Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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3 Things I Learned Since Leaving The Painting Industry

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I left the painting industry about 3 years ago. I had pretty much grown up in the industry, having worked for my painting contractor uncle for several years. I later was co-founder of Jalapeno Paint Werx in Naperville , IL. With our unusual name we quickly grew into a well-known residential repaint company in our area, doing more than 300 jobs each year.

Near the end of 2010 I felt the winds of change blowing. Not because there was anything wrong with our company, but because something was stirring inside of me. So at the beginning of 2012 I left, making my business partner sole owner of the company and started a personal development company called MOTOR. I now help people build strong lives and strong businesses.

“Motor is my my mindset. Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Find a way. Do the work others are unwilling to do. Always keep faith.”

Over the past few years I have been blessed to be a part of some great things as a coach. I’ve spoken at private leadership events with founders of multi-billion dollar companies and guys who make more than $3 million dollars a day. I’ve coached small, one person businesses trying to hit $100k in revenue for the first time as well as established companies with large tribes and a new reality TV show. I’ve worked with companies in the trades, publishing, the automotive industry, staffing, banking and the medical field. Talk about a variety of educational opportunities!

It has been a fun ride and I’ve learned so much. But, there are a few things I have learned since stepping out of my life as a painting contractor that I want to share with you today. Here are 3 things that I believe are important for you to know as you continue to build your own business.

1. We don’t charge enough money

95% of the companies in the trades I’ve worked with don’t charge enough for their services. The reasons are many…fear, lack of knowledge of your own math or simply an unhealthy view of money to name a few. Painters are no different . As an industry we’re pretty cheap.

Our services are cheap when compared to other home improvement costs. We have clients telling us we’re “too expensive” and in turn we start to believe it. You’re only too expensive if you’re not an expert and if you’re reading stuff on this blog you are an expert, making yourself better.

make money paintingYou deserve to be paid well and have a good life. Your view of $5k and your clients view of $5k are much different. Do your homework and figure out what your math needs to be and then raise your prices. Make sure you know what it costs you to produce the experience for the client and then make sure you have a 50% gross profit.


Remember, you don’t need every client, only the right ones for your business. I urged a landscaper client of mine to double his prices last season, which he did reluctantly. The result? 27% of them left. All the others stayed and paid double.

Be confident in the value you bring and add more digits to your price.

2. We are miracle workers

Mind-reader. Marriage counselor. Interior Design expert. Craftsman. Manager. Sales professional. Chemist. Dog walker.

I’ve not seen another trade like ours. The things you need to know and the emotions and situations you need to navigate as a painting contractor are pretty amazing! I remember doing stain matches on a custom staircase with a color blind client once…

Don’t underestimate the skill you bring to work each day. Few trades are as intimate with the client as the painting trade. We’ve got to deliver on so many fronts compared to the non-painters.

paint contractorsYour knowledge of everything from color to floor protection to the kind of primer needed is just the start. Job sequencing, working around other trades (hopefully not very often), choosing the best spray tip and understanding VOC’s is also impressive.

Being a good painting contractor is impressive because much of what you know is never noticed, right? In fact, it’s only noticed when things go wrong! It reminds me of a good soundman at a concert…the crowd only notices when it doesn’t sound good.

This skill set you have is one of many reasons why you need to charge more. With so many variables and moving parts to what we do you’ve provided some great experiences. Make sure to pat yourself on the back. You’ve earned it.

3. Our industry is pretty simple

This is not to contradict what I said above, but in general what we do is simple. Not easy, just simple. Window companies have countless sizes, shapes, styles, glass options, etc. The remodelers out there deal with everything from framing to tile backsplash. All the details of cabinet sizes, paint colors, and door casings is enough to make you crazy.

The landscaper I mentioned above was pulling out his hair juggling his maintenance (and construction) schedule around the weather, equipment breakdowns and bonehead employees.

Yes, we have some of the same issues. So many color choices, too much rain or boneheaded employees, but all in all painting is pretty simple.

I used to think otherwise until I got out and looked around.

paint contractorsCreate your system and follow it. Be picky in who you employ (we did more with the right 8 painters than with the 16 we had years earlier). Find a couple ‘go to’ products and do the job that needs to be done. If it calls for another day of prep or the $70 gallon of paint then do it. Make the experience the client has with you the best they’ve ever had with a contractor. Make sure the job site is as clean as an operating room when you work and when you leave. Stay in touch. Stand behind the work. Don’t overcomplicate things.

What you do is not easy. In fact, it’s much more difficult than what most people think. But, it’s simple. Master the simple and you’ll have a strong painting business.

One more thing I’ve learned about the painting industry is that the quality of people needed to pull this off successfully is second to none. Such a combination of physical and mental abilities from everyone from the owner to the new guy. Speed, strength, finesse, tact…to name a few.

Want a strong painting business? Get your head right about the value you bring and the money you charge. Keep your business as simple as possible and master the simple.


Tom Reber

8 thoughts on “3 Things I Learned Since Leaving The Painting Industry

  1. Painter’s are the least respected of the trades.
    We come in last, and get paid last.
    We fix damage caused by flooring crews and plumbers, electricians, etc.
    But the most at blame is the painting industry itself.
    Big box stores tell customers that this is a DIY project, that anyone can do it.

    1. timplex…Thanks for your comment. If we are the least respected, it is like you said, self-imposed. It all starts with respecting yourself and refusing to settle for scraps. As we each step up individually the industry will be respected more as a whole.

  2. Awesome post. We(business owners) tend to muddy the water and over-think things and charge less than the landscaper. I often use the analogy that homeowners will spend more on the weeds in their yard(that thing you call a lawn) than to repaint the exterior of their home. Over the course of the average repaint timeframe of 7 years with spring/fall cleanups and weekly cuts they will average about 9K here in New England.

  3. Just an excellent article Tom. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective. I’ve always thought that our trade is quite complex – it requires smart workers to use the 50 or 60 tools required, managing variables and the unique parameters of every job. Its not rinse and repeat. However, we are fortunate that it isn’t too difficult and the conditions are usually pretty good compared to other trades. And we get a disproportionate amount of appreciation for our work on a project.

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