belger Cartage Service
Today, Belger Cartage Service is a well-known market leader providing cranes and heavy equipment for manufacturing and construction. A century ago, it was a flash of inspiration in the mind of Richard Belger, who at that time was operating a company that served the printing industry. Taking note of how mechanization was changing the game in the delivery of paper stock, he moved into that space and capitalized on not just the demand in the printing sector, but for all manner of things that lift, transport and store … heavy stuff. The company is led by his great-granddaughter, Evelyn Belger, who came back into the family business after 10 years in commercial banking and 16 in non-profit leadership roles. She oversees six locations in four states for a company that attributes its success to providing high-quality service, a commitment to customer satisfaction, and competitive pricing strategies.
The primary focus at P1 Group is squarely on associates. “People sometimes ask me why I invest so much time and resources into training,” says Smitty Belcher, owner of the maintenance and construction services provider. “Making sure associates have the proper tools to meet customer needs is imperative. Specifically, we provide extensive training and education so our associates can stay relevant and excel at their jobs.” That means matching customer needs with staff capabilities, a natural consequence that flows from a culture where which relationships take precedent over the project, he says. He says he’s been asked “what if you train (employees) then they leave?”
“I think the more important question is ‘what if I don’t train them and they stay?’” Belcher says. Extending that success into a second century, he says, means “we must focus on how the advancement of technology is going to
affect us and our customers. Investing in the education of our associates along with the necessary technology allows us to branch into whatever our areas of service demand.”
To endure in apparel production—not far downstream from a textile sector that has been decimated over the past century—Dunbrooke Apparel Corp. has embraced emerging opportunities as well as changing consumer tastes, but always with one goal: Getting high-quality clothing to its customers. Founded in Lexington, Mo., in 1939 as Dunhill Shirt Co., it started by selling B2B with companies in this region, then added defense contracting to its portfolio with nylon jackets for U.S. troops, and added a sportswear line in 1971. It rebranded slightly to Dunbrooke Apparel in 2003 and moved closer to Kansas City, setting up its headquarters in Independence; decorating and distribution are handled through the large warehouse in El Dorado Springs, Mo. Dunbrooke has also formed alliances to provide branded apparel, as well as NFL-licensed products, with names like Reebok, Calvin Klein, Van Heusen, IZOD and Carhartt, among others.
Tracing its roots to 1944, when a war was raging around the world and U.S. manufacturing was largely focused on armaments and materiel, Commando Products makes professional-quality small and miniature hand tools. The Grandview-based company serves a wide and diverse customer base, including the manufacturing sector, hobbyists and sports interests, and school, office and home users. Its varied product line includes marking chalks, precision screwdrivers and hex drivers, files and hammers, rasps and other hand tools.
Salisbury Const. & Industrial Supply Co.
Topeka-based Salisbury Construction & Industrial Supply provides mechanical muscle to the construction and manufacturing sectors, billing itself as a one-stop source for all tool needs, parts service and supplies. The product line can be applied to rigging and concrete work, and includes fasteners, hand and power tools. Salisbury also offers repair services for some of the biggest brands in the tool territory, including DeWalt, Milwaukee, Bosch, Porter Cable and Hitachi (among others). It serves companies that specialize in commercial construction, mechanical and electrical systems, and the manufacturing, rail and utility sectors.
An operating division within the Fortune 100 global conglomerate Honeywell, the Kansas City Federal Manufacturing & Technologies unit was created in 1949. It is one of the largest private employers in the region, with more than 4,200 on staff, and its charge is to manage and operate the new Kansas City National Security Campus here for the U.S Department of Energy. That entails engineering, manufacturing and sourcing for federal agencies, with much of that work producing non-nuclear components for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Success, the company says, flows from a culture of continuous improvement, which “enables us to deliver responsive, collaborative and innovative management and technology solutions that translate into cost savings for our customer and taxpayers.”
Kansas Citians of a certain age grew up with the commercial ditty from A.B. May as much a local pop-culture fixture as the Campbell’s Soup jingle. With more than 275 employees delivering plumbing, electrical and HVAC support for residential customers, the family-owned business is in the hands of Glen and Shirley Posladek, with sons Carter and Sam on board in leadership roles. They carry on the tradition passed down from the original A and B, Glen’s parents, Aleda and Bill Posladek. That first generation bought the May Furnace Co. in 1959, and the company attributes its success to “doing things right,” from code compliance to safety protocols, extensive staff training and use of quality materials. An eye-popping 73,260 customers have completed the company’s post-work surveys, with a stellar 98 percent saying they would recommend A.B. May to family, friends and neighbors.
Beaver Drill & Tool Co.
How does a company stay on the cutting edge for six decades? The easy answer is, be in the cutting business, as with Beaver Drill & Tool Co. of Kansas City, Kan. The harder answer at a family owned and operated business is keeping up to date with a full line of cutting tools, abrasives, power equipment and other doo-dads needed to serve a diverse range of client needs. That includes companies operating in such varied spaces as aerospace, agricultural and automotive manufacturing facilities, machine and fabrication shops, heavy contractors and government entities. From its longtime perch on Mission Road, Beaver Drill & Tool maintains and inventory of more than 11,000 items in its 10,000-square-foot distribution facility, with more available from 200 supplier-manufacturers.
In the old days, “channels” came in ABC, CBS and NBC, and news or entertainment was occasionally interrupted by offerings from ad agencies. Technology has rewritten the definition of channels—print, radio (and satellite radio), cable TV, Internet, app-based/mobile and more—and ad agencies have given way to full-service strategic marketing partners that help companies navigate those highly segmented waterways. Since 1964, Barkley has been doing just
that, and headquartered Downtown in the former TWA building (hence the iconic rocket that still tops the joint), it serves a robust client roster from additional offices in Pittsburg, Boulder, Colo., and New York. In addition to providing strategic marketing services, Barkley researches and reports on generational trends, making it a go-to source for understanding how Millennials and Generation Z are receiving data—and acting on it.
Wichita may be the Air Capital of the World, but the Kansas City area has had an aviation principality all its own for the past half-century in Butler Avionics. Founded as Kings Avionics by Gary Morris (a former King Radio employee) and Steve Hayden in 1969, the company today boasts a staff of veteran technicians—some with more than 40 years of on-site experience—and its reputation for service excellence has earned it six Garmin Gold Awards for Performance Excellence, two Best of New Century awards (it’s now based in the New Century air center between Olathe and Gardner), and the Kansas Meritorious Business of the Year award. Acquired by Butler National Corp. in 2010, the avionics division serves customers worldwide with single-engine, large commercial or military aircraft.
Custom Color Corp.
This is what business evolution looks like: Custom Color Corp. got its start in 1969 as a photography-processing studio. Half a century later, it’s full-service digital printing company, but there’s more to success than the ability to place ink on paper. “For us,” the company declares, “it isn’t just printing, it’s our passion.” Keeping ahead of the competition in this sector means you don’t scrimp on the technology budget, and Custom Color says it has lived up to that by investing nearly $8 million in equipment, infrastructure, technology and software since 2010. With a mission to help companies increase brand awareness and bolster the bottom line, it has accrued such big-time clients as Bass Pro Shops, Sprint, Hy-Vee, Famous Footwear, Helzberg Diamonds and AMC Entertainment.
Johnson County Community College
How humble were the beginnings of Johnson County Community College? In 1969, the first cohort of 1,360 students took classes in an old limestone building that had even outlived its usefulness as a public school in Merriam. So how remarkable, then, has JCCC’s transformation been? Just three years after opening its doors, it relocated to its 200-acre campus “out south” in Johnson County, and today it boasts the single largest gathering of undergraduate students in the state, easily topping any Regents university. With nearly 30,000 average enrollment in courses in recent years, that’s nearly one-fourth of the roughly 120,000 in community college statewide. And its annual budget of more than $176 million certifies its claim to being the state’s flagship community college.
Dean Blay’s homey voice, sentimental anecdotes and old-home demeanor graced radio waves in this region for years; to drive Kansas City’s streets since his passing in 2013, it’s not unlike missing an old friend. But the Blay legacy of home-improvement and remodeling lives on: His son, Keith, now holds the leadership reins at Mr. Remodeler, which focuses on bath and kitchen remodeling, room additions, basement conversions and—Dad would be proud of the innovation—aging-in-place updates. “My father always believed in living up to your responsibilities, doing right by people, and helping whomever you can,” the younger Blay says. His father’s goal was not to build a company that would last into the next century—”but that is exactly what he did,” Blay says. “He did it by hiring people who believed as strongly as he did in responsibility, doing the right thing, and helping others.”
St. Joe Harley-Davidson
It’s possible—unlikely, but possible—that Mick and Clay McCreary have no Harley-Davidson genes in their DNA. But we’re pretty sure that if they get nicked, they’ll bleed SAE 60 H-D oil. The co-owners of St. Joe Harley Davidson derived their love of the biking business from parents Dewey and Susie, who opened the business in downtown St. Joseph in 1969. That was seven years after Dewey’s passion for motorsports had inspired his first run with a motorcycle shop of his own. After making a go of it on his own for a year, he signed on in a management role with Harley-Davidson in Kansas City. Today, their sons continue to preach the gospel of the open road, with one of the region’s largest showrooms of new, used and custom Harleys.
Trapp & Co.
The secret of success at Trapp & Co. is, frankly, no secret to those of us at Ingram’s. Our annual Best of Business Kansas City awards invite readers to tell us which companies set standards of excellence, and for 16 years, Trapp & Co. has been among the top three vote-getters, taking the Gold top honors more than any other regional florist—eight times. In addition to its extensive and exquisite floral designs, the company has full lines of candles and fragrances, offers services for both event-planning and interior design. Bob Trapp, who created the company’s line of candles and scents, founded his shop with a vision for floral excellence and an understanding that keeping good people around you will make the difference in the end—some of his employees have been with him for decades.
Al J. Mueller Construction Co.
A cornerstone of the construction sector based in the St. Joseph region, Al J. Mueller Construction Co. is active in projects for clients in the bioscience, commercial, health-care, industrial and non-profit sectors. Given the importance of each to this region’s business infrastructure, it’s not hard to see why the company has made it this far. A design-build general contractor, it specializes in pre-engineered metal building systems, conventional and specialty work. Among its success factors: a staff with experience both broad and deep—most of the staff, the company says, bring 20-30 years experience to various tasks, from construction estimating to management, and project development. The recipe for long-term growth also includes craftsmanship, attention to detail and honest, open relationships, the company says.
Specializing in investment strategies for pension and profit-sharing plans, as well as non-profit organizations, Merriam-based DeMarche Associates manages a massive $24 billion in assets. It counts among its clients major corporations, retirement funds, endowments, foundations and public funds. Boasting more than 300 years of combined investment experience with its consultants, the firm has thrived over the past 45 years by embracing what it calls cornerstone values: focusing on value-added activities that enhance client portfolios, knowing markets and managers better than any other consulting firm, following extraordinary ethical and professional standards, and keeping on the leading edge of investment-related research.
Stomping a national footprint in the design space, Gould Evans draws on the skills of more than 150 architects, designers and support staff working at the home base in Kansas City, as well as in Phoenix, San Francisco and New Orleans. The firm also keeps an office in its original hometown of Lawrence. The client roster is larded with corporate notables like Cerner Corp., college campuses that include the University of Kansas, UMKC, Florida State, Arizona and Tulane, plus high schools, libraries, and multifamily residential projects. Gould Evans is about more than just buildings; it also specializes in interior and graphic design, planning and landscape
Success really is in the bag for this Grandview-based company, which makes made-to-order poly-resin bags and sheeting for commercial clients. The privately owned company operates a massive production facility on Missouri 150 near Interstate 49, turning out the yellow bags you’re no doubt familiar with if you’ve ever had a child in a school, little-league sports or Scouting fund-raiser. The nickname, in fact—The Yellow Bag People—may be a bit of a misnomer; you can get Frontier products in a wide range of colors, with custom printing options available. The company says higher-grade, quality-made bags have been key to its ability to forge relationships with Fortune 500 companies and smaller organizations alike, and more than 200 years’ combined experience in the leadership ranks doesn’t hurt.
Maranatha Christian Academy
Founded with a commitment to both academics and faith, Maranatha Christian Academy has grown to accommodate two Shawnee campuses for students in the K-12 grades, and has turned out 1,274 graduates since its inception by the Full Faith Church of Love. The focus on academics reveals itself with a low student-teacher ratio, a strategic approach to student success and college-level course availability. But a foundational element unique to such private schools is its unwavering dedication to a biblical worldview. And far from exclusive, the school provides more than $1 million in tuition assistance to a student body of more than 450.
Mark One Electric
The company founded by the late Red and Josephine Privitera in 1974 soon distinguished itself with a clientele made up of small commercial and industrial businesses. Those clients will always be a part of the customer mix at Mark One, but the electric contractor has grown to become perhaps the leading brand within that specialty in the Kansas City market. You can see the impact it has had by thumbing through a roster of the high-visibility projects in its portfolio of work: Children’s Mercy Park, the Downtown streetcar system, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts are among the company’s more visible projects. The second and third gereration of the Privitera family and valued employes have significantly grown the enterprise into one of KC’s greatest firms.
Seal-O-Matic Paving Co.
It consisted of no more than a single paving crew when Jerry Jaben and a partner bought out the owner to found Seal·O·Matic. As is often the case with companies that make it into a fifth decade, success would flow from a combination of hard work and a focus in the fundamentals. Today, the company is a family-owned contractor serving two-state area, with second-generation Mike Jaben in the president’s chair, third-generation Miles now on board, and a staff with an aggregate 200 years’ of experience in the paving industry. From pothole-filling to residential road-building, the company vows to deliver only the work that needs to be done, at the right price, with a focus on efficiency and safety.