What is a quality painting job?

In 25 years as a contractor, I have yet to meet a contractor or a painter who didn’t claim to do quality work. But what does quality mean? Is, to paraphrase an old adage, one painter’s quality another painter’s junk?

One definition of quality is: a distinguishing attribute. It could be argued that a painter who refuses to use a drop clothe and gets paint on the customer’s furniture is producing work with a distinguishing attribute. But it is unlikely that this is what most painters mean when they speak of the quality of their work.

Another definition of quality is: a degree of excellence. This is what most contractors and painter mean by quality. But what is excellence? Does it mean laser-straight cut-in lines? Does it mean woodwork that is as smooth as glass? Or, does it mean something else?

I suspect that we could ask ten different painters these questions and get ten different answers. But since this is a written article, and not a call-in talk show, I’m going to stick my neck out and give my answer. And it may surprise you.

From my perspective, quality has little to do with the appearance of the paint on the wall. Certainly, walls with more runs than a cheap pair of stockings would not qualify as quality. But I assume that any competent painter can achieve an acceptable finish. When I speak to painters or contractors about quality, I mean something much different.

Painting is a service business. Putting paint on the wall is only one part, and a relatively small part, of that service. I expect a professional painter to do that reasonably well; it is the minimal skill that one must possess to even qualify as a professional painter. What then, do I mean by quality?

Consider the many different aspects involved in hiring a professional painting contractor. From the first phone call to the final payment, there are often dozens, if not hundreds, of individual events. Each of these contributes to the overall experience. If a painter fails to wipe his feet and tracks mud onto the customer’s carpet, the appearance of the paint is going to pale in comparison. If the crew is habitually late, the customer isn’t going to notice that the drywall repairs are invisible. If the painters look like prime candidates for the Betty Ford Clinic, the experience could be wrought with angst. In other words, painting well isn’t enough to provide a quality experience. And, from the customer’s perspective, the experience is as important, if not more so, that what is on the wall.

As another type of example: you take your significant other to dinner at an elegant restaurant. The atmosphere is perfect, the food is delicious, and the waiter is obnoxious. Which of these are you likely to remember? Will the taste of the food overcome the demeanor of the waiter? Or will the evening be ruined? In any service business, the product is only a part of the equation.

Good service won’t make up for poor painting skills. But poor service can ruin the best paint job.

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