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From Employee to Owner

Alberta painter saw more advantages to buying a company than starting one

1 August, 2021

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I made the offer to buy it; they weren’t really looking to sell. I just said, ‘How much do you want?’ They gave me a ridiculous figure, and I said ‘No way,’ but once they knew I was serious, we negotiated.” 
Chris Bott hails from Oldham, in Greater Manchester, England. He started painting young and put in a decade there as a pro. It was in England he met his future wife, who was there on a work visa, and when she returned to her home in Slave Lake, Alberta, he came along with her. A good three-hour drive northwest of Edmonton, this town has some spectacular scenery and a population of about 7,000, with about 20,000 living in the service area. 

Bott’s painting skills got him a job right away, but he always had in mind to have his own company. “Since I came here originally as a temporary foreign worker, I couldn’t own my own business, I had to work for somebody else,” he says. Even as an employee, Chris became the face, heart and soul of the company. It made sense that he become the owner as well. “I realized that their heart wasn’t really in it so much and that I could probably do a little bit better if I had more control. The obvious thing to me would have been to just quit and start applying myself,” he says. 

Owner and operator

Many clients and friends said exactly that. “Some of my regular clients said, ‘Oh, we’d have just switched to you.’ But the people that I bought the business from helped me to get my permanent residency. There’s a lot of paperwork you have to go through as a foreign worker, a lot of hoops to jump through. They helped me a lot.” 

Even though logic dictated it would be cheaper to start his own company, Bott didn’t see it that way. “If I had gone on by myself, I would have been in direct competition with this painting company, so I thought the best thing to do would be to buy the business so I wouldn’t have them as competition,” he says. “That would have been a struggle for me. We would have been fighting over the same clients.” 
Also, it came with the vehicles, scaffolding, paint, sprayers, equipment large and small, and phone numbers of all the regular clients. Getting that equipment used saved him a bundle at startup, and nearly 10 years later, much of it holds firm. “I still use all of this stuff to this day, down to the little two-step sturdies and the sawhorses,” he says. 

How did you do it? 

owner and operator

There was the necessary haggling about price, but Bott also made sure to have the purchase looked over by people whose job it is to look such things over. “I had my accountant and my lawyer look over the books and the contract,” he says. “Then I had to get the financing to meet the asking price, then there was a bit of a back and forth and whatnot. In the end, I didn’t strictly buy the company; I bought out all of their assets.” He paid for those assets in two installments. The original owners invested in a restaurant and then left the area, renting their space to another company. 

And here’s where the advice column comes in: “You have to question everything and go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and get everything right,” he says. “Then have your lawyer look over the deal that you’re going to make.” 

Along with minding your p’s and q’s, you need to mind your 1s and 2s. “My advice would be to get a handle on the numbers and look at where your work is going to be coming from,” says Bott. “Obviously, if you’re buying a business, you need to get the books, the accounts, and have an accountant look over them, and take their advice. You need to negotiate just like buying a house, really … offer and counteroffer.” Finally, he says, take advantage of area resources as you start up — Bott found the chamber of commerce to be a great help, for example. 

He runs a small crew, depending on the need, and does much of the painting himself. Clients like his approach to painting as well as to customer service. “Personality-wise, I run a little warmer. Just being more of a people person really helps in managing client expectations.” APC 

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