Pros share lessons learned through pandemic experiences

by Brian Sodoma

Like others, painting professionals have adjusted to new times. Deemed an essential service, many pros stayed open during the springtime nationwide lockdown, but challenges still surfaced, as ‘business as usual’ took on a different meaning. Here, pros share what a very unusual 2020 has taught them.

LESSON 1: Be diligent and be firm

Zach Shrum, owner of Tulsa-based Davis Custom Painting, has no shortage of work, but he needs more employees. Some laid-off employees chose higher unemployment payments over coming back to work after the lockdown, and he has even encountered some fraudulent unemployment claims. Meanwhile, some customers cite COVID-19 as a reason to delay payment. He sums his lessons up simply: be diligent with employee background checks, and be firm when it comes to collections.

LESSON 2: Learn about employment law and be a leader

Nick Slavik, owner of Nick Slavik Painting & Restoration Co. in Minnesota, learned about CDC and state COVID-19 guidance, from which he developed a method to help him make decisions when employees questioned whether to come to work if they feared they had been exposed to COVID-19 or had developed symptoms.

In these situations, Slavik follows CDC recommendations and gives two weeks off with pay, no questions asked. If after two weeks, if the employee does not test positive and has no symptoms, they may return to work. On the other hand, they stay home if they cannot meet those requirements. In navigating employment law, he learned a little about leadership as well.

“You can’t always ask for consensus,” he said. “You can’t give unlimited options in times of uncertainty. When they ask if they should come to work, you give two options. … I’ve learned that in irrational times, some people will double down on irrationality. You have to be a steady hand and limit their irrationality; it’s better in the long run.”

LESSON 3: Analyze customer pandemic sentiment

The pandemic helped Mark DeFrancesco, owner of MDF Painting & Powerwashing in Connecticut, better understand customer needs, specifically with regards to hygiene and sanitation.

“Some people are very sensitive, others are very cavalier about all this,” he added. “I’d rather know if a customer is hypersensitive about hygiene so I can alert my crew, than not know. So we always ask customers ‘what do you need?’ We’ve learned, when a customer sees you spray something down with sanitizer and wipe it off, that usually brings a level of comfort.”

LESSON 4: Embrace/create community spirit

Eric Regan, CEO of Mission Painting & Home Improvements in Kansas City, has seen the power of both employees and customers embracing what he calls ‘neighbor’ opportunities. It may not have much to do with painting, but he appreciates his community’s growing willingness to help one another. “Grab groceries for your neighbor, mow a lawn for your neighbor, run an errand for your neighbor,” he advised.

LESSON 5: Get better—in and out of the office

Regan said the pandemic has also created opportunities to improve a painting business, including the individuals who run it. “When the dust settles, we will walk away with a newfound appreciation for regular exercise, healthier eating, and more redemptive ways to utilize technology,” he said.

DeFrancesco also seized opportunities to improve his business leadership skills. Realizing his long-time routine left him a ‘manager of all things,’ he developed new structures and now focuses more on leading instead of managing, even as much of his office team still works virtually.

“Before, I was tending to tasks,” he recalled. “I was always being pulled into meetings. Now, I set 8-week goals and see if I reach them. Overall, I’m proud of how my team never stopped and just moved forward with the changes. In some ways, this has all worked to our favor.”

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