Nathali and Karen with their crew at their lot in Manor, Texas. R-L: Nathali Parker, Brandon Scarborough, Michelle Schneider, Karen "KD" Allums, and Karen (Parker) Rogers.
AGC of Texas Member Nathali Parker described herself as both “excited” and “nervous” about her appointment to the Governor’s Commission for Women.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Parker to the Commission in March (2018). She is president and CEO of KLP Commercial and has been an active AGC of Texas member since 2012.
Parker will serve a two-year term on the commission, which is charged with three considerable efforts: to develop a strategy and implementation plan to make Texas the number one state for women-owned businesses, to address the issue of human trafficking, and to help rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Harvey.
Within the Texas Governor’s Economic Development Division, the commission specializes in outreach, education, research, and referral services.
Parker joins 11 other women on the commission and provides perspective as a woman-owned small business in a mostly male industry: heavy civil wholesale construction materials supply.
Parker founded the company KLP Commercial in 2010 with her sister, Karen Rogers, COO.
“Karen and I wanted to go into business together. She sold real estate in Round Rock and I was living in Los Angeles.
We were both unmarried at the time and wanted to create stability for our futures. With our aging parents, we knew it was up to us to take care of them. We knew this was our window to make something happen. We picked this industry because people will give you a chance if you are willing to work hard and you offer good products and customer service. I’ve been in industries where that wasn’t the case.”
Prior to the founding of KLP, Nathali worked as an account executive for an Italian industrial crane manufacturer Valla S.P.a. without having any prior experience in the construction industry. “They hired me because I think they were desperate,” laughed Parker. “But I wound up being really good at it. They had been trying to get into the US market for 20 years. It took me two. It gave me a lot of confidence that this work and the construction industry was a good fit for my personality.”
Friends of Nathali and Karen developed a “green” seal coat for parking lots. They decided to pitch a distributorship to them. “We worked hard and developed a business model, presented it to them. They rejected it.”
Grasping for a business model that would fit into the heavy highway construction industry, the Parker sisters began attending conferences, learning about products, and gathering as much information about the market and the supply chain as they could.
Nathali and Karen at a Cowboys game.
Parker with Governor Abbott on the field at the Dallas Cowboys Game.
“We didn’t know our ass from asphalt,” joked Nathali.
Business advice came in the form of an unlikely ally: Jerry Jones. A longtime friend and college football teammate of their father, Jones thought the idea of their business was a terrible one.
“First off, I am not your bank so don’t ask me for money,” he told them. “I would never invest in a business like this. It’s high risk, high investment, and low margin.”
But he did offer his advice. The two most important things to have in business is credibility and credit he told them.
Credit came by way of the Federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program. “That’s the greatest thing about the DBE Program,” Nathali said. “It works as a credit gap program for small businesses” Nathali and Karen are Native Americans, citizens of the Chickasaw Tribe, and were DBE certified in 2012. The program helped them create a foundation in an industry that is especially challenging to enter without a sizeable investment.
The first two years of company development was marked by challenges and setbacks—but also resiliency and a desire to succeed. The two sisters moved into their parents’ home in Round Rock to reduce every expense not directly invested into the business.
In addition to the obvious challenge of establishing connections, the fledgling company first had to secure space and inventory. “We had to compete with the biggest supply companies out there. The only space we could afford was in Rosebud, Texas. The downtown area is 2.5 blocks long with a population of 1,412 people.”
Nathali and Karen found two connected buildings that were falling apart—but affordable on their budget. “We decided to prop up the walls and worry about the leaking roof later,” she recalls.
The Rosebud location was central to the largest markets in Texas, which enabled them to operate statewide.
Still, the company needed entry into the industry. Nathali continued to seek distributorships with manufacturers.
“Karen and I were headed to the Horseshoe Project, which had an outreach event. We were driving around and basically lost. We found ourselves passing CMC and Nucor. We pulled over and I decided to walk in cold and just announce to them I want to be their distributor. I got the feeling they thought I was hilarious. I left with nothing.”
They received assistance from Jorge Laris with Zachry Construction at the time. “He gave us what I call the ‘Jorge Laris University of Highway Construction 101 and 102.’ He gave us two hours of his time and a very informative introduction into the highway industry.”
Hundreds of calls, meetings, and attended conferences still did not result in the kind of entry into the industry that would enable growth. At around the same time they received their DBE certification, the sisters deliberated over whether an investment into AGC of Texas made good business sense.
“We had very little money. Every penny had to have a purpose. I remember I grilled George Meihaus [serving on the Chapter’s Membership Committee]. The fee for associate membership was $600 then. Every lunch was $25. We were so worried about the expenses adding up. He said, “You’re gonna get out everything you put into it. It’s up to you to get a return on investment, but the opportunity is there if you want it.”
“We joined in 2012 and asked to join every committee and task force we were allowed on. We attended every possible event. We kept showing up. And the AGC of Texas members could not have been more welcoming. We fell in love with this industry.”
Their fortunes shifted at the Scholarship Gala in 2012.
“We couldn’t afford for both of us to attend, so Karen and I decided I would go. I sat at a table in the back with the other single seats. By the grace of God, I get seated next to people from the Pharr District and a large contractor in South Texas, Anderson Columbia.”
The encounter made the connection for KLP’s very first contract later that year for a project in the Pharr District for reinforcing steel. “Joe Anderson and his team gave us a shot.”v Parker also met Rodney Scott of CMC. “When he identified himself with CMC out of Waxahachie, I told him the story of my failed cold-call pitch at his office. He told me right then he would give us a chance.”
Rodney coordinated an introduction between KLP and his company. “They agreed to give KLP the distributorship and put in our stocking order and got things going. Within three weeks of the gala, we had landed several major manufacturers.
“That Gala was our cloud-break moment,” she said.
KLP began quoting the lettings soon after, showing up to learn and listen, figuring out how to find opportunities, purchase stocking orders properly, understand and learn TXDOT specifications and how to set KLP up to be sustainable and successful.
In 2013, the company finally made a profit. “Should we pay ourselves or hire?” Nathali remembers discussing with Karen. That year they hired a fulltime estimator. Piece by piece, they began filling in the gaps of their product lines in the industry sectors they work in (rebar, concrete accessories, heavy civil pipe and drainage, electrical, asphalt additives) to be able to supply complete packages.
Since 2010, KLP Commercial has grown from just two people to ten full-time employees and several stocking locations. They’ve introduced new product lines and worked with TxDOT and the industry to get them approved.
Chase Wilkins, estimator at KLP, watches over the TxDOT Fowlerton precast paving panel project for KLP’s dowel grout.
“We are very proud of that,” says Parker.
Being an employer has changed her perception on how to run the business. “My decisions are no longer my own. People on our team depend on us to make wise decisions. That is a BIG deal. We are feeding families. We are last to eat.”
The knowledge and the experience will undoubtedly provide a lot of insight into the commission’s charge to explore ways to make Texas the number 1 place for women-owned businesses.
Nathali’s appointment to the commission began in much the same way as her business: with Jerry Jones, a chance encounter, and an AGC event.
In addition to his advice, Jones bolstered the sisters’ credibility by gifting them field-side Cowboys tickets to take prospective clients.
“Governor Abbott was there,” remembered Parker. “We were just coming out of Hurricane Harvey. The first thing I said to him was that we were members of AGC and we supported him. I told him we appreciated his support with Props. 1 and 7 and asked him how Hurricane Harvey would affect those balances. He told me not to worry about Propositions 1 and 7, that the hurricane would not affect those transfers.
“Then he asked what I did in the industry. When I told him about my sister and I starting KLP he said ‘You’re kidding. That’s incredible.’”
Abbott then suggested to Parker that she would make a great addition to the Texas Commission on Women. Texas is currently the Number TWO state in the country for women to do business, he told her, trailing California (according to American Express). He wanted Texas to be Number One. He asked Nathali to give his wife Cecilia her card and that someone would follow up.
Nathali did not receive a follow-up. Then, at the December AGC Public Affairs Meeting, the governor recognized her in the crowd of members and acknowledged her in his remarks. He later followed up and asked for her card again. This time, someone called.
“There was an application process,” explained Parker. “They did a background check and I was required to submit references.”
In March, she was appointed. She attended her first meeting later that month.
“We were debriefed on the three charges: creating the #1 place for women-owned businesses, combating sex trafficking, and helping with recovery and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.”
The commission is focusing first on the issue of sex trafficking. And while she is a natural resource for womenowned businesses, the issue of sex trafficking has already sparked interest in the motivated Parker.
Nathali and Karen at Ramming Paving (now Austin Materials), working on an asphalt mix design test section for TxDOT.
The proliferation of social media platforms means the net is cast wider than runaways and young children in homeless shelters, Parker explained. What was once an urban issue is now entering rural communities, too.
“There’s a perception that it’s held to a certain demographic, but traffickers are getting more brazen through social technology to reach any demographic—socio-economic, racial or gender. The private sector must get involved. Our children can be reached by strangers now like never before.”
The commission plans to create an informational packet to assist communities in introducing the conversation. “There’s not even a vocabulary for talking about it yet. People want to get involved but don’t know how. We are working to create a ‘road map’ for the communities,” explains Parker.
Parker sees the issue not as a women’s issue but as a community issue. “We need to get our men involved, too. We need each other more than ever. We need to empower and celebrate our male leaders to help protect our children. The family is not just about Mom and Dad carrying the weight of all the pressures life has for us—especially in the digital age. The family must extend to the community for shared responsibility. “A lot like the ‘Members Helping Members’ concept in AGC,” said Parker