Your “Oh Crap” List

If the “Happiness Audit” didn’t quite work for you, here’s another way to deal with work stress. As small business owners, we all have moments (often weekly, sometimes daily) where we feel completely overwhelmed, but when it’s your name on the door, you still have to find a way to keep it all together. Here’s another quick “audit” you can do to determine what’s really worth your energy, what can be delegated, and what needs to get thrown out with the rest of the old paint.

Making An “Oh Crap” List


Right People, Right Seats

As the year winds down and you start planning for an even better 2016, is reevaluating your personnel on your to do list? Here’s a great article about what truly separates good businesses from great businesses. Here’s to 2016 being your best year yet in every metric you use to measure success.

The Dirty Little Secret of Successful Companies



Is Your Business Fully Focused On Your Customers?

Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that customer service is a dying art, but for those of us smart enough to pay attention, this also presents us with an opportunity to set ourselves apart from the crowd. No need to add infostructure, raise your prices, or work longer hours, all you have to do is be friendly and helpful (and make sure everyone else at your company is doing the same).

Just think, when was the last time you called a “customer service” number and got a live person who helped you within a reasonable amount of time? As small business owners, we all have the option to make our interactions personal, and in choosing to do so, also make the customer experience a pleasant one. Happy customers tell their friends… which leads to more work… which leads to more happy customers… I think you get the idea.

Below are some great tips on delivering top of the line customer service, and once you’re done reviewing the list, take a minute to re-evaluate your current systems for possible improvements. Here’s to leaving all of your customers with a smile on their face.


10 Characteristics of a Customer Focused Business



Hey! I’m NOT Walmart!

What do you say when you’re told your price is too high and the owner is leaning toward the unemployed brother-in-law or  the latest low-bidder-in-town?  Here’s my list of TOP 5:

#5: Who are you going to call when the paint looks bad 3 years from now and the low-bid painter who you hired to do the work has gone out of business because he didn’t charge his clients enough to remain in business?

#4: What if your unemployed brother-in-law does a lousy job?  Can you fire him and finish the job yourself?

#3: If you pay $2500 for a 3 year paint job, rather than $5000 for an 8 year paint job, are you really saving money?

#2: Oh, then you should definately hire your brother in law/that cheap painter in the station wagon…what could go wrong?

#1: Very sorry, but I’m not Walmart and will not meet or beat anybody’s advertised price.

I have discovered that a little candor and humor goes a long way, but a good open conversational relationship is usually required otherwise you’re likely to be percieved as a smart-ass.  I welcome your contributions!.

Serendipitous Coincidence?


Ok, check out these two pictures, one is from the Spring 2012 Professional Painting Contractor magazine published by Sherwin Williams, the cover picture is of a painted lady in an unusual color scheme of pumpkin, yellow/crème and turquoise accent. The other photo is of a house we finished 2 days before the magazine arrived in our office on April 6th.

I’m not hacking Mike Starling’s (PPC editor) computer because I promised to stop doing that as a condition of my release.  And I’m not an innovative colorist.  This is not a conspiracy either (nod to the tinfoil hat brigade), this is a coincidence.  But it is also a gentle reminder of a few things: 1) that historic colors tend to cycle back (and in so doing look new), 2) an astute client makes us look good (neighbors and drivers-by don’t know whether we had anything to do with the colors or not), 3) our trade/industry involvement makes them look smart (my client was aghast when I showed her the PPC cover and refused to return my copy), and 4) the internet is the oxygen of modern times (my client researched & sourced the color scheme online – who knows, maybe PPC sourced the scheme there too?).   Does that make her an innovative colorist?   Hmmm…yes, I guess.

All this got me to thinking; through the web portal we are living the modern illustration of the proverb – as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the wits of another.   I have a collection of books and manuals that I haven’t used in several years; small engine repair manuals, Chilton automobile books, gardening, specialty painting, quotes & toasts, philosophy, history, model building, etc; all together they pale in comparison to my substantial collection of cookbooks – volumes of material for which I paid are now gathering dust.  Pre-web; I’d search the chicken section of my cookbooks looking for something new and different, maybe I’d find coq au vin (chicken with wine) and give it a try. Now, if I want to make coq au vin  I go online and search for recipes, read a few and discover knowledge previously not available to me: that one man’s bacon bits (from my old cookbook collection) is another man’s lardons (salt pork cubes).  My knowledge is now on par with a trained chef – in pre-web times, that is.

What a friend, the internet, yes?  Yes, right up to the point where it’s not.  Let me illustrate that with a couple of painting related examples: number 1 –  you are selling an exterior and your prospect asks you if spray and backroll is the equivalent of 2 coats because your competitor (not qualitative,  only categorical)  said so.  You chuckle, and explain why this isn’t so, later your client researches this and finds substantial evidence that you are correct – the HERO!  The web is your friend and your client’s as well.  Situation 2 – as an experienced, plugged-in industry leader you’ve concluded over the years that it’s wiser to wash your exterior after you concluded the dusty prep and you’ve incorporated this tautological wisdom into your sales conversation, and you gain expertise in your client’s eyes, and they trust you.  But you’re not alone in that method, other like-minded businesses also wash post-prep and one of those guys had the temerity to blog about it, or post a video of it on you-tube or blurb it on facebook; and instantly, the knowledge is available to any knuckle-dragging low bidder who can operate a mouse and read.  You’ve lost an edge.  In this case, the internet is NOT your friend.

May you be blessed to live in interesting times.  Welcome to modernity where our cup runneth over.



The Art of Team Building

In her memoir, Tough Choices, former HP (Hewlett Packard) CEO, Carly Fiorina shares her amazing journey to the top of a Fortune 20 company. If I had to use only one word to describe how she did it, I would say she mastered the art of collaboration. In teaching others how to collaborate, she drew from her childhood experiences in Africa when her father taught constitutional law in Ghana. Democracy was a new idea. She was able to see first hand how difficult building a nation was when small but powerful tribal loyalties conflicted with the larger, more abstract idea of creating a nation. She coined the phrase, “a thousand tribes” to describe organizations with multiple vertical command and control structures.

As painting contractors, we may not realize it, but each painter can represent his own “tribe” and sometimes will stand loyal to his thought processes and techniques unless we teach the art of collaboration. It starts with being a company that people “want” to work for. It starts with: Are you a likable boss? Do you listen? This is the essence of becoming a leader. Managers control resources but people follow leaders and we should strive to be both.

Fiorina took HP from tens of vertical units and consolidated them by creating teams with representatives from every department to work together. Horizontal efforts provided vertical results in the profit margin. She taught her people how to think beyond the one product their department created and to engage with all product lines and all departments.

How do we get these results with our painters? Make time for meaningful meetings where employees are engaged to share ideas. Make time for one on one meetings. Be consistent and loyal to the timeframe you set to meet each month. This builds trust. Provide new skill learning opportunities to add complexity and stimulate the mind, as well as the soul.

If you have a thousand tribes – its time to introduce collaboration and create one tribe (your company) and one culture.

May the Forum be with you!

Julie Gehrke


Fiorina, Carly, 2007. Tough choices | A memoir. Penguin Group. New York, NY..

Who Cares?

Another gem from marketing web guru Seth Godin’s blog. Let’s hope he’s talking about your competitors not caring as opposed to your new employee training program that centers on caring. Seth cares enough to put his bald head all over the internet. 🙂

Who cares?

Unless someone does, things start to fray around the edges.

Often it’s the CEO or the manager who sets a standard of caring about the details. Even better is a culture where everyone cares, and where each person reinforces that horizontally throughout the team.

You’ve probably been to the hotel that serves refrigerated tomatoes in January at their $20 breakfast, that doesn’t answer the phone when you call the front desk, that has a shower curtain that is falling off the rack and a slightly snarky concierge. This is in sharp relief to that hotel down the street, the one that costs just the same, but gets the details right.

It’s obviously not about access to capital (doing it right doesn’t cost more). It’s about caring enough to make an effort.

If we define good enough sufficiently low, we’ll probably meet our standards. Caring involves raising that bar to the point where the team has to stretch.

Of course, the manager of the mediocre hotel who’s reading this, the staff member of the mediocre restaurant who just got forwarded this note–they have a great excuse. Times are tough, money is tight, the team wasn’t hired by me, nobody else cares, I’m only going to be doing this gig for a year, our customers are jerks…who cares?

Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.

Like most things that are worth doing, it’s not easy at first and the one who cares isn’t going to get a standing ovation from those that are merely phoning it in. I think it’s this lack of early positive feedback that makes caring in service businesses so rare.

Which is precisely what makes it valuable.


Are You Wearing Painter’s Pants or Running Pants Today?

If someone in my family points at your pants and says, “They look like yoga pants…”, and then their voice trails off in a question mark. What they are implying is, “They look like yoga pants but I think they’re really ‘cranky’ pants.” What the heck does this have to do with painting?

Sometimes potential customers are wearing cranky pants. Is this a passing thing? Will they be wearing better pants tomorrow? Or, is this customer toxic?

A toxic customer will use and abuse. At the end of the day, they will take you down like a good case of septic shock. The body (crew working on their property) becomes unstable, the blood pressure goes down (morale) and ultimately the toxic customer will try to kill you (or put you out of business).

If you have the wherewithal to handle the occasional cranky pants situation and turn the experience into a day brightener, more power to you. But be cautious of the symptoms (early manipulations during estimate process) of a toxic potential customer and know when to walk away.

And like the song says, “know when to run”- in whatever pants you happen to be wearing..

See You In Las Vegas

Kudos to those of you who took the time out of your busy schedules and will be attending the PDCA National Expo next week in Las Vegas. I’m looking forward to the Residential Forum Panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon, (as well as a break from the East Coast weather). Be sure to stop by our booth in the trade show to say hello. We look forward to seeing everyone next week. And if you’re unable to make the trip, no worries. We’ll be sure to post the highlights upon our return..

Welcome To The New Website

Welcome to the newly re-designed Residential Forum website. We hope you’ll take a minute to look around and then post your comments in our forum. We will continue to work on updating the site in the weeks ahead and would love your input as to what else you would like to see here.