As a professional painting contractor, I’ve learned (usually the hard way) how to prevent warranty issues, how to satisfy customers, how to produce projects profitably, and how to make our professional client -designers, remodelers, look good. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts, but hopefully it is a helpful list that will make your interior painting projects more profitable and successful.
Tip One: Protect everything
Carry a line item in each proposal that lays out the cost of installing protection, plastic on furniture, waterproof drop cloths or Kraft paper on floors, Zipwall dust barriers, air scrubbers, and more. This is both a reminder to the production team of the level of protection our company promises, as well as reassurance to the customer that we are mindful of the need to treat their home with the utmost respect. This line item is non-negotiable and is an issue that should not be compromised. Most of the homes we work in cost a small fortune, and we do not want to have to replace anything we damage due to carelessness or misfortune.
Tip Two: Prepare for the worst
We itemize, in great detail, how we will prepare surfaces room by room and include the hours assigned to this step. This informs the client of our attention to detail and captures specifics of our work that reflect conditions observed during a site visit. Most importantly, this itemization eliminates or limits how much preparation we will provide. For example, if we are painting over new plaster or drywall, the typical AIA contract (American Institute of Architects) places improvements to a primed surface on the painter. Essentially, by priming a surface we are owning it and will take care of improvements on our nickel. This, quite frankly, is ridiculous, so we make sure to point out that preparation excludes this provision and that all improvements revealed by priming or finish painting are not included! Ditto for preparation of older painted surfaces. A typical painting project only includes a light sand and vacuum. Make sure the homeowner does not expect a flawless finish over 100 years worth of paint layers. If they do, that is an entirely different animal.
Tip Three: Pick quality products
We buy the best paint available and charge a 100% markup per gallon – this covers incidental sundries like caulk, spackle, etc. I also covers the need to return to a store to fix a mistint, which doesn’t occur often but does happen. In controlling product selection, we can be assured of predictable coverage standards and coating performance. We also make sure to specify the number of coats.
Tip Four: Be transparent
The parameters of every project need to be transparent. Both the production team and client see the same document and each sees how many hours we are allocating to each room or surface. During a walkthrough this transparency feature builds trust immediately. No one likes the old bait and switch. They even see our hourly bid rate. There is no such thing as too much information.
Tip Five: Exclusions.
What is included is critical, what is excluded is just as critical. Clients can misremember conversations they had with you or confuse conversations they had with another contractor. We are specific and comprehensive when we describe what we are not painting, a ceiling here, a closet there, this door, that bookcase. It’s worth noting too that some interior designers think everything must be primed before new paint is applied and since this is an ‘industry standard’ must be included. Since none of us enjoy having to negotiate our way through disappointment or disagreement, proactively referencing what we are not painting can save us a world of pain, or at least an uncomfortable conversation.
About the Author
Nigel Costolloe is the president of Catchlight Painting, a full-service residential and commercial painting company serving the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area. He is active regionally and nationally in the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) as a leader, speaker, and mentor.