KES is a collection currently of 23 employees who have all come together for one common goal to deliver exceptional electrical work and have fun doing it!
Was this 23 person company (and growing) ever even a thought in Gary Kuhlman’s mind when he first started his own business in the early 1990’s? I can tell you with absolute certainty that it was not. So, how did KES become what it is today? How in the world did someone who grew up in Hawaii end up here in Massachusetts? I mean who in their right mind would leave paradise like Hawaii, anyway?
Yes, Gary did grow up in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. At the age of 18, he decided to attend electrical school and was hired by a local company. I remember all of Gary’s horror stories of how rough of time he had with that first boss. Gary only had a few months of experience and his boss would make him do jobs on his own that he was not ready to oversee or ever taught to handle. His boss would then yell at him for doing the job wrong! Gary said it was incredibly stressful but it did force him to learn quickly.
Gary met his eventual wife who was from Boston, all the while the electrical work in Hawaii was slowing down. For those who remember the early 90’s recession; it was first felt in Hawaii prior to the mainland. Gary said there was absolutely no work in Hawaii and began to look at other options, including Boston. Gary’s wife had a relative that was a tradesman; who offered to arrange a job for Gary should he move to Massachusetts. Inevitably, Gary and his wife decided to leave Hawaii and set up in Massachusetts.
Gary said things were still booming in Massachusetts when they arrived and had a solid year or so of work before the recession hit in MA. The company he was with at the time, Gary remembers racing to the bank on payday to cash his check. If you were not one of the first, your check would bounce! This slow down and inconsistent pay forced him to start doing work on his own to provide for his family. He would work as many hours for the company as they had available then work for his own customers after hours. Eventually he had a solid enough customer base so he was able to go out on his own full time. He said it was a huge struggle for the first few years getting through that recession, but he persevered. Gary possesses a stubbornness that is so important in business owners, you just can’t give up!
Fast forward a few years. Gary’s son Jesse (me, I’m writing this!) began to tag along with him, going to jobs during the summers of middle school. In high school, I began to work more with Gary and after a brief stint in college, went full time.
I can tell you for sure, that neither one of my parents wanted me to go into this trade. They were dead set on college and a career, not electrical! Initially, I agreed with them at first as being young you really don’t know what you want to do and it’s a lot of pressure to pick something at 18. As I worked more with Gary, I became more and more fascinated with the business side of what he was doing. I was about 21 years old when I made the final decision to leave college and work with Gary full time. Believe me, this was a tense time in our house as neither one of my parents were happy about my decision! But, it was what I wanted to do and honestly one of the top 3 best decisions I’ve ever made.
Fast forward another 7 years. My fascination with the electrical business has now hit an all-time high and I became obsessed with the idea of growing the company. The following year, I received my masters license, and the year after that I took the company over and changed the name to Kuhlman Electrical Services, Inc. I am very lucky, Gary allowed me to take the company over. Many fathers would not allow such a thing, believing their kid would only screw things up. It meant a lot to me that Gary trusted me, my decisions and most importantly my vision for the company.
We Had This Completely Outside the Box Idea…
The year was 2014 when I took over the company. At that time, we had one employee (Mike) who is still with us today. Over the next few years, we grew fairly consistently adding about 7 people to our team. Then one day, Nicole my office manager and I were talking about the future of KES. I had studied what most of our competition was doing. It seemed to us that most electrical companies (trades companies in general) get very large from one location. “What was the downside to this?” I wondered. At this time, we had ~9 electricians in the field out of our Lynn office. Let’s pretend for a moment we had 18 instead. Would that over saturate our area? Would we need to send our electrician’s further and further way from Lynn to keep that many techs busy every day? If we needed to send them further away, how would that affect profitability? Can we still price these further away jobs competitively?
As with every decision we make at KES, we made it a study first. We looked at this kind of typical growth from every angle. Along the way we had this outside the box idea; why not open up a new location in a different area of Massachusetts that we cannot get to efficiently from Lynn? If we could do this, we would have an entirely new population of potential customers who don’t have the option to use us right now. We thought, well if we can keep 9+ Electricians busy here in Lynn, maybe we can repeat exactly that in this new location. This would answer those questions –
- New population of customers to service. No over saturation
- Local electricians to that area. Every customer loves to work with a local company. Plus we can price the jobs competitively as we are local!
- Profitability would be best with local electricians, as opposed to sending our Lynn electricians to towns an hour away. Duh!!
Nicole and I loved this idea from the beginning. However, we knew the biggest hurdle would be finding the right person to manage and run this new location. I’ve always been blessed here at KES in this way, when we have needed to find the right person, they have always come along at just the right time. This time was no different. We posted a job ad for this position and the first person to apply we called in for a series of interviews. We loved him from the first interview. I’m a huge “feel” person, I get a feeling when meeting someone which tells me all I need to know. I can’t explain it exactly, and I’m sure there are other people out there that know exactly what I’m talking about. I knew within the first 5 minutes of talking with Dave, that he was the one.
Dave’s South Shore Division Started with Nothing…
Dave kicked off his location in September of 2017 in Randolph MA. We used everything we had learned here on the North Shore and applied it on the South Shore with Dave leading the show. He started with nothing, literally had no electrical jobs to get this going. We used our advertising techniques, along with some great ideas from Dave and Nicole. Dave worked hard and persevered. Within 2 months, Dave had enough work to hire his first apprentice, within 4 months his first licensed electrician, and it snowballed from there. Here we are, two and half years later, and Dave has 8 electricians under him and a location in Weymouth. If I said it has been impressive to watch Dave grow his division, that would be a huge understatement!
A New Chapter: Woburn
With the success we saw with Dave, we knew we wanted to try this again at some point. Beginning of 2019 was the time, and we began our search again for another manager. Again, we were fortunate that the right person, yet again, applied and came in for an interview. I had the same feeling with Chris, as I did with Dave. I knew Chris would follow through with his promises and deliver the top notch product KES is known for. Not even 8 months later and Chris has 2 electricians under his leadership and growing! I envision big things for this division with its’ great proximity to Boston and surrounding areas, and most importantly Chris’s leadership.
I’ve learned so much over the last 6 years
George S. Patton has a great quote, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
I always loved this quote. To me, it means to set expectations with all our employees. But at the same time, give them the freedom to make decisions and try out ideas they have. This freedom has led to KES being, in my very humble opinion, the best residential electrical contractor in Massachusetts.
The last 6 years have been full of ups and downs. I’ve had lots of incredible wins followed by some terrible loses. That’s business though. Sure, there has been a fair share of stress involved, but it’s been 100% worth it. The number one thing that has made running this company so enjoyable, even though the tough times, is my amazing team! I’ve been so fortunate to have some of the most amazing and talented people join KES. They are the ones who have made it what it is today.