In this episode, Michael and Chris interview Nathan Anderson, founder and CEO of Anderson Painting, a successful residential and commercial painting business serving Raleigh, North Carolina. We talk about the nuts and bolts of what makes a successful painting business.

We’ll cover:

Transcript

Nathan Anderson: It’s been a journey, I would say. 14 years later, looking back, it was definitely just trial by error and a lot of different learning falling forward.

Michael Utley: 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 and 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.

Chris Raines: All right. Welcome to episode 21 of Grow Your Painting Business, the SearchPrimer podcast. I’m Chris Raines. I’m joined by Michael Utley. How are you doing, Michael?

Michael Utley: Good. Hey, Chris.

Chris Raines: We got a good episode today. We’re doing an interview today. Michael, tell us who we’re interviewing.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Really excited. We’re going to talked to Nathan Anderson. Anderson Painting in North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, has been very successful. And what I would say is unique about them is this isn’t some sort of thing where they were in the right place at the right time, got some great contract because of an inside deal. This is literally a story of someone starting from zero and building this thing step-by-step from day one, bootstrapping it the whole way, making smart decisions, occasionally having to redo some things when he wasn’t happy with the foundation that he had in place. And now being a company that employs 40 people and has continued to have steady growth, even through the recession. They’re a values-based business. We’re going to hear about that. We’re going to hear about the different community involvement things that they’re a part of. And just a really, really fascinating guy and a great company, and one that we’ve really enjoyed getting to know and so I’m very excited today to talk to Nate Anderson.

Chris Raines: All right. Enough talk. Let’s get right to the interview.

Michael Utley: Nathan, thank you for joining us today. Really glad to have you on. Welcome to the SearchPrimer Podcast. How are you doing today?

Nathan Anderson: I’m doing great, thank you.

Michael Utley: Good. Thank you for hanging with us as we worked out our audio. We’re really excited about this episode. This is going to be a little bit different. Typically, we’re talking about digital marketing, and today, we’re just going to dive into the life of an actual painting company founder and CEO. And just to introduce you, Nathan Anderson is the founder and creator of Anderson Painting, serving Raleigh, North Carolina and the greater Research Triangle area. And just has a really great brand, a really fresh sort of approach to what they’re doing, and some interesting things that they’re doing that impact the community and really show a lot of personality and a lot of what they’re about. So we’re excited today to talk to Nathan and, yeah, welcome to the show. So, glad you’re here. What-

Nathan Anderson: Thanks for having me.

Michael Utley: Yeah. What’s going on today? What’s your day been like today?

Nathan Anderson: It’s been good. Just a bunch of meetings, starting out, and talking with my consultant. And then going over marketing. And the day’s been good, but it’s raining outside, so I’m kind of going crazy.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Everything slows down when it’s raining, same here.

Nathan Anderson: That’s right.

Michael Utley: So, yeah, first off, tell us the story of Anderson Painting. I know you were a teacher and you were in Portland, Oregon at one point, and that’s where you were from, and how did you end up being a painting company owner in Raleigh, North Carolina and doing some of the things that you’re doing? What’s kind of the backstory of Anderson Painting?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. I started out in Portland, Oregon. Grew up there. And became a painter myself in high school on my way to becoming a teacher, and continued sharpening those skills through college in the summertime. Just continued to paint. And became a teacher and got hired … Well, the long story is I went on a trip between my junior and senior year to Thailand and–

Michael Utley: I think I know that where this is going. Yeah.

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. So I went out there to coach track. I was also a track athlete myself, and we were coaching high school athletes over in Thailand. And I met up with a bunch of students from all over the United States and we joined together to produce a coaching team and staff and we went over on I guess it was Athletes in Action. That’s the trip. It was a mission trip. And I met a bunch of people. My wife is one of those people now. Yeah. We met and just got to know each other in a big group setting in Thailand and then came back. She went to North Carolina State University and was also an athlete. She’s actually a two-time All-American, so she was a bit better-

Michael Utley: Wow.

Nathan Anderson: … of an athlete, was, yeah. And she ran cross country and steeple chase. And I was a hurdler, so we had kind of that in common. Steeple chase and hurdles are somewhat similar. She went for long-distance and I was more short-distance, but that’s how we kind of got to know each other. And then we both finished up our senior years. She got a job teaching here in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I got a job … Over the phone, I got hired, actually, as a teacher, because they were in great need of teachers at the time. So that’s how it all got started, and how I got over here. And-

Michael Utley: And then what-

Nathan Anderson: … the story-

Michael Utley: Yeah. What led to the decision to change careers? That’s a pretty big change.

Nathan Anderson: It is, yeah. The problem in North Carolina is they are one of the lower-paid states for teachers, and so we started to have kids. We have three girls now. And when we had our first daughter, my wife wanted to stay home and be with her, and that kind of forced me into kind of looking into insurance. And in the county that I was teaching in at the time, they required that you pay for the first two dependents, and then every dependent after that was free. So as the family grew from that point, it would be fine, but I couldn’t afford as a second-year teacher to continue paying for insurance and be able to afford just normal life, like rent and-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Nathan Anderson: … just normal life. I would have been definitely quite a ways below the poverty line with the bill that I was looking at, so I decided to stop teaching and move forward with going back to painting, really, is what it came down to, and I slowly, organically grew the company we had. We started off with three employees, myself and two other individuals, and have kind of come a long ways. Right now, we’re at 40 people, roughly-

Michael Utley: Wow.

Nathan Anderson: … with management included. So it’s growing, and going pretty-

Michael Utley: Yeah. So there’s a big kind of gap here. So what I know about you is that you have been awarded the Better Business Bureau Torch Award. They really appreciate and valued your community work, especially with immigrants. I want to hear about that. And then you were also named one of the 40 under 40, so I’m a little bit at a loss, though, to understand how you went from being a painter to understanding how to build a business. What was that process like, and were there people who were influential or did you just sort of bootstrap this yourself, trial and error? Was this sort of an academic approach? How did you go from being someone who is clearly qualified in the craft as a painter to doing something that’s honestly totally different, running a business, that’s grown, now, to 40 people? What did that look like?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. It’s been a journey, I would say. 14 years later, looking back, it was definitely just trial by error and a lot of different learning falling forward, failing forward.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Nathan Anderson: And really thinking, at first, like, “Okay, I can handle this,” and just going into it like anyone else would, full head strong. I got this. We can do this. Selling. I was really … I sold all the jobs and I performed all the jobs with a crew. And slowly, over time, just realizing, well, I can’t do this forever. I got to hire more people so that I can afford to not work as much in the field, because I can’t sell everything and grow the business. And we have been on a pretty steady path now with somewhere around anywhere from 20 to maybe 33% growth over the past I’d say about, I don’t know, six to seven years. But we’ve never, even through the recession, we’ve never really gone back. We’ve really just grown every single year, so we work pretty hard to set some goals and then go after those goals.

Nathan Anderson: And I guess to kind of pinpoint your question, I got to a point where I really didn’t have any more ideas, roughly about 10 years ago, and needed to find someone who would come alongside me and just say, “Hey, how can I do this? What’s the next step?” And so we did end up hiring a consulting firm that really helped get me to the next level, I would say, implementing business systems where I knew I needed to do that, but really didn’t have the full knowledge on what to do next and how to manage the business from a managerial standpoint, really from looking at numbers. At this point, I’m looking at numbers and making decisions rather than having a pulse on it because I’m so embedded in it that I had to those senses out there all the time.

Michael Utley: Yeah. What were some of the big systems they had you put in place? Was it finance and operations or was it more about quality control? What was the main thrust of what they wanted you to do?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. We really started … I actually went back to ground zero, which was really helpful. We developed the business plan. I really started the business out of necessity and really didn’t have a real clear vision or plan, moving forward. So we started there. Values, determining our values, our company values, was a really pivotal kind of the next step. Like, what’s the vision and what are your values so you can carry these out with the values that you want to lead people with. So we did. I came up with six values. It’s family, communication, leadership, efficiency, accountability, and got all those out there, and my daughter actually, she was very, I mean, quite young at the time, came in and wrote hard work on the bottom, and added our seventh value. And that was pretty powerful. I mean, like you said, you don’t really, like you said earlier, leave your business at home if you’re a small business owner-

Michael Utley: Right.

Nathan Anderson: … startup company. My daughter was well aware that hard work was a huge part of the equation.

Michael Utley: That’s good.

Nathan Anderson: And after getting those values determined and how to move forward with those, we really started to focus on an accountability structure. So putting systems in place holding people accountable to achieving small goals, achievable goals. And from there, continued to create positions, hire kind of upper-level management to manage the field, to manage the finances, to manage the office. So it’s just-

Michael Utley: So how many … So if you’ve got 40 people reporting in to the company now, how many of those people are reporting directly to you? How many direct reports do you have to deal with on a daily basis?

Nathan Anderson: I have Adam, who is one of our sales guys. He’s really the sales manager. And then Holly, she’s the office and financial side of things. Daniel is the field supervisor. And then two other field supervisors that are junior supervisors, so about five different people report directly to me at this point.

Michael Utley: Yeah. So has that been pretty consistent since you built out a vision and business processes? Did you have a small team? Or did you ever find yourself in the trap of genius with a thousand helpers?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. It’s definitely been transitioning. But for the most part, I’ve had an office manager who also did finances, and then a field manager. Those were the first two positions that I filled with people that were really, I would say, on my management team. And so we’ve created a management team at this point. It is the three of us, myself as the CEO and then my financial lady, Holly, and then Daniel, my field supervisor, is really how we lead now. It’s a small committee that determines the vision, determines the goals, and then everybody else kind of takes a look at what their part in that is, and we hold them accountable to hitting their goals individually.

Michael Utley: Well, yeah, that’s interesting. And I’ve got one more question. Do we ever get beyond culture? When you said values, I was interested that … We think so much about culture, company culture, but you started with values. How has culture played out with that group? Because I’ve found it’s really hard to go back and make changes in a business. Because you don’t realize it, but culture is so strong. Culture is such a strong component of what everyone’s experiencing day-to-day. Yeah. What was that like sort of evolving your organizational structure and how has culture played in to what you’ve been building?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. So culture is super important to an organization. We all know that. So culture, the values now determine the culture is what it comes down to for us at Anderson Painting. We hire people that we think have our values, and so that helps us control the culture. We want to be a place where people can enjoy to work with others. Working on a team is super important to us. And we really do want the environment to be one where learning is always occurring, where embracing that, where communication is quality and learning continues to happen in a free, open, accepting environment. So that’s important to us.

Michael Utley: Yeah. I think a lot of people coming into the workforce today, their expectations, they really want their job, more often, to be an expression of their personal interests, their personal culture. And so-

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Utley: … sometimes things like that are hard to put our finger on, and we don’t realize how impactful those differences are. Where previous generations, maybe our parents’ or our grandparents’ generation, it might have been about being dutiful, being loyal, being consistent, being predictable, but now, people … It really is important to anyone who joins up with a company these days, especially when they’re coming through maybe a university experience and they’re being served up to the job market in a way that I think is different than in the past.

Michael Utley: So, okay, that gets me back to something that we touched on earlier. You have a particular heart for immigrants. Where did that start, and was that from doing your work with Athletes in Action, or was it before that just something you’ve always felt? And then how does that play into what you all do now, and how is that relevant to the business?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it really goes back, if I think about it, to my father and a story he used to tell about this young girl in one of his elementary classes, and how he just … His mom, I guess, taught him to kind of help people or stick up for the person who can’t stick up for themselves. And I just really … I think that story really impacted my life. He just told a story about this young girl that happened to sit next to him and a lot of other people made fun of her, and he kind of defended her and stood by her. And in that time, there were other people later on in life who actually came back to my dad and said, “Hey, good job for being that guy, standing up for someone who couldn’t stand up for herself or himself at the time.”

Nathan Anderson: And so that, along with just seeing a need in the community, people who kind of started out helping refugees along with a church group that kind of came up with just presented a need where families were coming from other countries, this specifically was Burma, and they would literally come on an airplane with a bag, and they’d walk off with a carryon bag, and that’s what they’d be starting with in the United States. Just a bag and their family, maybe. Maybe a friend or two, also having come with a bag, so they really have nothing except for a few personal items. And this group, specifically, we sponsored a family when they came in with providing them with a place to stay, an apartment we would rent for three months, pay that free and clear for them, and then also just outfit it with furniture, get them going.

Nathan Anderson: And what ended up happening is kind of near the end of our relationship with that family, it kind of came down to, “Hey, now they need jobs. Who has any ideas about how we’re going to get these guys jobs?” And I kind of thought for a short period of time, like, “Well, I could provide them with a job. I don’t know their language or anything, but I’ll try to employ them.” And that’s really how it started out. I hired the two guys that our church sponsored initially, and we moved forward from there. It was literally me … I’ll never forget training these guys really just holding their hand with a brush, my hand on their hand, literally just teaching them how to brush the edges, cut in, in painter terms, cut in a room, cut in whatever it is that we were doing. And the same thing with the roller, how do you use a roller? Just literally reaching over their back, rolling the wall. Demonstrating, but then showing them by just getting in there and getting into it with the training.

Nathan Anderson: And it really, from there, we’ve decided to continue to do that. It hasn’t actually been an easy decision, nor has it always been the best business decision, but we’ve committed to hiring refugees and training. And now, because we’ve been doing it for quite a few years, we’re able to provide the training most of the time in their own language or a language that’s similar enough to where the person can actually understand what we need them to do. And it’s worked out-

Michael Utley: That’s tremendous.

Nathan Anderson: … great for a lot of different guys.

Michael Utley: Yeah. So Burma, very near Thailand, so a lot of your life has been impacted by your experiences with-

Nathan Anderson: Yeah.

Michael Utley: … either athletes or refugees from that part of the world.

Nathan Anderson: Definitely.

Michael Utley: Well, good. Well-

Nathan Anderson: Yeah, it’s really cool.

Michael Utley: … switching gears just a little bit, I want to ask you just a handful of sort of short-response questions, just to kind of hammer through. I mean, this is a real treat for us to have a chance to talk with you today. But I know that as painters are out there, everyone’s in different stages, and your story is sort of the dream that a lot of people have about starting off. So, question number one here, what would you tell someone who’s maybe young and they’re looking to kind of move in the direction of what you’ve done and they want to start their own thing? Maybe they’re painting for somebody else, and maybe they’re highly skilled. Or maybe they’ve started their own company, but they’re spending too much time on the job sites. What would be your encouragement to someone who’s sort of a younger version of Nate?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind there would be to plan more, step away from whatever it is you’re doing, sacrifice that time, if you have to, and create a plan. Maybe a business plan, if you don’t have a business plan, or take a look at the plan that you do have and really expand it out to at least three years. And really, then, once you have that plan, you could work backwards and determine what the steps are to carry out that plan. So in the long and short, right? Some longer-term goals and figure out how to accomplish those goals. And if you can’t do that yourself, pay for a consultant that will help you get there.

Michael Utley: So step one, determine what the endpoint is, where you want to be, and then work back from there.

Nathan Anderson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Utley: Similar question, if … A lot of people start off and they’re interested in sort of having their own business, and maybe they start off with residential, and then before they know it, they find themselves easing into a little bit of light commercial work. And before you know it, you’re looking at maybe adding some products to your repertoire and doing what Anderson has done, evolve to include a significant amount of flooring business. You all are doing concrete floor coatings, you’re doing commercial work, you’re doing residential work.

Nathan Anderson: Yeah.

Michael Utley: How would you advise people to think? I would bet that a lot of the people who are sort of self-educating, listening to a podcast, are maybe on the front-end of their careers, quite often. And, of course, at SearchPrimer, we work with individuals who have very small businesses all the way up to multi, multi-million-dollar commercial and industrial painters. But for someone who’s getting started, what would you recommend in terms of their mix of services? Would you say just take any business that comes in and make it work out? Or always strive for bigger projects? Or how would you recommend that … Anderson, of course, just for everyone to know, does commercial, residential, and has been expanding rapidly in the space of concrete floor coatings. So using the Penntek products. Where someone wants an epoxy floor, they’re using Penntek to provide those finished concrete floors.

Michael Utley: But, Nate, how would you recommend someone start? They typical experience is a guy with a truck painting houses, and then he’s got a couple of buddies, and then before you know it, he’s getting bigger jobs. But how would you recommend someone consider that trajectory, and what would be the wise approach for how to handle that?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. The wise approach would be to stay focused on one area and get really good at that area. And then once you’re really good at that area, take on a new area to continue to … So that you know that you can continue to provide quality in a single area and then advance once you are for sure that you can take care of that other area first. So, long and short, stay focused, get one or two things down really well, create a system around those so that you can continue to provide quality in those focus areas, and then move forward into newer areas, once you have the capacity and you’re freed up to be able to really control quality on a new area, as well as other areas.

Michael Utley: Yeah. So, at the end of the day, quality trumps rapid growth? If you don’t have the quality-

Nathan Anderson: Yeah.

Michael Utley: … don’t move ahead. Yeah.

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. It can come back to just break you apart, yeah.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Next question in this lightning round. What organizations or memberships do you maintain and find to be the most valuable, in terms of sort of national organizations or mastermind groups, that sort of thing?

Nathan Anderson: Yes. So, as a paint contractor, I am involved in the PDCA, of course. And they provide a lot of skills and a lot of knowledge training. So when you do decide to venture out and increase your business, you can kind of find a lot of specific skill and concepts that you can apply to growing your business in a new area.

Nathan Anderson: Also, definitely the Nolan Summit Services. They are a business consulting group that does an excellent job of not only coaching an individual, but also providing knowledge to advance and train people over and over again as needed as you grow a business. So business coaching, as well as kind of a full company approach on just training from start to finish. So definitely Nolan Summit Services has been a major pivotal point in really continuing to help Anderson Painting grow without having a whole lot of plateaus in that growth.

Nathan Anderson: And also, definitely partnering with the Better Business Bureau. A lot of individuals search there, of course, for reputable contractors. And so that’s been an awesome relationship, as well. We have definitely enjoyed working with them and will continue to do that in the future. And then in different areas, focusing on marketing with both GoEpps and David Creation in helping us make wise decisions there. And, yeah. I think that’s about it.

Michael Utley: That’s great. Yeah. Summit is very highly regarded, if anyone’s listening and not familiar with them, checking them out would definitely be recommended. And Painting and Decorating Contractors of America out of St. Louis, PDCA, of course, really the organization for painters to be affiliated with. And they do a lot of good work in education and just, full disclosure, they’ve also been a client of ours, just to be clear about that, but we’re not advertising them, we’re just talking about them. Good.

Michael Utley: And one more question, and we can start to wrap up on this. If you look at sort of the experience you had with creating your consistent growth business, very successful, how important has it been to determine your geographic area, and where you’re going to serve? And what I’d like to know, not just the business side of this of being in a strong market, or, well, we happen to live here, but how has that been connected with your family’s decisions on where to live and where to put down roots, and your community work? So just to sort of wrap everything together, what has Raleigh meant to Anderson Painting?

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. Raleigh is where we live. The geographical area that we serve starts in Raleigh, in the center, and moves out from there in different directions. The Greater Triangle Area is our service area. So really, anything from within a 45-minute radius or roughly somewhere around I’d say 35 miles or so of the Raleigh area is really our primary service area. And it just happens to be one of the top-growing cities in the world, so-

Michael Utley: Yeah. Yeah.

Nathan Anderson: Especially in the US right now, it’s definitely on the top two or three cities. So that’s been really good for our company. And kind of staying central, not expanding too far has also helped us, I don’t know, stay focused, in a way, with the services that we do provide. And occasionally, we’ll go out of the zone or out of the Triangle to service a customer that we already have that may own property somewhere else. Or we do have an occasional storm project where we’ll travel down to the beach, maybe, and take care of a large project. We actually refurbished the battleship down in Wilmington this year. The Battleship Visitors Center got destroyed during the hurricane last fall, and we went down and they hired us, the state actually, through the general contractor, hired us to restore the interior, exterior, and some of the floors in that facility, so it was pretty fun being next to the Wilmington Battleship, so.

Michael Utley: So it sounds like you’re more … You’re not really limited by opportunity. You’re more limited by discipline.

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. That’s true.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Nathan Anderson: Definitely.

Michael Utley: And it sounds like Raleigh’s been a good fit for you and your family. You all have put down some roots there. You’re very integrated into the community and you see this as home, and it’s where you’ve built your business.

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. It’s been great for the past 14 years, and it’ll continue, I’m sure, to grow and expand, and I’m sure there’s a lot of huge opportunity coming, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Michael Utley: Yeah. And since you and I are both in the South, and you’re from a different part of the country, I grew up in the South, in Tennessee, and it’s surprising to me, people are often surprised to hear how much activity Nashville, of course, is just booming right now, but Raleigh and really all of the technology business that’s gone into North Carolina has completely made Raleigh and Charlotte some of the most desirable markets in the United States. Nashville’s exploding. And really, when I was growing up, we knew Atlanta was kind of hot, and Miami, we didn’t really consider part of the South. That’s just a different animal. And-

Nathan Anderson: Yeah.

Michael Utley: But people are surprised to see the amount of energy and activity that’s happening in these Southern cities right now.

Nathan Anderson: It is amazing, for sure.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Nathan Anderson: Yeah. Yeah, I think the postmodern culture that I grew up in out in the Northwest is slowly migrating to really be … I’ve heard that North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, will be the next postmodern culture that kind of takes over, even larger than maybe even the Northwest in the future, so it’s changing rapidly.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Yeah, I think we’re in a real cultural shift, and it’s impactful on work life, it’s impactful on family life, community service, and it’s exciting. The growth is exciting, but it’s definitely a big cultural shift. And I would say that people are generally surprised, in my experience, to find out how international the Southern cities are. We have very cosmopolitan populations, and I think that’s a surprise to people.

Nathan Anderson: Definitely.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Well, good. Nate, this has been awesome. I mean, there are probably some young guys out there getting started. There are probably some people who are similar to you that maybe have been in a similar timeframe but have not had the success, and between the lines, they’re reading in and hearing things about planning, hearing things about being intentional with values and culture, things that maybe they’ve had a hunch about but they haven’t fully made a priority and a requirement of themselves and their businesses, so this has been extremely valuable and I really appreciate your time today, and thank you so much for being on the show.

Nathan Anderson: No problem. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

Michael Utley: Excellent. Thanks so much. And I’ll just sign off for us. This is a SearchPrimer podcast. You can find us on SearchPrimer.com and also on iTunes. And we will have show notes and links to some of the things we discussed in the description. And thank you very much. And Chris, thanks for audio production today, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Thank you.

Nathan Anderson: Have a great day.

Michael 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.