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Lifestyles of the Prepped and Finished

28 March, 2019

A Family Business Like No Other

Tips from the Gonzales Family on Being in Business Together

By Megan Headley


Listen to the podcast on Paint Radio: 
Lifestyles of the Prepped and Finished with Eddy Gonzales and Cheryl Gorham


Finishes Unlimited’s shop filled such a tremendous local need that it soon became the core painting business.

Eddy Gonzales is a second-generation painter, like so many others in the painting industry. But Eddy also has taken the family business to a level often not seen (or perhaps not always seen successfully) in the painting industry. He works closely with his wife, Cheryl, as well as his uncle, cousins, nephews, and his semi-retired father, all in the same shop. After 30 years of painting, Eddy and Cheryl have learned a thing or two about working harmoniously together, and the importance of having a time to stop all shop-talk.

APC: Obviously having a family business is not unusual, but working with your spouse in the business is not as common. In fact, we’ve had more than a few articles in APC that said, ‘think twice before working with your spouse.’ How do you make this work?

Eddy: “Play to each person’s strong suit” is the motto really. The partnership works because she’s very good with the books and the front office and I’m very good at sales and managing people. So it’s the yin and yang. Certainly working together and being together every night has some challenges. It probably took a good solid 10 years to work through all of those challenges to where we just complete each other now and we don’t have to argue about stuff anymore. We know the argument is really just a futile exercise. So we’ve gotten past all that and created our work-life balance.

Cheryl: It’s definitely not for everybody. We complement one another. He’s full tilt and I’m, “put the brakes on,” so we meet in the middle and that’s what works for us, at home and at work.

APC: Say you were talking to another couple who was considering doing the same thing, working together in the painting business. Are there any traits of your own that you think lend themselves to the fact that you guys can coexist together for as many hours a day as you do?

Cheryl: Yes: being able to compromise and being flexible. It’s a give and take. I think that if you’re thinking about going into business with your spouse, if you don’t get along outside of work then that would not be a good way to start your business. I would suggest not doing it. But if you can get along in your regular everyday life ... we do argue once in a while, but if you can’t get along outside of the work area, then it’s probably not a good idea.

APC: So I think your dad works with you? What is your dad’s role with the company?

Eddy: My dad is semiretired now. He’s 72. He worked up until he was 70 years old fulltime, worked circles around the younger guys. He has a work ethic that is an unparalleled— I’ve never seen anybody work like him. Right now, we’ve created a niche for him in furniture refinishing so he can create his own hours. He can bill customers directly. He doesn’t need to have the same certifications that we have, he can just take a little corner in the shop. I feed him furniture and he’s happy. He’s not climbing ladders anymore and he’s thrilled to still be doing stuff and making money at the same time. So it’s a good fit.

APC: Eddy, I want to read something from your website, It says, “More importantly than being a family run shop, we are a business, a professionally run and dependable business with the knowledge and manpower to get things done right. I’ve been in business for myself 12 years and plan to be in this business for my lifetime.” I love that. Let’s use that as a jumping off point to talk a bit about your attitude toward professionalism and what you want your business to be.

Eddy: It really starts with having somebody who answers the phone dependably— a voice on the other end, a facility that people can come to so they know then you’re not going to leave. Being on time, and having the crew to do the job in the time that you have told them you’re going to do it. It’s really that simple. And half the contractors out there don’t do any of that.

It’s really that simple. Run it like your life depends on it, which it does. You can’t be flaky and look disheveled; everybody’s uniformed out and clean cut. Be dependable and trustworthy. Really, that is the crux of it. People are just so happy that when they call somebody answers.

APC: Now let’s touch on your shop painting. You were a largely residential repaint contractor and now you have this tremendous shop painting process. What led you to open the shop?

Eddy: I have been solidly painting for 30 years and got my contractor’s license about 22 years ago. That’s about when the business started. We did all residential. I didn’t do a lot of commercial until I cut my teeth on high-end residential and then those homeowners would have me do work at their businesses. But for the most part it was high-end residential, new construction, houses. They were up to 10,000-square-foot houses. That was wonderful and it was a great challenge.

Originally, I opened the shop because I needed a place to spray the items that I was bringing from houses. I also was trying to gear my shop towards the future coatings that I believed at the time were all going to go to water-based. I spent a lot of money building a booth that cures paint out with heat. So that was projecting the future of coatings and trying to get in front of it. The shop, once opened, took on a life of its own. It became self-sustaining without any marketing. I was still running three field crews at a time out in the field, up to three to four vans at one point, maybe 20 people or so at the peak. The shop just grew so fast we had to expand. We had to get another building next door. That’s been wonderful.

APC: So customers would walk in and what type of jobs would they want you to do for them?

Eddy: I’m in a commercial zone, so customers walking in would be other shops, cabinet shops in the area, other contractors who have buildings in the area. Right across the street we’re by a medical facility. I also have a showroom, so the public would come in to look at the showroom or get furniture refinished. People would come in and ask, “What can you do for our cabinets?” I didn’t know at the time that it was such a scarce business. But now I know why that is: because the regulations are so difficult that you have to be a good businessperson to stay afloat.

Cheryl: We opened up the shop in 2008 when things were not at the best. It stayed afloat and it was good to have that, as well as the residential jobs that kept everybody working.

APC: And now that shop makes up the majority of your revenue?

Eddy: Most of it, yes. We’ve changed the business plan to where we’re not running three field crews anymore. We’ve moved all of those crews into the shop and now we basically have one field crew and more people in the shop. So we’re trying to maximize our square footage and use every bit of our square footage we could to make money.

APC: Interesting. What other impact has that evolution of your business had on you personally? How has that affected your life as a contractor?

Cheryl: We used to have our office in our home and that gave us the opportunity to work really late at night, which was not good. Once we got that shop set up, wewere able to spend less time working. Then within the last few years we’ve made a concerted effort to only be in the shop the hours the crew is in there and then to come home and not discuss work.

The Gonzales family has developed their passion for mixed media art into a side business.

Eddy: And the regulations and all that stuff for the business does create a certain stress level. Managing an EPA or Bay Area air quality license is a lot of work. You could have one person full-time just managing regulations. It’s unfortunately very difficult and very stressful—and the stakes are very high.

APC: Let’s move to less stressful topics. Let’s talk about what you do outside of work. Even on your website you talk about your hobbies to some extent. You both do mixed media art, correct?

Cheryl: Yes. What we end up doing is I mix up paints and Eddy creates with whatever colors I mix up for us. We do that in the evenings sometimes and on the weekends.

Eddy: Cheryl’s definitely more of a creative and more abstract thinker than I am. I do art, but I tend to have her choose the colors. So as an example, we’ll create five pieces of art. I’ll create two, she’ll create four and they’re all have the same color, but they’ll be completely different, especially because of the medium. It’s so much fun to do it together.

The business part of it just came because people wanted to buy it. So we created a website and a business out of it, had a few shows, and people have been really happy. That energized us to continue, beyond creating for ourselves, and make a small hobby business out of it which has been doing pretty good. So it’s fun and again, it’s the yin and the yang, this mixed media thing. She might create a bunch of the artwork, but then it’s on me to get it ready for sale. It’s a whole other level of work, to get those pieces ready and put the epoxy on them and things like that. There’s a lot of time involved, but it’s a kick in the pants.

APC: You guys work together, you spend so much time together, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that you have hobbies. The idea that you guys do this together is tremendous. It’s also interesting in that I haven’t met many painting contractors who are also fine art painters. I saw on your Facebook page you call it Team Gonzo. You also mention there your dog, Wrenny. You enter contests with Wrenny, correct?

Eddy: She competes in Frisbee competitions. There’s a organization called Disc Dogs of the Golden Gate and they do two different disciplines. One’s toss and fetch, which is a distance catch ratio thing, and the second one is called freestyle, where it’s actually a performance and it’s like seven Frisbees and the dog does acrobatic moves off my back, off my knee, etc. All this major fun stuff that basically she learned on her own. I could say I trained her, but she’s so brilliant that it’s intuitive for her. Cheryl does novice class—once she wins novice class she’ll move up to intermediate and then go to expert. I’ve been competing in the expert class, which is both disciplines, the toss and fetch and freestyle. We have won multiple gold medals doing that. We also do performances. The club does some major performances, like half time shows and things like that. We’ve done charity events where they’re looking for entertainment.

APC: I also see that you do some dirt biking. What do you do?

Eddy: Me and the boys just go, we get on the bikes and go to the Mojave desert, maybe up to the Sierras up in gold country, ride out of my friend’s ranch. We’ll ride for days. I have a dirt bike with a plate on it, so we’ll have a home base and just ride all day and then stay at a hotel and keep riding. It is fun, and it has been a very spiritual thing for me. It’s a getaway, but it’s also decompression and it’s all about what’s on the other side and what’s at the top of that hill. I’ve learned that the top of the hill is my comfort zone. That’s where I need to be in order to decompress. So it’s been amazing. The dirt bike thing is fun. You hook up with a good group of guys and you just go for it. It’s lovely.

APC: I love your enthusiasm and your outlook towards life. I’m not going to go so far as to say, you’ve got it all figured out because we know nobody’s got it figured out, but it seems like you’ve got a pretty healthy work life balance. Has it always been that way? What is your advice to create a healthier work life balance?

Eddy: You have to make time. I tell people, don’t spend too much time on their business to where they don’t have a personal life. You have to have a personal life. Some people, when they’re coming up, believe that the business is everything. That’s one way to look at it, and maybe we did that at the beginning as well. But my advice is to make the time. Find a hobby. Don’t work 12 hours a day. The people who I know who work 12 hours a day are miserable—there’s no balance, and then they break.

Cheryl: When we started the shop business, I was not healthy and we had to regroup partway into that and figure out that we had to take time out for ourselves. We couldn’t be working 12, 14, or 16 hours a day. Slowly we switched the ship around so that we could leave more on time. You can’t do it overnight. You have to set some goals.

Eddy: Cheryl had cancer five years ago. That’s really where the shift really happened that made life more important to us. It was a near death experience and once you have that in your life, you appreciate life more and you want more of it. You don’t want to spend it all at work.


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