5 good questions with Kevin Sullivan – Painting business owner

by inPAINT

1) What business practices do you think have contributed the most to your success?

We’re very committed to keeping the commitments we make to customers and maintaining our standards. If we tell a customer we’re going to send a painter on Wednesday, we will be there. If we promise an estimate on Tuesday, we will do it. If we need to reschedule, we will call and do so. We never leave the customer hanging without communication.

We also incorporate the PDCA standards into our work and we uphold them. Always.

From my perspective, maintaining standards and keeping promises is the best way to set our painters up for success and, in turn, our company benefits.

2) What bit of technology has had the biggest impact on your company’s performance?

I’d have to say estimating software. I’ve been around long enough that I used to push a wheel and tri-scale to measure and, in fact, sometimes I still do … old habits. We use a combination of Microsoft Office and PlanSwift software. Both have really streamlined our estimating process and make information more readily available to everyone who needs to access it.

In the field, we also use color-matching apps, group texts and ExakTime to help with different tasks.

3) How do you measure your company’s success?

There are five things I look at: safety, employee satisfaction, customer referrals, spot inspections and profits. If the first four items are in good shape, I really don’t have to worry about the profits

4) What are some favorite questions you ask potential hires?

The first is ‘why do you want to be a painter?’ I hear a lot of stories about how it’s in their blood; their dad or uncle was a painter and maybe they helped them out. I’m always excited when they talk about how they enjoy starting with something that’s not looking great and walk away feeling proud at the end of the project. If their answer is ‘I just need a job,’ the interview is over.

I also like to try and feel out what they will be good at or where they would fit on a crew. I ask things like ‘what’s your least-favorite aspect of painting?,’ ‘what’s your strongest skill set?,’ and ‘what’s your weakest?’

It’s amazing how these quick questions can help me determine if they’re suited for interior or exterior work, or even commercial or residential jobs.

5) How have your goals shifted in the past year, and what changes are you making to achieve them?

We are changing the way we transition new employees. In the past, we used to do in-person interviews and hire accordingly, followed by keeping an eye on them for five days or so. It was hit or miss with how they performed in the field, so we’re working to address that.

We are currently pairing new hires with lead painters to assess their skills and educate where needed. Our lead painters are also helping to design a new training program for painters with very little experience.

Also, we have a very specific approach to spraying we set as a company standard and we have two new efforts to help centralize it. First, we’ve created training videos. Second, we’ve built some large models of doors, gable ends, and an offset roof to do hands-on spraying training. We train them in our specific routines, and try to correct any bad habits. The goal is to see results in the field that we’re proud to put our name on.


Kevin Sullivan founded Sullivan Painting Service, Inc. in Lakewood, WA in 1983. Offering both commercial and residential services, the company is affiliated with ABC of Western Washington and has been awarded their Gold Level STEP award annually since 2005. In addition, the company earned a Best of Houzz award in 2016 and the National PDCA Industrial Interior Award in 2017. Sullivan has served as the PDCA western regional director and the Washington State Council PDCA president, and was recognized as the State’s PDCA Paint Contractor of the Year in both 2013 and 2014.

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