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Dippin and Grinnin

Everyone has their story on how they started their painting career; Curtis Tankersley in large part can attribute his final kick in the pants to Jon Bon Jovi.

14 September, 2022

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Everyone has their story on how they started their painting career; Curtis Tankersley in large part can attribute his final kick in the pants to Jon Bon Jovi. As an up-and-coming musician in the 1990s, Tankersley’s act had the honor of opening for the famous rock group at a sold-out arena show in Philadelphia. The exposure was great, but the exposure was also the paycheck.

“They didn’t pay us anything, and by the time we tallied up gas, a sound man, a lighting guy, guys to help with the gear and just the expenses to get down there, it cost us over a thousand dollars,” he said. “And they wouldn’t let us sell merch because they didn’t want us taking away Bon Jovi’s business. I was in my early 30s at that point, and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I need to go paint some houses!’”

Tankersley had dabbled in paint before, but much of his early employment was spent cashing out on a college degree in psychology. Trouble was, it wasn’t making him happy, and corporate changes too often rewarded him with pink slips. “It was very difficult to make a living and I was doing it for the love of the work, mostly working with kids who were on the spectrum,” he recalled. “I would go into the schools and work with kids who were just getting into trouble and whatnot.”

When the day was done, the kids were still getting into trouble and whatnot, and Tankersley wasn’t feeling effective or fulfilled.

He found himself at a crossroads: Get the master’s degree or go in a different direction entirely. “I had done a little bit of painting on and off through college, helping some friends,” he said. “I ended up finding a couple of jobs to keep me busy and I found that I loved it.”

So, livin’ on a prayer, he threw his lot into paint contracting, eventually creating his own company, Just Add Paint, dedicated to serving south central Pennsylvania, in 2005. He more or less just morphed into it. “I didn’t really make an active decision to go that direction,” he said, “but the work just started to come in. It was nice on a bunch of different fronts, but I think mostly it was just nice going in and feeling like we were making a difference. You could see the difference and not leave questioning whether or not you made an improvement of some sort.” And because what musician on the rise doesn't need supplemental income, Tankersley used his musical connection to employ some likeminded people, a move that’s reaped him and his crew tremendous rewards.

Singing the praises of company culture

Painters and Music
When they're not painting, Rick Wise, Curtis Tankersley, and Matt Schmohl hit the scene as The Roustabouts.

Music is still the binder that keeps this company on the walls. Painters Rich Wise and Matt “Ducky” Schmohl hooked up with Curtis through music, and they still enjoy performing together as a group called The Roustabouts. Rich was a full-time musician from England who turned to a painting career for financial stability he craved after starting a family. According to the company website, “He is currently playing in 472 different bands, 9 nights per week.” Matt’s still livin’ the dream, but to support that dream, he’d rather paint than wait tables, so here they are, cutting up and having a good time coming to work every day.

“We all have that same kind of silly band humor that you need to have to cope with the daily stressors of trying to go on tour,” said Tankersley. “It’s that brotherly, family-type relationship where you’re very close in a lot of tight situations. We’re pretty conscious about going to a job and trying to have a good day. I think we end up feeling like we’re cheating the system a little bit. Even on the worst weeks it’s still much better, I think, than the alternative of sitting behind a desk. All of us have tried that and none of us would’ve been able to survive in that environment.”

Along with The Roustabouts, parttime crew member Lexy Pandolfino doesn’t play music but fits in with this tight-knit group. This company culture is good for them but has some drawbacks. Oddly enough, this kind of camaraderie flummoxes some customers and even stands in the way of future growth. Sometimes new hands don’t fit in with the culture, he said. They’re not used to a happy group that chatters and has fun most of the day. While he’s looking to bring on one or two more crew members, he’ll stay with who he has if he can’t find the right fit.

Growth hinges on cabinet work

Like many paint contractors, one of Just Add Paint’s more recent specialties is … you guessed it … cabinets. They didn’t set out down this path, but that’s what customers wanted, and it’s growing from here. “It’s definitely shifted that way over the past four or five years,” said Tankersley. “It’s grown a little bit every year. Last year cabinets made up about 50% of what we do. And this year I would say it’s going to be more like 60%-70%. It’s nuts how many phone calls we get for that stuff! It’s crazy.”

Tankersley points to social media influencing as one possible reason for it: When one person posts some cabinets on Pinterest, it inspires others to want the same thing. Meanwhile, COVID-19 got people thinking about home improvement, and the people who ate out a lot were now going to those cabinets a lot more often. Along with that, people were getting bad advice and needed a pro to correct the mishap. “I think a lot of those early articles were saying things such as, ‘You can do this in one day,’ which is obviously a good way to destroy your cabinets. Close to 20% of what we do is fixing up a DIY job that’s failing. We usually end up replacing the doors because it costs about the same to replace doors as it does to strip those things,” he said.

London calling

Taking Vacations

Tankersley spends time out of town and out of the country; the farther away from Pennsylvania, the easier it is to ignore the phone. “I find that the further away you are from home, the easier it is to let the call occasionally go to voicemail or not be checking email constantly,” he said. He’s still not getting away from the crew though: He and his girlfriend are visiting with Rich Wise, who is spending time with family in Portugal. “I like those types of adventures, and particularly when you can get in there with some friends to make some really intense and incredible memories,” he said.

He has his first career to thank for the travel bug. “I did some work abroad when I was finishing up my psych degree. I spent six months in London in 1998, and I felt like I woke up when I was living in that city. I’ve always had a travel bug since then, and I’ve been working hard to get back over anytime I can. The travel is the only thing I’ve found that gives me the same kind of buzz that I would get from playing music.”

Sharing the struggle

Doing my best

One more thing about social media — and more important than cabinets on Pinterest — Tankersley pointed out, is that you’re usually just seeing the success after the trials. Tankersley and Schmohl took a visit to the PCA convention in Orlando and met up with real contractors to discuss some real struggles. Facebook an Instagram — those are marketing tools, he explained, but not necessarily the place to talk about how you got there. He enjoys discussing the squiggle that defined the struggle.

“It was good to realize that everybody’s human and dealing with the same issues as far as staffing and keeping people happy and scheduling and shortages and all the crazy things that have come up over COVID,” he said. “It’s interesting to have heard that from the other side.”

And finally? Enjoy. Painting, music and travel are what Tankersley values in this life; everyone might not have that same trio of tank-fillers, but whatever it is, he advised, try to keep that tank filled versus having a gas-guzzling career that keeps you so close to empty. “Certainly, be serious about what you’re doing, but try to remember to enjoy the days and enjoy the people — surround yourself at your work with people who you enjoy.” 

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