5 Good QUESTIONS with Yanni Fikaris – Professional Painter
1 What drove you to become an ‘elite’ painter versus a ‘commodity’ painter?
Painting is a commodity industry. Anyone can pick up the phone and find one of three types of guys: the cheap guy who’s always busy, the middle commodity guy who’s not so busy, or the ‘elite’ guy who is also busy. Nobody of character wants to be the cheap guy. And if you’re the middle guy, you’re always competing on price and availability. If you’re too high or too tied up, they’re off to the next guy. But, if you’re an elite guy—offer something truly special, something the middle guy can’t offer—people will wait, and they’ll pay for it.
When I came to that realization, I knew I wanted to be an elite painter.
2 What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
Offering my services for an undervalued price. We’ve all done it. A job goes sideways and you’re losing money simply by showing up. Your fail-safe mechanism gets blown out and you do the work, but you hurt yourself, your company and your family in the process. It’s a tough lesson. Hopefully, you only have to learn it once. Or twice.
3 What does your apprenticeship program look like?
I try to find people before they make a college decision and offer them an alternative. I look for people with a good work ethic, customer service skills, direction and, above all, drive.
My program is different in a few ways. Most notably, it’s a six-year program. The idea is that by the fifth year, you’re going to start your own company. I’m going to help you get licensed, started, and send you sub work. I don’t want to be anyone’s employer for life.
The first few months are devoted to the most basic of basics and have nothing to do with painting—how to shake hands and engage a customer, how to show up to work with a belt on and your shirt tucked in. Once they’ve mastered that, we introduce skills like masking counters and cabinets. They won’t touch a brush for six months.
We’re not just training painters, we’re building people of character that I’ll be happy to hire as subs in the future.
4 What’s next on your radar in terms of things to learn or master?
I’m not focusing on anything new but, rather, taking on an even more narrow slice of higher-end clients. There’s a resurgence in custom finishes like lacquers, specialty wallcoverings and exotic finishes, metallics, layering glazes and transparent reflectives, and metal gilding that have my attention.
5 What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you early in your career?
Do it bigger. No matter where you’re at, do it bigger. Every time. Once you’re accomplished at one level and don’t go bigger, you’re putting a ceiling on yourself. Always be looking six to 12 months out. You have to know where you want to be then, when you get there, keep moving.
Yanni Fikaris, owner of Custom Renovations in Haddonfield, NJ, is a proud Penn State University grad who maintains his family’s name in the painting industry. His company is dedicated to superior customer service, product knowledge, expert application, and developing the passion of excellence in the next generation. CRFinishing.com