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Lifestyles of the Prepped and Finished: Career Painters

9 July, 2019

More Than a Paycheck

The rewards of a career in the painting industry.

Steve Martin, Professional Training and Development Manager, enjoying life in the great outdoors.

What’s one of the 10 worst jobs in this country? According to USA Today, it’s being a painter! We’re not so sure about that, so we wanted to ask some career professionals why they believe painting is a good job and a great career. Meet three employees of Chad Lyons Painting & Design in Poulsbo, WA, outside of Seattle, founded by Lyons in 2001. We’ll check in on Jeff Gowenlock, production manager; Roberto Lopez, project manager; and Steve Martin, professional development and training manager. How will they debunk the “bottom 10” myth that USA Today has reported as fact?

APC: Tell us how you got into the painting industry.

Jeff: Back in 1991, a buddy of mine asked me to help him paint a church. I started painting with him, and one thing led to another – I got hired on with a local guy and, boom! As I got more responsibility, I found I liked the status of it. Now here I am, 28 years down the road on the other end of painting, but I still enjoy the craft.

Roberto Lopez, who found first himself on the painting jobsite at the age of 14, has made a long, happy career that allows him time for his family and hobbies.

Roberto: My dad has a company out of San Diego, and when I was a teenager, he would take me out on job sites. Later I joined the navy and when I got out, I ran into a Craigslist ad looking for apprentice painters. I met with company owner Chad Lyons. It was a very informal interview – a handshake, then, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Here’s the address.” Eventually I realized, “This is going to be my career.” As the company grew, I was fortunate enough to move into roles that allowed me to grow as well.

Steve: I got started in high school. I had a terrific girlfriend whose father owned a very successful company, so I worked in the summer filling in. After a brief period in college and time in the Marine Corps, I went back to the same company. I’ve been in the industry ever since, in many different roles, for a little over 40 years.

A painter's best friends!

APC: What makes being a painter a good job versus a bad job?

Jeff: It starts with who you’re painting for. If a contractor or a superintendent knows what they’re doing, that makes my life easy. Chad’s very business-minded. He’s putting us out there as a premier company that’s not just, as we call them, “trunk slammers,” painting out of their car, driving prices down and making us look bad. The bad part of painting isn’t really the painting. It’s how your company or your job is run.

Home to many company events and the envy to all, Jeff Gowenlock's backyard pitch and putt golf course.

APC: Roberto, I noticed something in your bio that your dad told you that you still carry with you.

Roberto: He taught that for us this is a job, but for the homeowner this is an investment, and you have to remember that when you’re doing the work. That quick little sentence has been in the back of my mind on every project I’ve performed. I’ve worked for Chad going on 13 years. One thing that makes it a good job is being able to improve upon yourself year after year.

APC: When is it most difficult to be a painter? October through February?

Jeff: Sustainability through the winters is one of the biggest obstacles here in the tnorthwest. It goes back to who you’re painting for. In some companies you are disposable; you know, “call me in February, see you later.” The average career of a painter here is two to three years because they end up going on to something else.

APC: Travel can be another downside – or upside, depending on how you look at it. Have you worked for a company that involved a lot of travel?

Jeff: I did about five or six years of traveling. It was for the same company; we were chasing a big builder that did a lot of military housing. We’d go somewhere for three, four or five months. I got to go to some pretty cool places, but at that time my kids were getting to be late elementary and early junior high, and I was missing a lot of things. You’ve got to find a balance between lifestyle and money.

From left to right: Roberto Lopez, project manager, Jeff Gowenlock, Production Manager and Steve Martin, Professional Training and Development Manager.

APC: None of you guys are on the wall anymore, right? Tell us about the career path you have been able to take through Lyons Painting.

Steve: When I was younger, I was defined as being flighty. I would get bored and want to see or learn the next thing. At the time I guess that was a negative, but as I got older it became quite a positive because it gave me a lot of different experiences. I traveled to Europe and worked in Germany. I’ve been all around the country and in parts of Asia with the coatings industry. It helped me maintain my interest. There was always something more to learn. It was a lifelong pursuit, and it’s treated me well as a result.

APC: What advice would you give a new painter to prove their value to the contractor?

Steve: Solid work ethic first and foremost. Show up on time every day and have a devotion to trying to learn. And that you can work with people. A little bit of mechanical aptitude doesn’t hurt either.

Jeff: It’s character. If you don’t have a work ethic, you’re not going to be successful. You have to be flexible and want to learn. But the company has to show that work breeds results and advancement. We’re talking to these new guys every week or so asking, “Hey, how’re you doing?” We want them to know that we’re invested and we don’t just stick them out in the field and forget about them until we hear something bad. I think, however, that the guys coming in have to look at it as a career, not something to get through the winter and the next couple of months.

APC: Tell us a little bit about your families and hobbies. What do you do off the clock?

Roberto: The industry is providing me the opportunity to have the upward mobility to purchase a house, buy a car, have vacation time with my family and all that good stuff. If you’re talking a weekend, since we’re in the northwest, we have fishing, hiking, kayaking … the gamut.

Jeff: I love spending the time with my family, and this job has provided me that opportunity. I’m kind of a homebody; I’ve got five acres, and I’m always out there tweaking it. I’ve turned my yard into a little pitch-and-putt golf course/green. My fifth grandkid will be here in June, and I just went to my first T-ball game for fouryear- olds – that was very, very exciting. Plus, I enjoy my dogs and I raise chickens for eggs.

Steve: I like to hike and fish, and I enjoy archery as well. We have a perfect environment up here to enjoy the outdoors.

APC: You’ve mentioned the importance of opportunities for advancement. Where can a painter find those?

Jeff: I attended the PDCA Expo in Savannah, and I liked the transparency of the other contractors; no one is trying to hide things. Most of us aren’t in the same market, so why not share what we’ve learned? Let’s get off that list in USA Today! It’s going to take companies like ours that invest in their people to do that.

Roberto: We used to hire for the influx of summer work just to have bodies. We don’t need bodies. We need good people – individuals with integrity, quality, professionalism and community. We have a couple of jobs on our schedule that are charity work, so we tell our team, “Hey, if you’re involved in a church or a little baseball club and something needs painting, we can throw in some charity time.” We’re taking care of our own and our community at the same time. I know if I was still in the field and I joined a company with these values, I’d be pumped. The hardest part from my perspective is changing the negative perception people have of painters from when a trunk slammer left a bad taste in their mouth or a customer was ripped off by a guy who took a deposit and left. I think at Lyons, our prestige and reputation lets us define ourselves as the company that’s capable of installing some of the better finishes and bringing in presentable, professional looking painters. It’s an uphill battle, but we’re seeing progress.

Jeff: The stigma is hard to get through, but what sets us apart is looking at painting as a profession rather than a paycheck. That’s what we need to change throughout the industry.

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