Steve’s Monumental “Aha” Moment

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Last evening I was having dinner with my wife reviewing paperwork for a Painting Contractors Summit I’ll be attending in Chattanooga beginning Thursday. Each attendee will have a chance to share “their best secret” or “aha” moment.  It should be something that had a monumental impact on the way I conduct business.  Initially, I was citing consistent customer contact and pursuing positive social media reviews, but my wife suggested going a little deeper.  We were asked to select three, flush them out, and then pair down to a single answer supported by examples and potentially handouts for the others in the group to gain new insights. 

We discussed exactly what things have truly impacted the way we conduct ourselves as a company.  It really was vital to have someone helping, who knows me so well and is able to remind me of events that occurred over the last 30-plus years. After much thought, here are the three things that we believe truly impacted Ville Painters and has made us what we are today.  These are not in any order of importance because I have yet to decide which one is the most important.

  1. Consciously leaving the late ‘80s / early ‘90s new home construction game to seek out more niche’ markets. We were doing very nice large custom homes for some of the best home builders in the area.  The problems would begin to pile up. Scheduling issues –from the job not being ready for us, which naturally led to having too little time for completion because the move-in date never seemed to change.  We would have to work longer days and even weekends to avoid interference from other trades.  Also in order to keep up with the housing boom, I hired more people than I wanted to manage, leading to employee and quality control issues. After being stiffed for $20k (back in the 90’s that was difficult to overcome), I consciously decided to leave the game and focus on repaints and historic preservation. This decision was encouraged by an industry peer group I was involved with for many years.  It allowed me to shrink my crew size and attracted a higher caliber craftsman.  It changed the trajectory of my business and helped to build a brand for quality and customer service.
  2. Hiring an Operations Manager was another one of those “aha” moments.  While I had production managers over the years, it never seemed to be a steady position. I began to think about my own situation and how my college bound son had expressed interest in becoming involved with the company. I felt the need to build a structured business that would allow someone joining to have goals and support. One day searching through the internet, I stumbled across “Rocket Fuel” for your business.  It was a cartoon-based on the book by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters. It is based on the Entrepreneurial Operating System, a business method outlining how companies need a visionary and an integrator.

After watching that video I began the search that led me to my current situation. My Operations Manager allows me the time to work on strategic initiatives, business development, and helps me in the sales arena.  It has truly propelled my business to the next level and has created a sense of “organization”, allowing for growth and the expansion of office staff to accommodate growing sales.

3. The final option to consider as “most impactful” are the peer groups and organizations I have joined over the years.  Growing up in a family where my mom & dad were actively involved in all sorts of civic groups and social clubs, it seemed natural to “get involved”. I first joined the Home Builders Association (HBA) as a way to meet contractors and procure work. I joined the Painting & Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) as a way to learn more about the products and processes. The unexpected consequence of both of these organizations were the relationship developed and sharing of information that occurred. Employee issues, regulatory concerns, marketing strategies, among other things were rigorously discussed. This gave me a taste of what other business leaders go through. I learned more in my first year of membership than I did in all my previous years in business. I found the key was to be active. I served on several committees, presided on local and regional levels, and chaired national committees. The next step on the ladder was joining peer groups. I was involved in one industry related group for over a dozen years. After a few years of non-involvement, I was invited to join a local business group and have gained even more insight, being the smaller fish in the pond. The key to success in these organizations in to constantly be pushing and challenging each other. You must caution yourself from going over the same old ground or becoming a “mutual admiration society”.

Now my challenge is to pick the one I think is THE MOST IMPACTFUL for my presentation Friday.  I am hoping to make my decision on my flight to Chattanooga. But it was wonderful having this discussion with my wife Christy, who was named “Vice President of Inspiration” back in the early 90’s!