An interview with Ken Fenner, Part 2

Part 1 of this interview can be found here.

Q: What is the difference between owning a job and owning a business?

A: I define a business as a vehicle that creates steady, sustainable income. If you have passed the point of startup and have four or five years in business but still find yourself assuming all the roles in your company, you own a job. The business is you and you alone. A simple look in the mirror analysis can be done by answering one question. If there were to be an unfortunate turn of events and you could not work, would your company remain operational? Who would paint? Who would do the estimates? Sell the jobs? Would your family survive without you? It is scary to contemplate. Most of us like to think of ourselves as stronger.. more invincible than the general public. Unfortunately, fortitude cannot prevent bones from shattering if you are in a car accident. Things happen and insurance is only going to carry you so far. Every maneuver, every part of your plan should  be executed to get you away from assuming all the roles in your company.

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Q: A common complaint among painting contractors is the inability to find good help. What advice can you offer?

A: This is a difficult one, Brian. One needs to know their numbers and factor a payroll accordingly. If you can only afford a low wage, then your results are going to be predictable. Of course the wage offers no certainty of performance. One key is to refine your painting techniques for maximum efficiency and organize each task into a teachable system. Training is vital. Each worker needs to know exactly what his tasks are as soon as the truck pulls to the curb. If the leader of a crew walks into a job empty or short handed, his workers are going to do the same. The job is going to take longer and cost you more money. If instead the crew is proficient and knows what it needs to do, jobs are going to get done quicker. That frees up dollars that allow you to hire a better workforce.

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Q: Painting contractors seem to very concerned about price. Is this a legitimate concern?

A: Not nearly as much as many would believe. Here is the statistic… One of out every five people makes a purchase decision based solely upon price. That leaves 80% of the people out there looking for more than the best price on merchandise or a service. If this wasn’t true, companies like Starbucks, Mercedes or Bloomingdale’s would not exist. These are premium offering companies that are in demand. What keeps them successful is that these companies know how to market and sell  their products.

If you answer the homeowner’s concerns versus telling them what a great job you will do, you’ll get results. It is beneficial to listen to what a person is telling you during a sales estimate. Your ability to paint a straight line may pale in comparison to a mother that is looking for a paint that resists scuffs and can be easily washed. If you continuously touted your superior ability to paint you lost her because you did not address her needs. When it comes down to the part where you give her your number, the first thing out of her mouth may well be “That’s more than we wanted to spend.”  Or, you may get the delay tactic of, “I’ll talk to my husband and we’ll get back to you”. The contractor walks out the door with resentments. After all, his presentation was pristine, he showed her pictures, supplied references, therefore it had to be the price. He couldn’t be more wrong but his ego will not allow him to follow up or take ownership of his mistakes.

One thing I have witnessed over the years that amazes me is the amount of contractors that mention to me that once they raised their prices, they actually got busier. That is a predictable phenomenon. If a business is selling quality, quality, quality, then turns around because they think price is so important and offers a low or medium rate,  it triggers a red flag. You message has to be consistent.

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Q: What is the single most important skill  the owner of a painting company should possess?

A: The ability to request help. Once owners lets go of the reigns and are honest they realize they cannot do everything  themselves. This opens the door for growth and working smarter. Its wisest to check ego at the door and always do what’s best for the business. Most often this means learning to delegate as much as your budget allows.

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