In this episode, Michael and Chris talk again with David Chism from A David Creation, an expert marketer for commercial and residential painters about how to navigate the transition from residential to commercial painting. What are some of the pitfalls to avoid? What are some opportunities to grow your business and reputation?
Here’s what we cover in this episode:
If you’re considering adding commercial painting to your services, here are some things to think about
– Billing/Payment Structure
– Staffing Needs/Infrastructure
– Timeframe/Expectations by Industry
When it comes to marketing as you expand your services:
What do you want to be best at?
How are you sharing what you can do across your marketing channels?
How do the most successful painters navigate this transition? How do they do both well?
Michael Epps Utley: You know that feeling? There’s a lot of business coming in, a lot of residential, and some commercials starting to come in? You’re wondering, do I start getting into commercial painting? Where’s the shallow end of the pool? David Chism is gonna tell us all about it and how to handle it. Coming up.
Welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, a podcast for commercial, residential and industrial painters to grow their businesses in their local or regional markets. We’re experts in digital marketing for painters in other trades, and this is a show to share our experience with you. Grow Your Painting Business is a free podcast from Searchprimer.com, the experts in digital marketing for the trades.
Michael Epps Utley: All right, welcome back to Grow Your painting Business. This is the podcast from searchprimer.com, this is episode number six. Today we’re gonna talk about growing pains, transitioning from residential to commercial painting. My name is Michael Epps Utley, President of GoEpps, the creator of SearchPrimer. We’re also joined by our producer, Chris Raines, the President of Bullhorn Media.
Chris Raines: What’s up?
Michael Epps Utley: We’ve got a guest today, David Chism is the creator and sole proprietor, and manager and leader of A David Creation, he’s at adavidcreation.com, you might see his name on some other episodes, but David Chism, welcome again to the show. Yeah, If you don’t know David, feel free to pop back to episode number five, we took a few minutes on the last episode that we did together to get to know him a little bit, but just a short version here, David’s an expert in commercial and residential painting as a business, particularly marketing. Not just digital marketing, but online, offline, everything.
He works with painters all across the country to help them grow their businesses, and offers his services as really a coach and a guide, in a very practical way looking at numbers, and going through results, talking about what’s working, what isn’t, deciding how to budget, David, anything I got wrong there or anything to correct?
David Chism: Not really, I also help with managing campaigns too, so run teams, so whatever they’ve got going I’ll jump in there and make sure it gets done.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah, that’s a good reminder, I always think of A David Creation as the CMO, the fractional CMO, or the part time CMO for hire for painting companies, and that you’re the quarterback, and you’ve got other folks that you can bring in to do everything that needs to be done for marketing, right? Okay. Good. Well, good, if anybody has questions, you’re looking for David’s link, it’s in the show notes on the website, and same for the rest of us, you can always reach us, we’re easy to get to.
Yeah, so let’s talk about this, growing paints, David, you and I we’ve worked with a number of clients all across the country and in various regions of the country, in very different business environments, and different communities, and because of the work that we’ve done, and because they’re just good at really digging in and growing their businesses, we’ve seen them go through the growing pains of starting to get more and more commercial work, and growing and evolving from being residential painters to doing more commercial and even then, getting into that frame of business where there’s quite a bit of commercial business out there, and they’re having to decide how to navigate that.
So give us your take on this, I mean, your background is in painting, you’ve been working with folks all over the place, but what’s at stake here? Why is this such a touchy thing, and so hard for folks? What are the pitfalls that can happen? And on the flip side, what are the opportunities for doing both?
David Chism: Well I think just a little bit of background on how I’ve seen paint companies start moving over to commercial work, many of them start from residential, a lot of them start as house painters. There are obviously folks that start commercial painting business from the ground, but a lot of them I would say in the 1990s and especially 2000, that was a housing boom, the economy was really strong in the 2000 market. So lots of homes to paint, people set themselves up as residential painting companies, and they actually didn’t go after commercial at all, they really just hit that house painting strong, and many of them said we’re not gonna go after commercial we’re just gonna be the number one residential painter. I knew a lot of painters that, “Yeah, we’re never gonna touch commercial, we’re 100% residential.”
Well, that all changed in probably 2008 or so when the economy tanked, I saw guys that said, “We would never touch commercial,” all of a sudden go, “Hmm, maybe we should go and look at painting that school over there, or that shopping center,” I think the reason they avoided it, for several reasons they wanted to be good at one thing, but also the cash flow is a lot harder to get paid on commercial. So a lot of these guys just were worried about the pay schedule, ’cause sometimes it can take 90 days to 120 days to get paid on commercial, but when it comes to residential they like to get paid on completion, and they’re used to getting a check from the homeowner, or the property manager.
So that was the reasons why the company didn’t change ’cause they liked the cash flow, and jobs were smaller, sometimes easy to manage and staff, it a couple day job to maybe a week or two at length on average. Commercial ones can be anywhere from a week to several months, or all year, but again all this changed about a decade ago, they also are moving over to commercial and saying, “Hey, we’ve got to keep busy, we’ve got to stay in business.” Residential market completely crashed, some folks, obviously were still able to paint their home, but there were still businesses out there that had to just, they had to keep up on their building. I mean, it may delayed it for a little while, but there are some commercial businesses that have to paint no matter what, their safety standards, and there’s all sorts of things that they have to do to keep their buildings operating.
So that’s why these guys said, “Okay, we’re gonna move into that market and get to know commercial paints.” So guys that didn’t know a whole lot did okay, some of them are top commercial painters now 10 years later because it’s funny cause I mean when you paint someone’s home, and you do a good job, there’re certain standards, you gotta be clean, you gotta have clean drop cloths, normally this is a professional thing company. If they gotta really be professional to impress a homeowner or a family.
So you move that into commercial and commercial had a bad rap, lot of the commercial painters prior to 10 years ago, I’m not gonna put a label on them, that all of them were, but a fair amount were considered rough and unprofessional, you can do what you want no one is gonna see you, it’s a big commercial projects, your dirty drop clothes, just messy, but that also changed, I think when you guys started moving over to commercial from residential, cause they were used just be in professional dressing a certain way, having uniforms, yard signs, letter trucks. So these guys were able to really grow a part of the business that they thought before that was not possible. Now I’m seeing more guys move over to commercial than ever before and it’s still growing.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. So during 2008, the downturn, that was when I came up to the Maryland area for four years just because the downturn was hitting in Tennessee so badly. Yeah, the government was one of the only people spending money. So yeah, schools and things that they have to maintain, that was some of the only money that was moving around for a lot of that work during that time. That’s something I, Gosh, I feel like I’m still getting over 2008, I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night afraid 2008 is happening again.
You mentioned a few things here, you mentioned payment habits, you mentioned how residential pays little bit differently, usually walking away from a clean work site with a check in your hand. I got a bid on some windows at our brick house here in East Nashville built in 1940 and we’re gonna replace all 18 windows and they’re doing half up front, and then I believe a quarter and a quarter, so a quarter when it’s halfway done and a quarter when it’s done. How would that match up with how residential is typically billing? Are they doing half and half or what are they typically doing?
David Chism: So each state, well, some states are similar to others, I know in California it’s 10% or up to a thousand dollars up front and that’s all they can accept. Then you can do progress payments, maybe in West Coast is usually, you can get paid for the amount of work you’ve completed. So you can set up as many progress payments as you want throughout the job. So [inaudible 00:08:59] a week project you’re gonna get 10% up, if it’s under $10,000 and then you can say I wanna get paid every day or halfway through or at the end, it’s all up to that painter, but that paint company cannot accept more than they’ve done. So the labor material has to be at or under what they’ve already accomplished.
Now in the east coast, like in Maryland, I believe in a few years I’ve actually done the bidding or lifted the law, I think it’s a third upfront and then you can do another third, another third, something like that. So, each state is slightly different, it also depends on painting is difference in windows, so windows you can usually accept more upfront because the material cost is higher. So a lot of construction guys will get, on a window kind of thing, I’ve heard 50% is normal, so.
Michael Epps Utley: Sounds like we need a good searchprimer.com blog post on that topic, so we’ll get on that and let everybody know that’s out there. Then with commercial, you’re really talking about just a billing process and just corporate billing and how that takes longer. So really the painter, Gosh, if they’re not careful, they can be out of pocket for a few weeks waiting for a payment to come in.
David Chism: Right exactly. So, the [inaudible 00:10:16] painting company that does commercials, they have some cash [inaudible 00:10:19] careful of debt, managed it really well. So I have some customers that just are financially sound, and they can sometimes carry, they’re just used to it, 90 days, 120 days turn around, so they just though sometimes finance their projects and actually sometimes that helps get them jobs, because [inaudible 00:10:37] in their selling process, people will say, “Oh, you’ve got the right insurance amount, you’re financially sound and you can carry this project for that long, they’ll hire them because of that.
The other guys, it works if they have the office staff to handle it, so it’s all about setting up expectations and having, let’s say, a billing department. So not every paint company, they may not be able to afford a billing department. So if you have a finance department, you’re that size, you can do that. That also helps because those people, it’s not the estimator or business owner collecting a check. It may be the collectors department that will say, “Hey, it’s time to collect the payment today.” They have an assistant for that, so- [crosstalk 00:11:22]
Michael Epps Utley: So it’s ’cause we’re talking about infrastructure and staff and really is a dividing point for someone who is able to grow a residential business, maybe get a handful more trucks on the road alongside themselves versus having really a full blown office staff that’s ready to manage some of these more complicated sales. Maybe more complicated confirmation of requirements being met, maybe a walk through that is different than with a residential situation where the owner is standing right there when you’re wrapping up. What are some other ways that commercial is just different than residential? Anything we haven’t covered yet?
David Chism: You’re probably not dealing with the owner but you’re probably dealing with Property Managers, the facility Engineers, different office staff instead of an actual business owner, so it’s different than like a homeowner, so you have different expectations and sometimes it’s not as detailed, I mean you have to do certain quality and have good warranties, but it’s all about service and commercial. In terms of the hours that you work and when you’re expected to show up and completion of jobs are typically different. So you usually have timeframes and expectations more in commercial and [inaudible 00:12:39] on residential. Obviously someone doesn’t wanna wait months and months to get their house painted, but you could show up and paint when you’re ready or if they have a wedding or some event, when it comes to commercial, depending on what type of commercial we’re talking about, maybe let’s just say a retail facility or Starbucks or Chick-fil-A or something, they have timelines, if it’s the afternoon deadlines.
So maybe Sunday afternoons you can paint Chick-fil-As all day, and Starbucks is gonna be from midnight to 8:00AM. So little bit more, that’s what I’ve heard some of the complaints with the staffing and trying to get the right manpower to a commercial project. So typically it’s, you don’t see small commercial painting companies with a couple guys lasting very long, because they just can’t service that type of work, they have to the have the manpower and staffing to get these jobs done unless they are … Yeah, so that, I’m gonna leave it at that.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. Yeah. Dave, I have a question about just mix between residential and commercial, and I’m asking you this because you’ve worked with so many painting companies across both residential and commercial. Is it sustainable to just carry both of those categories, residential and commercial, and just grow that way? Or would you recommend at some point a painting contracting business just deciding like, okay, we’re gonna go all in on commercial, we’re gonna leave the residential behind, or conversely, we are a residential painter, we’re not gonna bid on commercial jobs, we’re just gonna get really good at residential painting. What do you think is the best formula for success in terms of those two mixes?
David Chism: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Good question. It’s, in general, good Marketing, good advertising would say, stick to one thing, so, be the best residential, if you do flooring, be best at flooring, if you’re best at commercial be that one thing. So, I see a lot of guys that focus most of their attention on one thing, but in painting I would say it’s a mix, but you’re gonna have a majority or a minority. So just an example, I have a company on the west coast, they do both, they do residential and commercial, but they wanna be the best residential company in their market, and then what they do with commercial, it’s secondary they don’t turn it away, they don’t focus a lot of marketing dollars on it.
If the phone rings and it’s a school project or something that they know that’s not too complex and then there’s not a big transition. Maybe equipment wise or material they’ll say, “Yeah, we’ll go ahead and bid that, but we’re just gonna focus our attention on residential.” Then vice versa, you have guys that have maybe started residence and moving to commercial that they tried to transition out of residential almost a 100% I’ve had some guys that don’t do residential at all. Some will just say, “Well, we service a few residential clients that know who we are, but we’ve cut off all content on our website and anything like that, we don’t advertise at all. That’s usually the best, be the best at one thing.
Then there’s also a third category really, how can you do both? How can you be a residential or commercial? The guys that I work with that do that, it’s almost 50/50, so it’s residential, commercial, when it comes to commercial work, they don’t go real complex detailed commercial projects, what I mean by that, more industrial, it may not be like the concrete coatings and floors polishing. They may not do confined space or I’m gonna throw out some technical like dry fall and sandblasting all that kinds of, they’re gonna stick to just repainting a retail facility, like a storefront. They’re gonna maybe do a Starbucks kind of a thing, a coffee shops, they’ll do condos, like condos that aren’t … they’re not gonna skyscrapers and high rises. It keeps everything within a two to three storey, it almost looks like a large residential building.
Michael Epps Utley: [crosstalk 00:16:37] Yeah. Commercial jobs that are similar enough to residential that they’re within grasp.
David Chism: That’s ’cause you’ve probably considered light commercial. I know you had that on your outline.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. So we’ll take a break right there. We’re gonna throw to a message from our sponsor SearchPrimer and we’ll be right back, we’ll dig into that a little bit more.
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Michael Epps Utley: All right, we’re back. So yeah, we were talking about light commercial, so, David, I’m always thinking, for folks who are getting in, you and I have been in a handful of calls with clients around the country, as I said, even in different regions, very different markets and they’re digging on the same question. They’re doing a lot of residential there at that point where business is good, it’s really coming in, and they’re just ready to start taking some commercial jobs, and the phrase we always come back to is, “light commercial.”
What is the shallow end of the pool here for commercial work? And how are folks getting it, if they’re known and they’ve really positioned themselves as residential, what happens for them to get that call from Chick-fil-A, or what happens for them to get that call from an office complex that maybe is two, 3000, 4,000 square feet, reasonable small situation, not too different than a house, so it’s a repaint. What’s that transition like in your experience with your painters and how do you help them navigate those waters in that transition, that turn?
David Chism: Yeah, when they get the call or light commercial [inaudible 00:18:37] it’s actually pretty straight forward and most solid residential paint companies can take that on, it’s actually fairly easy for them, so I’ve heard. Again years ago my dad’s company was all about high end residential, so, they just did a lot of custom painting. And every now and then they’d get these calls for commercial work and be like painting a restaurant or an office suites, someone’s gonna move in, it was empty or something, so you just had walls to do.
Sometimes they would go into some aerospace areas and hallways, and so aerospace, department of Defense would contact and say, “Hey, we got these conference rooms, we have to freshen up, we have an inspection.” It was referral kind of a thing, so they would go and bid it and it was just so easy to paint, what I kept hearing is that are there walls, there’s not much to it, there’s walls maybe base for it, there’s no custom windows, no custom doors. So the staff, they were just like, “Oh, I love this. I mean this is just super easy.” You throw down a drop, you cut it in and you’re done.
So when you go into a restaurant or anyone of [inaudible 00:19:49] Chick-fil-A, it’s just, there’s not a whole lot that goes into that. Staffing and getting the job done is the most challenging part of the job, but everything else is … In general, those jobs are a lot easier than a typical house painting projects. That’s why it’s been pretty easy to just start there, that’s the foot in the door, that’s what gets … [inaudible 00:20:10] and we should take on more of this.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. Now little bit of a shifting gears here, this is probably our, I think on time. We’re on our last question for the day. So this is gonna wrap up our episode. And again, this has been SearchPrimer podcast, Grow your Painting Business, episode has been growing paints, transitioning from residential to commercial. So with that title of the episode in mind, a big part of how a company is presented in the community and the neighborhood is what they have on their website, what they have on their social media channels, what they’re putting in email to send out, even things like putting in print.
When a company is going through a slight change in its service mix, maybe they’re adding light commercial, maybe they’re trying to demonstrate that they can do those sorts of jobs, or they’re straight up adding service pages to build out an entire column of commercial painting services. What does that look like and how do they need to go through and think about the information they’re putting out into the world and how far reaching is it? I mean, do they need to look at things like their Google my business listing? Do they need to check around and see what images they have in their Facebook header? What’s the punch list and the way to think about the online presence and how it changes if a company’s going through this shift?
David Chism: Yeah, another great question. So, I think it depends on how deep in commercial the residential painter goes, and what they do online and in print, but I don’t think a whole lot is gonna change for the residential marketing, so they may not even have to mention commercial [inaudible 00:21:41] keep it residential specialists or [inaudible 00:21:44] home, but sometimes if your transition is online or Facebook or Google my business, it may just be something like home and business and then maybe the, just keeping things simple. Lot of guys will try too hard and they clutter up their site’s really fast [crosstalk 00:22:02].
Michael Epps Utley: Okay. So like a top Nav, getting a little bit too unwieldy?
David Chism: Yeah, so maybe-
Michael Epps Utley: On a website.
David Chism: On a navigation Bar may just say residential painting, commercial painting, that simple and just leave it at that, and then have drops down of what kind of things you do. Instead of having everything all in one place, like we do it all, a one stop shop, you can get cluttery. So if you’re transitioning, you definitely wanna take your time and rely on some of those things we’ve talked about in the past like prospecting and connecting and building a referral source and all that, and trying to get your feet wet with some [inaudible 00:22:37] jumping all in.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah, and I’ve always found in my business, and Chris, I’m sure you’d say the same about Bullhorn media, but when you do a project that means you’re gonna have two more of that kind of project in the next six months or a year. Anytime you do something it’s gonna breed more of that activity. So if you’re painting a Chick-fil-A, there’s a good chance that there’s another owner right down the road or another location that’s coming up on the schedule and that stuff’s just gonna start coming in more and more.
So, yeah, as painters change their portfolio, consider how their galleries on their websites are looking. Like I said, thinking about the social media headers, if you’ve just got a picture of a house on your Facebook page and somebody is Kinda checking you out for commercial, yeah, they’re gonna smell what you’re putting out there and say, “Ai, maybe this isn’t what they really wanna do, maybe what they really wanna do is houses, let’s maybe look at these other folks.” So yeah, thinking through those connections, right David?
David Chism: Yeah, exactly. I think if guys are thinking about commercial now they are residential, there are some benefits, a lot of I like about the commercials is the job sizes are larger and they’re easy, I’d say easier to staff that you can staff more people and keep them busy than residential. So residential average job sizes, might be anywhere from $2,500 on the low end, to maybe $10,000, some are larger than that, but that’s, you have to sell a lot of work to keep your guys busy.
So if you’re really trying to grow your business, you have to mark it heavy to get the phone to ring to get that much work in the board, and when you can jump on a restaurant and paint it, that owner or that manager most likely will have 10 other of those stores. So I have some painters that will travel interstate and multi state to paint all those Chick-fil-As or all those utility restaurants or Starbucks, and so they have [inaudible 00:24:33] fairly busy and again their job sizes [inaudible 00:24:35] twenty thousand, thirty thousand [inaudible 00:24:37] several hundred thousands and so they love selling those kinds of projects, you don’t have to have as many leads coming in and then they sprinkle in the residential as well. [crosstalk 00:24:50]
Michael Epps Utley: We’ve bumped into something that’s a pretty big deal and that is relationships with an entity or a person who’s involved with a large footprint on the map of locations, I mean it could be a lot of things, it could be gas stations I mean-
Chris Raines: And this really ties into referrals and we need to do a future episode on referrals, but what does it look like to go to that Chick-fil-A franchisee owner and say, “Hey, what do we need to do?” There’s a hundred Chick-fil-A’s within our service area or whatever. How do we get in? What’s the best way to get in on those? How do we use your connections? That’s pretty powerful.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. So I’ll say to everyone for a little bit more on that, you can listen to episode five and think about relationship building as a way to keep your pipeline full. David, this has been great, again another great episode, David, his company is A David creation, GoEpps and Bullhorn Media have a special relationship, been working together for years, and GoEpps, creator of SearchPrimer and A David creation had been working together for years, serving a lot of the same clients, we’re independent from each other, not connected in any official way, but tend to point people to each other because we trust each other, we know good work is gonna be done, but David, we mentioned at the top of the show, but why don’t you say one more time how people can find you?
David Chism: Yeah. They can find me on my website I’m pretty quick responder there, if they shoot me a message, so adavidcreation.com, Facebook you can just also google my name A David Creation Facebook and shoot me a message on the Facebook messenger, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, as well.
Michael Epps Utley: Excellent. Thank you so much and Chris, I believe you and I, the next step said we’re gonna be talking about reviews and reputation management, part one the big dogs, unless we change our topic and-
Chris Raines: Such a big topic for service providers to tackle.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah, all across the trade’s, not just for painters, but for some of the other folks that we serve, roofers and landscapers in any of those, online reputation management has become probably the biggest story in SEO, I would say of the last 18 months.
Chris Raines: I would agree.
Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. Good. David Chism, thank you so much my friend, it was great to spend time with you yet again and I look forward to future episodes.
David Chism: Thank you guy for having me in the show, appreciate it.
Michael Epps Utley: Excellent. Thanks everyone, and that is a wrap for Grow your Painting Business Podcast, growing paints, transitioning from residential to commercial, thank you and have a great day.
Chris Raines: See yah.
Michael Epps Utley: The grow your painting business podcast is a free service of searchprimer.com. Visit us today for more information on how you can grow your business using the latest tools in digital marketing, searchprimer.com.