Zernco Looks to Expand Beyond Construction

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Zernco owner Ashley Thill, center, and Jason Boling, left, and Scott Marko are among the leadership team at the contracting company that continues to grow and expand its services.

by Carrie Rengers – The Wichita Eagle 4/15/2015

Dave Zerngast was careful to name his construction company Zernco instead of something more specific to the field because he knew the second generation of the business might expand beyond construction.

“My dad wanted to create a legacy for our family,” said Ashley Thill, who joined the business in 2009 at the invitation of her stepfather Zerngast, and who bought the major share of it in 2012.

“He said, ‘I wanted you to be able to make it whatever you wanted it to be,’ ” she said. “The possibilities are limitless.”

Thill said she’s now exploring those possibilities.

“We finally have my executive team in place,” she said. “I worked really hard over the last five years.”

She promoted Scott Marko to vice president of development and hired Jason Boling as construction operations manager.

“He was the last piece of the puzzle,” Thill said.

When her parents owned the business, she said, “It was a very top-down organization.”

Her stepfather was the one who sought new clients.

Now, Thill empowers her team to do that.

She said Marko has “helped us develop new relationships.”

Thill also lets the team manage the production side of the business while she can “just be there more as a coach and as a mentor.”

Zerngast started Zernco in 1991 as a cabinet shop that did millwork. Then the company began to do subcontracting work.

“It’s hard these days to find skilled craftsmen, and Zernco started out by providing the craftsman work,” Thill said.

Zernco now does new construction, renovations, remodels and service and maintenance.

Thill said some general contractors use subcontractors. “We send our crews out, and they actually perform the work.”

Thill said the staffing allows Zernco “to control the schedule and the quality of our work and maintain our reputation.”

“It is a lot to manage human resource-wise. The schedules are tight and fast.”

They’re also always changing, Thill said.

“It’s kind of a joke around here. Everybody wants to know where they’re going next.”

Thill has a background in the financial industry and said it’s proving useful.

“With my background in the financial world and the partnerships that I have made in the construction world … I am beginning to look at offering administrative services to some of the subcontractors that we work with,” Thill said. “I have a strong background in organizational development, and I’m very willing to share my feedback and ideas with other contractors who need that.”

In addition to consulting, she said, “We’re planning on really working more diligently on our facilities and maintenance department.”

She’s marketing it to existing customers and other general contractors in and out of the Wichita area.

There are other areas Thill is considering as well.

“We would like to get into some property development, but we’re in the infant stages of that.”

In January, Zernco moved into an almost 9,000-square-foot space it remodeled at the southeast corner of Pawnee and Greenwich.

“We really like it here,” Thill said. “It really brought a whole new energy to the group.”

A lot has changed at the company in the last few years.

Thill said Zernco jumped from $10 million in revenues in 2012 to $25 million last year.

She said even though the more generic Zernco name is helping her take the business in new directions, she said for a long time a lot of people didn’t know what it was.

That’s changed too, Thill said.

“I feel like people finally know what Zernco is.”

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