THE inPAINT INTERVIEW: light industrial painter
A unique niche market: metal and steel surfaces. How one Boston-area business is meeting the needs of commercial manufacturing clients.
Jim Kaloutas began his painting career in 1987 at 19 years old, following in the footsteps of his father, an experienced residential painter. Prior to launching Kaloutas Painting, he often served as an English translator for his father, a native of Greece, communicating on his behalf during business transactions.
In the years that followed, Kaloutas gained a wealth of experience, learning the intricacies of the business and developing the necessary skills to shift the focus from residential projects to commercial and light industrial painting—and ultimately grew Kaloutas Painting into a successful, multimillion-dollar company.
Now 50, married and the father of two children, he serves as the president of Kaloutas Painting, leading a team of experienced field personnel and foremen who provide light industrial painting, flooring and cleaning services to a wide range of clients.
What exactly is light industrial painting?
This specialized type of work refers to the containment, cleaning, preparation, priming and coating of structural steel, rooftop dunnage, tanks, silos, enclosures and various other types of steel and concrete structures.
While proper substrate preparation is essential, the coating system must be carefully and thoughtfully specified for each unique scope of work. Given that much of the work we perform takes place within occupied manufacturing environments, our specialty space containment systems are carefully installed to ensure safe, healthy, dust-free environments for our installers and clients. Our ability to perform these essential services, while allowing our clients to maintain their production schedules, has created a valuable working relationship for both parties.
Are there any specific skills or equipment needs?
Our team members must have good customer service skills, strong attention to detail, and the ability to adhere to facility regulations specifically centered around safety. In this type of industry, there are strict guidelines that must be followed, so it’s extremely important that our staff has the ability to adjust to these requirements. We provide on-the-job training to not only protect our employees, but to also maintain a safe work environment for our clients.
The equipment we use is identical, regardless of which type of job we’re on, meaning we all use the same paint sprayer to coat a surface. However, the coating application varies depending on if we are painting structure, bar joist, corrugated metal deck, steel beams or pipes, valves, sprinklers and gas lines, which must maintain specific colors to meet code requirements.
What’s the typical bidding process?
Most of the time, we are invited to prepare a bid for a potential client based on a recommendation or referral. It’s rare that a client is knowledgeable of our full range of services that include prepping, painting, industrial flooring, cleaning and maintenance. I believe this is a huge differentiator in our market. When we share the details of the comprehensive services we offer with potential clients, it often generates more interest and a sense of one-stop shopping because we can adapt to all of their needs.
The process of vendor selection for our clients is multifaceted. Although sometimes it is driven by price, we have found that, more often than not, the solutions we bring to the challenges clients are facing are the primary reason we begin working together. First, we make sure we completely understand their needs, which can sometimes be logistically challenging and complex. Following this step, we will draw up a proposal based on the agreed upon scope of work. Our goal is to develop trust and build confidence with prospective clients so we can begin a working relationship and maintenance program.
How do you plan and staff appropriately?
Every project has different needs, depending on the size and scope of work. While we are a $20 million business, the work constantly ebbs and flows. For instance, we’ll have 165 employees on staff during the busy summer months, but in the winter our staff decreases to about 110. We bring on subcontractors as needed, for specific jobs that require vinyl wall coverings, electrostatic painting and sandblasting.
We are always recruiting individuals to fill field and office positions. We offer a competitive benefits package—which is rare in our industry—and a great referral bonus to increase the level of engagement of our employees.
I believe we are in the people business, not the painting business. I’ve been fortunate to have had the best team of people, who have been with us for many years. I work hard to engage with staff, which is extremely important to me, even as we continue to grow. Sometimes, I even write down a cheat sheet of names of the individuals who will be on-site that day at a specific project so I can stop by and say hello and personally connect with each employee.
How do you generate business?
We have 12 sales people on staff who are focused on actively seeking new business. We also invested in a comprehensive online marketing program to generate new leads and gain potential clients. Referrals are always very much appreciated, and we recognize that process takes time.
Do you prefer large jobs over small ones?
Regardless if it’s a $2,000 job or a $20,000 job, it still requires the same amount of work. We prefer larger jobs, but we will do smaller jobs for clients with whom we have developed a relationship.
What are your plans for the future in terms of growth?
We hope to continuously increase business over time, however, I am preparing for smaller growth in the coming years. Eventually, I plan to sell a portion of the company to my staff and become an employee-owned business, offering long-term incentives such as retirement plans and pensions. I believe this approach leads to much more engaged employees who are driven and willing to invest in the business—and ultimately help us achieve greater success.
Jim Kaloutas Is the president of Kaloutas Painting. His past and current client list includes a diverse mix of pharmaceutical, aerospace, and general manufacturing businesses—along with breweries, warehouses, and auto part distribution centers. Today, he leads a team of more than 80 field personnel and office staff who provide light industrial and commercial painting, flooring and cleaning services to clients in the New England area. KaloutasPainting.com