THE inPAINT INTERVIEW: A PROFESSIONAL PAINTER
A focus on residential repainting and exceeding customer expectations.
The path to success wasn’t always easy for Dalton Tomlinson, professional painter and owner of Supreme Painting, based in Fort Worth, TX. His experience, which spans more than 30 years, had its fair share of challenges and setbacks—along with opportunities for growth—which ultimately landed him where he is today. His steadfast commitment to maintaining a strong reputation was built on honesty, integrity, reliability, professionalism, and customer satisfaction.
Q: How did you get started in the painting industry?
A: It was 1983 and I was 21 years old. My best friend and I began working for a local paint contractor on various tract home subdivisions for Gemcraft Homes. After only six months, we decided to venture out on our own and went into business together as partners. We were busy—often working 16 hours a day—painting interior and exterior homes for another local home builder in the area. After two and a half years, we amicably parted ways and in 1985, just one month before my wife and I welcomed our first child, I started Supreme Painting.
Q: What challenges did you face?
A: In the beginning, I was a contractor for a small housing division, but also had a part-time job at night to maintain our household because the work was so unpredictable. Early on, I was so busy that I could hire 27 guys for a job, but over the years, that number dwindled down and I would only need two. I was dealing with the tough economy, and business was slow for several months.
Eventually, things got better. In 1989, I stopped painting tract homes and began working on custom homes, which is where I learned how to paint and stain cabinetry. Several years later, I realized that to be competitive, I needed to start phasing out new work and focus more on stable residential repaint jobs. It took me eight years to finally get there.
Q: How did you develop your business plan?
A: I discovered that when you focus solely on residential jobs, you don’t need as many customers as you do a more steady flow of business. I wanted to build up my clientele, so I launched my first web site in 2003 by first hiring someone to help me develop the content, which highlighted my experience.
I also marketed our seven-year extended warranty on all painting finishes, which is typically only offered for two to three years in this industry. It not only helped me ensure a job well done but gave confidence to my customers about the quality of our work.
I set goals that included hiring 10 painters so we could work more efficiently and so I could eventually focus on providing estimates, growing the business, and ‘getting out of the bucket.’
I signed up for DYB Coach’s business-building courses, and also received complimentary access to their members-only Facebook Group to learn one-on-one tips and advice from industry experts, and connect with painting contractors across the country. Eventually, I also became a business coach, which has given me the opportunity to share my personal experiences and provide guidance to other painters.
Over the years, my business plan has shifted and evolved to what it is today. I currently employ an all-star team of six professional painters and a project foreman who oversees each site. We are actively hiring a replacement salesperson—a role that was once filled—to give project updates and manage customer relationships. I finally traded in my painters’ whites for business attire.
Q: What qualities do you look for in a painter?
A: When I moved over to residential jobs, I quickly realized I needed a different type of painter, specifically someone who was neat, clean, trustworthy, and respectful of personal belongings—plus, had the ability to interact with homeowners. All team members must be able to effectively communicate with our customers.
I consider myself very picky when it comes to hiring employees. For me, character is the most important thing. I can teach someone how to paint, but I can’t teach someone good character.
Hiring still proves to be challenging; I think it is the hardest part of this business.
Q: How do you land referrals?
A: We believe our process is different than others.’ After I visit a home to review the scope of work, I can then go to my truck, write up the estimate using an online application, print it out, and give it to the customer before I leave. We also provide all customers with a daily progress report with details of the work that has been completed, and a schedule for the following day. And we maintain a clean-up checklist.
After each job is complete, we ask our customer if he/she would be willing to participate in a small survey by answering three short questions. Because our customers are usually very happy with the job, the answer is mostly yes. Consequently, I have seen an increase in scheduling jobs, even in January and February, which are traditionally the hardest months to fill.
First, we ask how he/she found us, because this gives us insight if the job was the result of a referral, a repeat customer, or someone who used an online search engine. Second, we ask if we did everything we said we would. Third, we ask the customer to rate us on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they are to refer us to friends and neighbors.
We also make customer testimonial videos, which are uploaded to YouTube and are featured on our company web site and Facebook page. This has proven to be an effective marketing tool that helps elicit referrals.
I believe that building trust is the key to achieving a successful business. I also feel strongly about being engaged in the community and giving back. I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, and am also a proud member of the Painting & Decorating Contractors of America.
Supreme Painting’s Dalton Tomlinson works to make every customer a customer for life. Today, he focuses on residential work, and serves as a business coach to other professional painters. SupremePainting.com
MAKING THE MOST OF HAPPY CUSTOMERS
It’s one thing to hear a painter promise 100% satisfaction but it’s an entirely different thing to hear past customers say that promise was met.
As part of their ongoing marketing efforts, Supreme Painting asks customers to be filmed for a brief interview at the close of their job. Completed videos are featured prominently on the company’s web site for prospective customers to view. Tomlinson currently maintains about 40 video testimonials on his web site and estimates that they’ve been viewed more than 200 times.
“Most people look for someone they know and may watch one or two of them. But, I believe that when you have that many videos available, it speaks to the fact that you’re trustworthy.”
Tomlinson says he does not ask customers to sign release waivers and keeps the videos up permanently unless someone asks to have theirs removed.