Issue Vol19 Iss5
Built to last
As a full-service general contractor, Helmkamp Construction is known for providing reliable services with the customer in mind
Since 1938, Helmkamp Construction (Helmkamp) has provided reliable, high-quality general construction services to customers in the industrial and life sciences sectors. Based in St. Louis, the company is known for its ability to think ahead, and foster strong, long-lasting relationships with its customers. Today, the company continues to thrive, with an ever-expanding workforce, and exciting opportunities on the horizon.
“Helmkamp is based in St. Louis, but it is a national operation that offers services throughout the country. We primarily work for clients in the industrial building and life sciences sectors, seeking out long-term relationships with repeat buyers of professional construction services,” introduces Rob Johnes, President and Owner of Helmkamp Construction.
“Helmkamp was founded in 1938, as a family-run operation. I actually started with the company as an intern about 25 years ago, and worked my way up until I was in a position to acquire it from the founding family. I purchased Helmkamp from the third generation of that family in 2018, and have run it ever since.”
Offering a range of services has helped Helmkamp earn its reputation for providing reliable, transparent construction support. As Rob discusses: “One thing that differentiates the company from its competition is its in-house capabilities. While a lot of other contractors have moved more into management roles, subcontracting out most of their work, we have a lot of skilled professionals in the business, which makes it easier to self-perform when necessary.
“We are all trained to work effectively within an industrial environment. That means my team is used to working with heavy foundations, civil work, structural steel and a variety of equipment installation.
“Our independent capabilities allow us to be much more flexible than other contractors. We can help manage budgets and project timelines far easier due to the fact that we don’t need to find subcontractors for a lot of the work. This has helped us buildreally strong, long standing relationships with customers.
“Some of our partnerships go back nearly 40 years. We are always looking at the long term with our customers, trying to get them the best outcome for their project, regardless of whether or not that means we are leading it. We look at overall objectives and then provide the best solution and delivery to clients; we don’t insist on selling our services unless we think they are the best fit for the job, and I think that makes Helmkamp quite unique.”
Driven by a desire to support customers above all else, Helmkamp seeks to provide budget-friendly, transparent advice on all of its projects. This became especially important during one particular job, as Rob reveals: “One of our most memorable projects was with a long-term client in the education sector. They had some issues in the campus auditorium, which meant that they had to replace the air handlers.
“The original solution that had been presented to them was building an addition onto the building to house the air handlers. At that point we intervened and offered an alternative; we told the client not to make the extension, but instead house the handlers back in the attic area.
“We worked in a support role, helping a mechanical contractor manage the acoustics in the auditorium attic. We took on this role because it was the best way for us to support the customer, and save them potentially millions of dollars.
“We oversaw the addition of various acoustic and structural modifications in the attic, in order to resolve the issue our customer was having. When the project completed, there had been no need for an addition to the building, and the air handlers achieved the desired acoustics from the attic. We helped manage climate control in the area without interfering with the sound movement throughout the auditorium, which was the original project goal, and we did all of this with only a third of the labor it would have taken to move the handlers and build a new space.”
None of this would have been possible without Helmkamp’s highly skilled team of project managers. “The company is made up of a lot of incredibly talented individuals. We have a lot of project managers on our team, many of whom started as interns, like myself, and worked their way up. This means that they all have strong relationships with clients that have been fostered over ten, 20 years.
“As I mentioned, we always look at a client’s needs in the long term, which means we often offer people a different perspective to contractors who only consider the individual project. We don’t do any public or open market work, so we don’t have a ‘one and done’ mentality on any of our projects. Our first project is usually the beginning of a long-lasting relationship, and so it’s quite rare that we do one-off work,” Rob affirms.
The same sense of loyalty is behind many of Helmkamp’s partnerships with its suppliers. “We have long term relationships with many of our subcontractors and suppliers, and we always strive to treat them fairly, the same way we do with our customers. We look for partners on the basis of performance, rather than price, and that way we have teamed up with a lot of really reliable businesses.
“Our suppliers understand how important it is to deliver effectively and on-time, which is vital for us, as a lot of our customers are in critical infrastructure sectors such as refineries, power plants, pharmaceuticals and healthcare. Many of our supplier relationships are as long standing as the company itself, which should tell you something about how well we all work together,” Rob confirms.
It is clear that building strong working relationships, with customers and suppliers alike, has ensured Helmkamp’s enduring success. These connections became even more important in the face of a global pandemic, as Rob details: “The start of the pandemic was definitely an interesting time. We came through it better than I thought we would, really. We focused on working closely with customers to get the work done that was critical to their operation. It became a lot easier when official restrictions and guidelines came out, because we then had something to work with in terms of safety.
“From then on we continued working with the projects that were still viable. We worked with a number of healthcare clients to create new spaces and facilities that made social distancing and isolation a lot easier. We also build physical barriers for customers running open spaces, again to make the environment more Covid-friendly. In the end I think we continued to do well because we communicated effectively with clients the whole way through.”
Having endured the pandemic and its after-effects, Helmkamp now looks forward to a busy year in 2022. The company has continued to grow in the face of adversity, and is now looking to expand its team even further, as Rob states: “Right now we are very busy, the company is growing and we are looking to hire new folks soon.
“Finding the right people can be challenging, but we have had success recruiting people out of college into our internship scheme. 2022 will be about continual recruitment, so we can expand our team to match the success of the business. On top of that, we have plenty of jobs lined up and it’s looking to be a busy year.”
Investing in the potential of young people is just one way that Helmkamp ensures its longevity as a successful general contractor. The company will also be looking into new market segments, and developing its team of specialist project managers, in the coming years.
“In three to five years, we will be really trying to develop some of those young folks, who have been in the company a good ten years at this point. We want to build out our management base, and start training people as specialists in certain key areas. This is to help Helmkamp grow into multiple divisions over time.
“I anticipate that the company will continue to grow at a steady pace, as it remains focussed on quality, and long-term relationships with clients. By investing in our people, we will hopefully be in a really good place to expand our customer base, and take on some new markets,” Rob concludes.
Services: General contractor