Q: How Do You Handle Seasonal Downsizing?
My business usually slows by 50% during the winter months. I typically employ between 10 and 12 painters during the busy months which, thanks to low-temperature-tolerant paints, I have been able to expand from April through November. During the winter, my staff shrinks to between four and seven painters, depending on the week.
We use subcontractors sparingly so most of my employees are ‘W-2s,’ which I believe gives my company more of a family feel. Having this number of W-2 employees during the pleasant seasons makes it tough because our workload is cut in half during the winter. That means I must downsize.
My employees understand that they are always being graded and only the ‘A’ players get to work during the wintertime. Seniority doesn’t make you an ‘A’ player automatically. The characteristics I’m looking for in an ‘A’ include positive attitude, strong work ethic, and attention to detail.
Spring, summer and fall are kind of like tryouts in baseball and not everyone can make the wintertime roster. This is not to say that all ‘A’ players will get to work all winter long, because there is typically not enough work for all of them and at that point, it is based on seniority and skill. I have several painters who don’t mind time off in the winter and then come back each spring. Or, some will work at local resort hotels during the winter and then come back to me in the spring or summer. I may lose a guy or two but that’s okay; I’m always marketing for new talent.
The greatest challenge for staffing during the winter is retaining enough interior painters to handle all the high-end jobs we have. Interior painting takes more seasoned painters who have both painting skills and customer service skills. You can’t send a painter with one or two years of experience into a high-end home with complex finishes and expect them to be successful. The challenge is finding the right mix of skills in painters to ensure our customers are provided with the highest level of quality, both on the painting side and the customer service side.
We are experiencing a severe shortage of labor in northern Michigan because of all the painters who left when the recession hit in 2008. We’re dealing with a labor pool about half the size that it was seven years ago but with double the number of job opportunities today compared with those that were available then. Sometimes we have to turn down work.
Knowing wintertime is coming gets me in saving mode. Just because money is flowing in during the summer doesn’t mean it will be flowing in January, February and March. My goal is to go into each spring debt-free and I can only accomplish this by being wise with my spending during the summer, fall and winter months. Michigan winters are LONG, so that is the time to be saving so our company doesn’t have a ton of debt when spring arrives and the work picks up.
Dan Brady founded Dan Brady Painting & Wood Restoration in Traverse City, MI in 2002. He focuses on residential and commercial repainting projects rather than on new construction or remodeling painting projects. And since 2009, he has been producing Dan Brady Painting Tricks of the Trade painting videos for DIYs.