The sky’s the limit
You could say Rich Purnell was meant to get into the rope-access painting industry. A former professional ice climber, he always yearned for adventure. But, his desire to become a business owner trumped his passion for ice climbing, and in 2007 sparked the idea to launch BASE Painters, a highly specialized rope-access painting company. Today, Rich and his crew of experienced rope-access painters travel all over the country painting stadiums, roller coasters, towers, high-rise buildings and monuments while maintaining safety, precision and a commitment to protecting and preserving those iconic structures.
Q: HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS SPECIALIZED PAINTING BUSINESS?
As a young teenager, I assisted my dad on his homeremodeling jobs and would help him paint. After I graduated from high school, I moved from Indiana to Colorado to pursue an art history degree. That’s where I discovered ice climbing in the early ’90s. I would climb four or five times a week and go to school. It started as a recreational hobby, but then I began entering iceclimbing competitions and it turned into a profession.
In the early to mid-2000s, I realized I needed more financial stability and wanted a change of pace. I thought about painting towers because I had a painting background and was comfortable with heights, but didn’t know how to get into the market. So I went around the Denver area, identifying structures that needed paint and sent letters offering my services. The new business exploded that first year.
Q: WHAT TYPES OF PROJECTS DO YOU TAKE ON?
Our scope of work is specialized and includes coating services for high-rise buildings, lighthouses, water towers, radio antennas, stadiums, historical monuments and amusement parks. We also offer maintenance height services like caulking and hand-painted logos, banners and signage. Our clients include municipalities, general contractors, the Armed Forces, religious organizations and wireless carriers. We typically have two or three jobs going simultaneously and all are generally planned out a year in advance.
Q: DO THE INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS FOR THIS TYPE OF WORK DIFFER FROM MORE TRADITIONAL PAINT CONTRACTING?
Safety is our number one priority for our crew and clients. Our painting business is specialized, and the insurance requirements are different—and considerably higher—than a residential or commercial painting company. We carry a $5-million insurance umbrella and a $1-million workers compensation policy. In addition, we must submit a safety plan for every job.
Q: HOW DO YOU RECRUIT AND TRAIN YOUR CREW?
For the first three years, I did all the physical work myself. Eventually, it became evident that I needed help. However, given the nature of the niche market, I had to find individuals who were experienced and not afraid of heights. I reached out to several of my climbing friends who had rope skills and the proper safety certifications to do the job. Today, we employ eight painters and usually increase that number to 20 in the summers, depending on the workload. All our painters are SPRAT Rope Access certified and OSHA Tower Climbing certified, and stay current with all safety requirements.
Q: HOW DO YOU FIND JOBS?
In the beginning, I would send out postcards and fliers to advertise my services. Now, referrals come from repeat clients. I also have experience with video production from when I was ice climbing, which played a big role in the success of the business because I was able to use video to promote our services.
Q: WHERE IS MOST OF YOUR WORK BASED?
Although we are based in Arvada, CO, most of the work we do is completed in other parts of the country. Some years, all the work is completed in outlying states. We choose jobs that we can easily get to and are financially lucrative. We have a lot of work in California, and recently finished a project for California’s Great America amusement park.
Q: WHAT’S THE PROCESS FOR TACKLING WORK SO FAR FROM HOME?
Typically, we bring a trailer with all our equipment on the road, but occasionally we’ll rent the equipment we need. Each job usually requires a minimum of three to four crew members who stay onsite for the duration of the project. I also travel to each job to make sure the crew and the client are happy. Sometimes we rent a house so everyone can stay together or book hotel rooms. The cost of travel expenses is included in the bid.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE AND LONG-RANGE GOALS FOR THE COMPANY?
My goal is to get the right people in place, including a general manager and an estimator, and essentially have the business run itself in the next two to five years.
Q: WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS CONSIDERING THIS CAREER FIELD?
First, I would suggest trying rock climbing to see if you like heights. Then, go get the required certifications. Not only do you have to be comfortable in the air, you also need to be a good painter. It’s not for everyone. Finally, be prepared to work hard. The job takes great precision and skill, but it’s also fun and rewarding. The industry has tremendous potential, more than I ever dreamed it would have.
Rich Purnell is president and CEO of BASE Painters, headquartered in Arvada, CO. Learn more about the specialized rope-access painting and coatings projects he and his crew tackle at BASEPainters.com