The Missing Paint Link
Ask most professional painters how they landed their current gig and they would say, “referrals.” Though a recommendation from a satisfied customer is a worthy business tactic, it’s not the only—or necessarily the best—method to drum up new customers. Now, more than ever, as paint contractors compete in the post-recession market to make up for lost income, it’s as important to be a smart business owner as a skilled painter.
To help painters move beyond the traditional method of referrals for getting paint projects, inPAINT® magazine asked some front-line industry experts how Pros can uncover ‘hidden’ opportunities to expand their painting services:
• Partner with like-minded Pros. Property managers, brokers, realtors, real estate attorneys, mortgage brokers, appraisers, home inspectors, home insurance agents, pest control experts, landscapers, maid services, interior designers, home stagers—anyone involved in renting, buying and selling real estate—are invaluable sources for painters to partner with and cast a wide business net. And it doesn’t have to be a complicated or costly arrangement. Melissa Cartier, a realtor with RealtyUSA in Saratoga Springs, New York, recommends that painters host events and seminars with realtors to capitalize on potential deals in the offering. “Perhaps hold a seminar on paint trends; realtors can bring their listing clients to the presentation who might be in the market for a paint job.”
Al Ames, a commercial and residential broker who owns Ames & Associates in Phoenix, Arizona, agrees that aligning with like-minded industry types gives painters considerable advantage in increasing business exposure, whether it’s bundling marketing efforts or cobranding services, while keeping operating costs in check. “Split your advertising investment. Rather than pay 100% for marketing fliers, share the cost and one side of the paper with another related, but non-competing, company or service to market your painting business,” he suggests.
• Create a competitive—and visible—edge. In the fast-paced real estate world, where residential and commercial properties are sold before a for-sale sign goes up, you need to be ready to jump at a painting opportunity. That’s especially true for Mary O’Grady, an interior designer and home stager in Boston, Massachusetts, who makes paint recommendations to home owners and contractors as part of her services to help properties sell—fast. “Painters have to be prepared for the short turnaround in my world. When I call, a painter has to be available on short notice, sometimes within 24 hours,” says O’Grady, owner of Stage to Sell By Mary. And that means advertising the fact that you can do the job immediately. “Painters need to catch the eye of the home stager by promoting they are available on short notice, and can price the job within 24 hours and complete the project in two weeks.”
Not only do painters need to be ready in a moment’s notice, they need to get noticed, adds Ames. He recommends painters create a loss leader as part of their marketing strategy and offer one customer a deal to stimulate future sales and services. “Agree to do a paint job at a price point slightly over your estimated costs and time, with the same quality and professionalism you would provide any other customer. This puts you in a position of being exposed to other business traffic that just happens to drive or walk by the project and notices the high quality you are delivering,” explains Ames. “The odds of getting into someone else’s door to do a paint job increases in this situation, especially if you are on-site and potential customers are able to see your work and professionalism as it’s happening.”
• Mix, mingle and network. Though painting is somewhat of a solo gig, to expand their reach, painters need to get in front of and build relationships with top leaders in their community, advises Cartier. “We can’t get a deal done without a painter. Most properties need to be painted from top to bottom, so realtors need to know good, reputable painters,” she says.
One way to develop a strong business network is to market to and attend events and functions, such as home fairs, with key people who influence painting decisions. Yet, in her experience, most painters don’t tend to market their services to realtors and others who participate in the painting transaction. “As realtors, we tend to seek out painters from contractors who are comfortable with just a few painters, which they recommend. It’s hard to get into this elite circle,” says Cartier, who points out the promotional gap is a tremendous opportunity to drive business. “Every real estate office holds weekly meetings—get invited to one of these to meet the agents—and bring an incentive or discount card for realtors to pass on to potential paint customers.” She also recommends painters market directly to their local board of realtors to promote their services.
• In addition, painters can gain market share and build business credibility by becoming a member of a professional painting organization such as Painting and Decorating Contractors of America and the American Coatings Association. As part of membership such organizations, which often include local as well as national chapters, provide members benefits to advertise to a large audience, including newsletter and publication listings, as well as online search features, making it easy for residents of specific locations to find members who are local painting experts in their communities.
• Think federal, go local. While painters might have a local clientele, an untapped pool of painting jobs can be found via a federal government agency audience. Because of potential lead issues, the FHA requires properties pending financing that were built before 1978 with peeling paint be repaired before the loan closes.
• Painters can also contact their city governments for a listing of homes that it owns, which are in need of repair and paint. The economic downturn and subprime loan failure caused many local municipalities to acquire homes, some of which are blighted and need repainting, according to Ames. “While it might take some time to get paid on these jobs, it’s an immediate opportunity to be seen and to generate new business,” he says. “Put an A-frame sign in the yard with your company name, a phone number and a simple message such as ‘We’re painting your neighbor’s house. Ask us how you can save money by letting us paint yours.’”