Talk to any successful painting contractor and they’ll tell you that they specialise in a certain type of painting or decorating. One of the keys to success is to choose a market and become really good at it.
I help painters start businesses, and part of the course they do involves them thinking about what kind of business they want to have. When I ask this question, the usual answer is ‘Oh, whatever comes up, whatever painting work I can get’. That’s not really a good strategy at all, and if you aren’t prepared to think about it then you are better off working for someone else.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be good at everything, but it’s not reality. You will never be competitive at all the different aspects of the trade. If you talk to successful painters they will usually tell you they specialise in a niche market, or that they have developed their own brand in one market.
You need to pick a speciality and then work out how to become really competitive. Remember, there are tens of thousands of painters out there just like you, so it makes sense to choose a type of business and become really good at it.
For example, some painters specialise in house repaints. Other examples include commercial projects, protective coatings, wallpaper hanging, project housing, heritage restoration, industrial coatings, decorative finishes, texture coating, asbestos encapsulation, anti-graffiti coatings, and lead paint removal.
Whatever you do, don’t try and compete on price. Specialising in being the cheapest is a mug’s game; it’s a race to the bottom and there will always be someone else who is even more stupid and prepared to work for nothing. Successful painters are never the cheapest, but they are the smartest, because they have figured out ways to structure their business to be efficient and get consistent results. They have also grown their brand in their chosen market.
Sometimes I hear painters complaining that there isn’t enough work out there, or that they are being undercut. If that’s happening to you, it’s time to take another look at what kind of market you are focused on. Maybe it’s time to try a different market. What are some of the growing markets?
Geographically, the states with the most work at the moment are New South Wales and Victoria. Only two years ago painters in WA and NT were being run off their feet, but that is no longer the case. Meanwhile, painters in NSW and Victoria are struggling to keep up with demand.
Other niche markets include specialising in ‘natural paints’ and ‘intumescent coatings’. I have always been able to find work when I need it because I specialise in natural paints. Natural paints are more expensive than ordinary paints, but I didn’t need to compete on price because I knew how to use them, and most painters didn’t want to take the time to learn how to use and market them.
Very few painters understand protective coatings and how to apply them. Protective coatings are industrial two-pack epoxies used on steel and concrete, and they are very expensive. The way they are applied is critical to their performance. Taking the time to specialise in this market can be lucrative.
Anti-graffiti coatings are paints that protect a building from vandalism. If a building is defaced by graffiti the graffiti can be easily cleaned off because the coating is resistant to graffiti and cleaning chemicals. I’m amazed by how many painters don’t know this product exists. I’ll bet your local paint store sells it. Learning how to market it and apply it is a great business opportunity because graffiti is everywhere, and both local councils and home owners want a solution to their problem.
Other growing markets include wallpapering, and intumescent coatings. Wallpaper is back in fashion, and intumescent coatings are fire resistant coatings that are now being specified on bush-fire prone areas. Talk to any painters who specialise in these markets and you will be amazed by how much they earn, and how much work they have.
Once you have identified a market, focus on learning everything you can about that type of painting. Do courses, attend events, network with suppliers and retailers in that market and develop a reputation as the ‘go-to’ business for that product. Look after your clients and they will refer you to other people looking for the same service.
Where can you learn about these coatings? The National Institute of Painting and Decorating and Like Minded Painters offer short on-line courses that you can do whenever it suits you. Aussie Painters Network has a mobile trade school based in Queensland, where you can train your staff on-site. There are also regular practical workshops run in most major cities.
So, don’t paint harder, specialise and paint smarter! http://www.painters.edu.au
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