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Home | DALLAS / FORT WORTH | Spotlight | Spotlight - Willie E. King Jr., Owner, The Basement Kings

Spotlight - Willie E. King Jr., Owner, The Basement Kings

image Willie E. King Jr. started in swimming pools as a kid and parlayed his skills in to a successful basement business.

DALLAS/ FT WORTH - Just try to tell Willie E. King Jr. that he can’t build a basement in Texas, or win every major martial arts competition in the United States, or live with as many of his relatives and loved ones as he can build a house around. The owner of The Basement Kings would not only do it, but also enjoy the challenge.





Tell me about your upbringing.
    I was born in Los Angeles, CA; we were there for a while, but I wasn’t raised there. We were a traveling family. My father built swimming pools and was a top swimming pool supervisor. We would move to a different city again and again, where my father would train every employee to do the job. We would work there for a while and then someone would offer my father more money and we would pack up and move to the next city.
    We lived in Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, and we were moving back to California when my father was offered a job for a weekend here in Texas. When the person hiring him saw how good he was in Texas, they bought my father a house, we stayed there, and my father worked until he retired.

Did you often help him build swimming pools?

    I started working with my father when I was 9. He paid me $10 per swimming pool at first for gunite. I shoveled all day long. He taught me a little bit how to finish, and then taught me to run the gun that all of the concrete was running through. Then my father took over the steel side, and we started tying steel in the swimming pool. I did that until I was in high school.
    When I was 17, I was one of the best steel tiers in Dallas, but I packed up my bags and moved away from home. I was a colonel in ROTC and I wanted to go into the military because the sharpest of sharp cadets were at West Point. That’s where I dreamt of going. I spent all of my summers working and I made enough money in the summer. I put myself through my last two years of high school and nine years of college. I didn’t go to West Point; I had a hernia, so I went to Kemper Military in Missouri. While I was there, I got disillusioned with how the military actually worked. It wasn’t the way I envisioned.

What did you decide to do when your dream didn’t work out?
    I was practicing martial arts back then, and won my first tournament as a blue belt. Then when I got my brown belt, they started paying me money every time I won. I got a sponsor and started traveling all around the country competing in tournaments. It paid my way through college, and I graduated in 1992 with an Associates in Accounting, a Bachelors in Finance, Banking and Institution and my other Bachelors in Business Economics.

What happened after college?

    A friend and I bought a small computer company, a small office supply company and a small wiring cable company because those were hot commodities for military bases. We called it “The AFTYN Group” which stood for “Any Freaking Thing You Need” because we didn’t know what we really wanted to do. During the financial crisis in 2009, I had to close up shop, even though we had perfect credit, because banks were closing lines of credit.
    After the computer company closed, my girlfriend and I decided we wanted to build a house, and we were trying to find someone to build it with a basement – but we couldn’t find anybody! It blew my mind because I knew I could do it in my sleep after digging all of those holes in Texas and putting in all of those swimming pools. I called my uncle and sat down with my father and they agreed that I could do it, and I did.
    When I built my basement, all of these builders started putting their business cards on my door. I literally went into business overnight! My house then became my show home. I started consulting for basements.
    Let me tell you, people like to ask questions when it comes to basements. It got to the point where I thought that maybe I should write a book because if they read it, they wouldn’t ask me the questions anymore.

Such as?

    “How do you breathe down there? There is no air down there!” or “Will the tectonic plates shifting crack the walls?”  or “The water table in Texas is so high that when you dig a hole, will it fill up with water?”
    And, they would also tell me the soil is bad in Texas. This is the thing: Texas is one of the weirdest states in the U.S. We have every soil indicative of the entire United States right here, so you can’t say the soil is bad in Texas. You have to say where the soil is bad in Texas, if it’s bad at all. Every reason someone says you can‘t have a basement can be totally dispelled.

So did you write that book?
    I published  “Building Basements: The Definitive Book About Basements” in 2011. It started selling on Amazon, and then Barnes an Noble picked it up, and now it’s for sale online at Wal-Mart. You’ll never believe where I sell more copies than anywhere else: Europe –where they call them “Million Dollar Basements” in England – and in the Middle East.

So many people think that basements should just be for residential purposes, but you want people to know that you do a very good business in commercial spaces.
    Even though we build and repair basements, we do a lot of waterproofing. Water is coming up to the sides of foundations and we are waterproofing slab foundations for commercial businesses right now. It’s the number one growing business for us right now in commercial building; it’s keeping us busy and I am loving it! We did the Preston Tower and the elevator shaft and first floor of First National Bank off Preston Road. We’ve been waterproofing slab foundations for the Dollar Store, and have done 10 of those in the past year. We’re waterproofing a lot of parking garages as well.
    A lot of people may not believe in global warming but let me tell you, there’s been a change. For the last eight years, I’ve been working and making all of my money in the rainy season and doing construction in the summertime. For the last three years, I haven’t had a “rainy” season; it’s been continual rain. We had over 200 tornadoes in Texas last year!
    Basements are very beneficial for commercial spaces – basements are free space! Right now you go into rental properties where they can’t give away the space, but imagine if those spaces had basements. Those spaces would rent out much easier to companies that have a lot of inventory to put in the basement and use the floor space for retail.
    Also, this year, we’ve started to do crawlspaces. Right now, that’s what my focus is on.
Working seven days a week, you likely don’t have much free time, but do you enjoy any hobbies or interests outside of work?
    I used to go on vacation every six months. I love the rain forest and the cloud forest. I like Central America and South America; I love the jungle. I’ve been to Macchu Picchu, to New Zealand, and have done some diving.
    Martial arts was taking up all of my free time. But one of my students created software, a digital scoring system for competitions. Since martial arts tournaments are in the back ages, everything is still done with pencil and paper.  I spent almost all of last year traveling to martial arts tournaments every weekend selling it. It’s revolutionized scoring martial arts tournament competitions.

Do you still compete in martial arts?

    I stopped competing; I had a double hernia and I had back surgery. I would love to compete, but I’ve already won everything that there is that I wanted to win. I’ve won every major tournament in the United States, in my time, at least twice. I no longer teach regular martial arts classes; I only train black belts who are competing.                                  

Tell me about your family.

    I’m still with my girlfriend.  Her sister has lived with us for 30 years. My girlfriend’s parents lived with us until they passed. My mother passed about five years ago, but my father still lives with me today. My daughter also lives with us.

That’s incredible! You must be the best roommate ever!

    Well, the good part about it is every floor of my home has a master bedroom and we have seven bathrooms in that house. It’s possible not to have to see anybody.

That’s the secret!
    Yes! My father said, “If you build it, they will come,” and I built it, and they came, and they never left!

Are you still living in the show home that you built your first basement in?
    Yes, I tried to sell it five years ago, but my family refused to let me! The house that I’m ready to build has a two-story basement.

What are you going to keep in this two-story basement?
    My family! Really I just want to build a steel-frame two-story home with an elevator and the two levels of basement. I’m going to store all of my supplies and work from out of my home. I’m ready to build it now, but I’m just trying to talk my family into it.

Are you surprised that this is the direction your life took?

    People tell me that I’m a legend in my own mind and that I live in my own world, and that’s pretty much the truth. I see things different than anybody else. I do not let people tell me what I cannot do, and I don’t even listen to them to the point where it bothers me. People can tell me I’m crazy, and I literally don’t even hear the words.
    I always knew I was going to own my own business, but I just thought I was going into the service and thought that when I retired, I was going to buy a company and do something construction-related. I’ve always wanted to own my own company. My father taught me that no one is going to pay me what I’m worth. I felt like if I stayed in the military until I retired, I would have a pension. But I don’t see retirement as my goal.
    Like right now, I’ve discovered that I’m a diabetic and my doctor let me know that I needed to lose weight. All I did was start going out to work with my guys. I’ve lost all of the weight I need to, I don’t eat any sugar because I’m working and so focused on the job, I’m enjoying myself.
    Diabetes saved my life. I’m out here on the job where I’m really happy and I’m doing more business out here than in the office because most companies want to see the person in charge. Those people are forwarding me so much business that I cannot keep up. As I said, we’re working seven days a week. And as of last month, I’m no longer considered diabetic, they took me off of the medication.

That’s terrific! Well, if retirement isn’t your goal, tell me about the last chapter of your story.

    I’m going to buy a couple of houses in Central America and I’m going to retire outside the United States. I’m going to build basements, some may be in the Middle East and some in Central America because it’s getting hotter and those places, with a basement, only need a fan. I think I could sell them.
    The Basement Kings provides base-ment services, including 3-D modeling, structural engineering, construction, waterproofing and repair services.-mjm

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Author Info

Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net