Interview with Dan Brady, Founder of Dan Brady Painting Tricks of the Trade Painting Videos.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
I run a residential repainting business with eight employees and I also operate Dan Brady Painting Tricks of the Trade Painting Videos, a business that sells DVDs providing painting tricks of the trade for do-it-yourselfers and for professional painters to use as a training tool for new employees.
When did you start the business?
My brother and I formed a specialty coatings company 10 years ago to do kitchen and bath resurfacing. We ended up taking on painting jobs as part of that business.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Dan Brady Painting and Wood Restoration is a spin off of my first business, Brady Specialty Coatings that I formed with my brother Scott. Dan Brady Painting Tricks of the Trade Painting Videos is a new company that I developed over the last year. I started painting in high school to make money and continued in college. When I graduated from Central Michigan University with finance degree, I took a job with a computer consulting company as a sales person. I wanted to move back to Traverse City and was looking for an opportunity in this area. That's when my brother and I started Brady Specialty Coating which we later spun off into two businesses. I took over the painting business, he stayed with the specialty coatings business.
I specialize in residential repainting and have eight employees. This last year I wanted to expand my business, looking for another income stream besides painting business income. I wanted it to be a niche business that complemented the painting business. It needed to be something related to what I knew and knew I did well. I knew that a business that did not complement Dan Brady Painting and Wood Restoration would divide my time and take away from my first business.
The painting video has done that for me. It's closely aligned with what I do. What I didn't realize was that creating the DVD would pay me back with other benefits beyond the income stream. In researching the DVD I learned more about paints and painting techniques. I also have become a better teacher for my painting crew through trying to figure out how to relay the techniques of painting a room to a general audience. Plus the DVD is a great tool to train new employees both at Dan Brady and for other contractors and it's established me as the expert in my field.
I frequently get asked "Why would a painting contractor do a DVD on how to paint a room yourself?" I tell them that this video is targeted to the one million people who will never hire me.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers …? Would you suggest others do the same?
One of my key hires was when I hired The Summit Group as consultants. They are completely focused on the painting industry and were started by a large, successful painting firm. The key to growing my business was being able to put workable systems in place. I realized early on that I couldn't grow the business if everything had to pass through me to get done. The Summit Group taught me that I could transfer responsibilities that I'd considered mine alone to my crew leaders. Now they are responsible for walking through the finished project with the client, getting a sign off on the quality assurance form, monitoring the job to make sure it stays within the scope of the proposal and collect payment. If there is a problem that shows up later they'll be the ones to go back and fix it so they need to be on the same page with the client.
I also realized that hiring an assistant in my office to do the day-to-day business tasks gave me the opportunity to get out and do more bids.
Many of the systems I've implemented I learned working with The Summit Group including our quality assurance form, our report card that we ask each client to return and our weekly operations meetings. They've helped me budget, project when I can do additional hiring and make sure I'm profitable on each and every job. They know the business – they're a 30-year painting company that branched into consulting. They had systematized their functions and were able to train off those systematized processes. Some of it was pretty foreign to what I knew and was doing, and I was skeptical at first – but they know their business and what they taught me works.
Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?
Brady Specialty Coatings was started by my brother Scott and myself. We did kitchen and bathrooms -- refacing kitchen counters and cabinets and re-coating bath tubs. We ended up taking painting jobs as part of that and eventually branched off into two separate businesses. It's tough to be brothers and partners. We wanted to keep the brotherhood intact so we decided to branch off. I really don't see myself having another partner. Entrepreneurs are independent people. To have two in one business can be tough – you're always dealing with two different points of view, two different attitudes. When it works it's great but I've observed more times when it doesn't work.
I will say that the good thing about being in business with a family member is that you know they have your best interest in mind. You can trust them.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Use networking and relationships for marketing as opposed to doing a lot of expensive marketing such as direct mail, radio or television. Get out in the community and attend low-cost relationship building type events. Join your local chamber of commerce, Business Networking International, your local trade association and then participate. Make sure you're at any function where people are gathering. Plan to be out in the community at some event networking at least three times a week. And use other forms of promotion as well: logo wear, yard signs, truck signs – it all can work for you. Hey, I've picked up business at a 7-11 when someone saw my truck and asked for my business card. Join local service and fraternal groups too like the Jaycees, the Rotary or the Elks Club.
Finding employees to work in a new and growing business can be a challenge. How did you find your employees?
I always have signs up at the paint store. In fact I leave that sign up year 'round. I constantly interview people. Ads in the paper – particularly right now – attract a lot of people. Since I've been around for a number of years and this is a small community, people often call me when they're looking for work. Even if I'm not hiring at the time, I interview them so that I have a pool of people to draw from should a big project bid be accepted.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
Absolutely. You will find me on Facebook as well as on the Web and I work hard at keeping that up. It's a quick, cost effective way to keep my name in front of 500 of my closest friends. So far it's hard to monitor the exact return you get, but it keeps you in front of your customer and your network for free.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Get involved with professional groups of all types: trade organizations like Painters Decorators and Contractors of America, for example and also organizations like your local home builders association. Take the opportunities that are out there. Get involved with trade organizations and attend trade shows. Don't pass up national organizations. What I found was that painters in my home market were not as willing to share ideas and techniques with me as were painters in a different market. You need to find out from others how they are making money and what kinds of jobs are most profitable. Go after those types of jobs. When you first start up you may have to take any job that comes your way, but what you need to do is focus your marketing on your niche. In my case that's residential repainting. Knowing your niche and going after jobs in that area makes the difference between making it and not making it and being profitable.
Thanks for your time, Dan. It was a pleasure speaking with you.