Nigel Costolloe is both the owner of Catchlight Painting and one of their estimators. Nigel trained as an apprentice painter in California and continues to study the evolving science of coating adhesion and failure. He is active regionally and nationally in the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) as a leader, speaker and mentor. He has roots in Australia and England, adores being a parent, and ends most days with a CrossFit workout.
Nigel, where did you grow up? What were your favorite pastimes?
I was born in Australia, grew up in the South Pacific islands – Fiji, New Guinea, Samoa, etc., then went to English boarding school before finishing high school and college in California.
I exercise to balance the mental effort work requires; marathons, triathlons, adventure races, Crossfit. If I’m not at work, I’m moving something heavy or myself. I enjoy reading, just about anything well written. Sleep, or its pursuit, has also become a pastime as middle age makes it ever more elusive.
Oh, and I’m delightfully, happily, wonderfully married to a woman of vast patience, forbearance and understanding. We have two sons, terribly spoiled but somehow they have turned out well nonetheless.
How is the painting industry evolving, and how is Catchlight responding?
The industry is bifurcating – on one side the traditional business model of owner and employee building a reputable and steadfast company on merits, good work, and integrity. On the other, the business broker model – the Paintzens and others that simply subcontract work to others and skim the profit off the top. This disruptive model lacks integrity in my opinion and will be short-lived as the traditional company owner becomes more social media savvy and thus competitive in the electronic marketplace.
You’re a member of your local BNI chapter. Is joining BNI something you’d recommend to other painting contractors?
Absolutely, but shop around and find a successful chapter with members who will help elevate your profession. BNI corporate culture can feel cult-like but most chapters have their own character that supersedes the boilerplate cheerleading that can be a turnoff for many business owners.
Out of all of Catchlight’s awards and accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
Our reputation, of course. Our relationships with employees, customers and the community, is based on mutual trust, respect and integrity. As a contractor friend puts it, you never want to bump into a past customer and feel uncomfortable – feeling anything but pleasure when you see them means you have failed to do the right thing.
Let’s talk about the Catchlight Painting team – the people that work with you on a daily basis and help transform your vision for the company into a reality. Any tips you’d be willing to share on how to create an environment that keeps employees happy and motivated?
Hire slowly, fire quickly, invest in your people – training, conferences, bonuses, acknowledge good work and set clear expectations and a high bar. Beyond this, we make sure to remember everyone has lives of significance outside work – we are fortunate enough to make more every year and so we offer excellent benefits like maternity and paternity leave, bereavement leave; we’ll even help someone fly home for significant family events if they need the assistance.
Catchlight Painting is heavily invested in the training and education of their employees. Talk to us about the return you’ve seen from this investment?
One word – retention. Maslow talks about the hierarchy of needs – everyone covers the basics but helping people become better at what they do is key; it leads to more income, promotions, responsibility and recognition. Never underestimate the impact giving a newly promoted foreman keys to a company van has on their self-esteem.
Describe your hiring process. How do you find painters that are a great fit?
At this point, recruiting and hiring has become more important and challenging than finding new customers! We look for good people year round, offer $500 finder’s fees to employees and vendors who bring us a new painter. We love finding someone with skills but always choose aptitude and attitude first – our attrition rate is close to 95% during the trial week; the process, practice and art of hiring is consuming more and more of our time. Since the recession ended, our growth has been limited by our inability to meet demand – a nice problem to have.
Talk to us about a time you failed, what did you learn?
I fail every day, multiple times. If I don’t fail it means I haven’t stretched myself. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and evolve – at work, in the gym, on the trail, at home, in relationships. Sometimes failure simply means I’ve overcommitted and run out of time or energy to do something well. Looking back, just about every failure is related to a miscommunication. Since my day seems to be filled with email and phone calls, there is ample opportunity for failure; it’s good exercise to recognize as quickly as possible when something goes sideways and then it is a pleasure to intervene and correct the problem. In some ways, fixing a problem is more gratifying than having another boring, perfect and mistake-free day.
What tools would you consider vital to your company’s success?
Humility and pride in equal measure, a passion for learning, and a deep drive to improve constantly.
Catchlight has completed numerous charity projects over the years. What impact, if any, do you feel this work has had on the business?
It’s part of our DNA at this point – we give back because we can and because there is so much need. We are fortunate to live in a time of prosperity and peace; we have a moral obligation to make the world a better place for others less fortunate. This character runs through the culture of our company – and our customers notice and comment on it.
What’s one thing you would like to see Catchlight do better? What’s your plan for improving?
We can do everything better – we seek improvement every time we meet as a team. My favorite business aphorism – your company is running exactly as you designed it – if you don’t like the results, change the design. Hearing this freed me from an emotional response to criticism and failure, and helped me embrace the philosophy of seeking constant improvement in every aspect of the business as well as in my life.