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Corrie Leister's Growth Path

If you're intrigued by cabinet coatings or social media marketing or business growth, this is the feature for you.

9 January, 2024

 

Teaching
Business Owner Corrie Leister, Inspired by U Coatings, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

by Jerry Rabushka

I don’t believe in work-life balance because I don’t think as a business owner you’re ever going to get balanced. I think there’s a level of humility in knowing that there’s always something to learn and that there are always people who have more fruit on the tree than I do.

If there’s a top takeaway — and there are several here — it would be “leave your ego at the door.” Corrie Leister, owner of Inspired by U Coatings in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, is known by many cabinet finishers as the founder of Inspired by University, which brings in the top pros from around the country to share their expertise at the company shop. It’s made her place a hub of education, which then spokes back out to the community. Sharing and learning is what it’s all about, she says. The more that everyone knows collectively, the more this profession can thrive.

Well-known experts such as Denny Jahnz, Michael Craine, and Nick Slavik have appeared as speakers and teachers. “They’re willing to share their expertise and pour into people,” said Leister. “We pull in different cabinet refinishers who share their knowledge and train people in our shop. That’s a way that we can give back to the community.” It may, she hopes, keep people from making the same mistakes she did back in her startup days. “Our goal is just to help to educate professionals and refinishers and give them everything that I wish I would’ve had when I first started so I didn’t have to learn through my failure.”

 

Leister’s foray into running her own business, you could say, started with “baby steps; the launching pad was her sister’s nursery. “It was 2015; I was at a really low point in life, and I had taken a trip to visit my sister in Oklahoma,” she recalled. “She was expecting her first child, so I said, ‘I’m yours for the week… how can I help you?’” Well, anyone who has sense will of course say, “Paint the house!” Corrie was already known for her talents, so Sis put her to work on the nursery.

“The whole time I was there, I was painting furniture, painting some murals, and doing home decor. By the time I left, we had the nursery all ready, and she said, ‘You’ve got a gift, you need to go into business.’ And I was thinking the same thing.” The day she got home, a friend called up with a request “I know you love to paint — would you consider painting my kitchen cabinets?” Not only did Leister seal the cabinets, she sealed the deal on the next steps in her life, and the important people in her world were on board. “We are a family of entrepreneurs, so I put it out to them: ‘I’m thinking about starting a business. What do you think?’ And they were all about it. We got everything together to get my business up and rolling — my EIN, my website, my business cards … I was ready to go within a week.”

Leister had been a public school teacher, and she kept that drive for learning and teaching as she moved ahead as a painter and contractor. She credits others in the industry with helping her along — inspiration, you might say. “In 2017 with my friend Alyssa Lorello. I started the group Kitchen Cabinet Painting Experts. It was originally a group for furniture artists who wanted to transition into cabinet painting. When we started the group I was brushing and rolling on paper plates trying out specialty paints like chalk paint, mineral paint, clay-based paint, and stuff like that.” But like ants to honey, it started attracting more and more professionals. “We had these cabinet refiners that would come in and say, ‘Well, have you tried this product and have you done this and have you done that? I started to slowly grow and I eventually worked my way up to shooting industrial coatings — some of the best products in the world — with some of the best equipment. It was all because of social media and people sharing knowledge.”

Learning is important, because well… a lot of this company’s business comes because of people who hadn’t learned; interior painters who moved to cabinets but didn’t understand the challenges and differences between cabinet doors and bedroom walls. “I don’t believe anything they did is ill-intentioned,” said Leister, “I just don’t think they’ve had the proper education. But then going in and fixing those disasters has been part of the challenge. That’s another great thing about Inspired By University — helping people and educating them on the right way to serve their customers to get the best results.”

 

Inspired by moms

The company has grown quickly, and Leister took advantage of the renovation boom of the past few years. They’re no longer in a garage, and later this year they’ll be moving into a new shop. Helping Corrie is her husband Chad, who does the sales scheduling and working with subcontractors, while her brother Sean is in the shop doing maintenance and the fun stuff like sanding.

The Crew

The crew is all part-time, each putting in a couple of days a week while working around family schedules. “We have nine crew members who are all moms, and they are awesome!” said Leister. “Our clientele is generally who we are: middle-aged moms who are looking to update their kitchens.” And everyone’s kids get a chance a chance to realize they have some cool moms. “Thursday is Kid Day. The moms who have kids at home bring them into the shop. We’ll let them play a part so they can see what their mom does and how she contributes, and that gives them new respect for their moms.”

Corrie does the same with her kids, exposing them to what her company does and letting them get involved. “I don’t believe in work-life balance because I don’t think as a business owner, you’re ever going to get balanced,” she said. “However, I believe in work-life integration — integrating my life into what we do, so we are Inspired By U everywhere we go. When my kids are home, I have them in the shop helping me and I help them to play a part in it.”

She used the forced downtime during the dog days of the COVID pandemic to help them get creative and imbue them with a bit of her family’s entrepreneurial spirit. “Because I had three kids at home and we weren’t able to go into people’s houses, I needed something for them to do. So we were like, okay, let’s launch a paint line. They helped me design the labels create the paint names and do the shipping. I believe that it gave them a great educational experience because they learned how to be an entrepreneur and how to make a negative situation positive. We’re phasing out of our coatings line now so we can focus more on refinishing, but it served its purpose during that time.”

Inspired by respect

Anyone who’s spent some time scrolling through a coating social media group has run across those folks who are blessed with the capacity to know everything, or at least think they do, sometimes aggressively so. Leister has learned how to disarm them; by showing respect for their knowledge and asking to learn from them, she’s made friends instead of enemies.

“My goal every day is to earn the respect of people that I respect,” she said. “I think there’s a level of humility in that and in knowing that there’s always something to learn and there are always people who have more fruit on the tree than I do. I think that is what has helped me grow the most. At first, when we would have cabinet refiners come into our Facebook group, they would say something like, ‘Why are you doing it this way? This product would serve you so much better.’ Or they would come in like, ‘I know everything and you’re dumb because you’re not doing it my way.’”

Either way, Leister is armed with charm. “I would always answer along the lines of, ‘I haven’t heard that, can you show me?’ I would be open to it. It would break down their defenses and then they would share information and I would try it and post it and give them credit. It would help build me up, but it would also build them and it would help everybody grow as opposed to saying, ‘Oh, what a jerk!’ I believe that it should be more of a mutual respect and working together to help each other grow.”

When she’s off the clock, she’s counting minutes in a basketball game — the family enjoys sports and sporting events. “My son plays football and basketball, and Chad and I coach his fourth-grade travel team for basketball,” she said. “My girls play basketball and volleyball and I coach their teams. We figure they’re only young once, so we want to pour as much as we can into them. Our non-painting time is spent on the court. We love playing sports together and we love doing things as a family. So that is where all my spare time is spent.”

Any final words? Back to where we started. “I would say the biggest hindrance to growth is ego. If everyone would drop their ego and share their information, it would help the industry rise to new levels.”


 

 

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