Lifestyles of the Prepped and Finished: The Remote Boss
17 June, 2019
17 June, 2019
Subject: Aaron Moore, president and owner of Precision Painting and Decorating in Chicago
Services: Commercial, residential and industrial painting
Full-time employees: 30+
To hear the full interview with Aaron Moore, click here.
Many business owners have a commute to the office but for Aaron Moore, president and owner of Precision Painting & Decorating Corp. in Chicago, that commute is close to 1,500 miles. Moore has managed the company since 2003, but in January 2018 he and his family made the decision to move to Bozeman, Mont. Moore remains a hands-on boss, with regular trips to Chicago. But his smoothly running business goes to show you that a systems-based painting company can help an owner live their dream.
APC: How did you decide to start a painting business?
Aaron: It was really an accident. I graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a degree in finance. I was working during the week, and helping a buddy of mine who was a painter on the weekends. When the time came for me to look for a fulltime job, he offered me half of the business to take it over. And voilá, I’m half the owner of a painting company. Of course, it wasn’t much of a company at that point.
APC: Ten months ago you moved out to Bozeman. How’d you come to that decision?
Aaron: Seven or eight years ago we had a client who relocated here for work and introduced us to the area. We came shortly thereafter, when my daughter was one (she’s now almost nine). We came out two weeks, went to Yellowstone, saw Big Sky, really fell in love with the mountains and the area and said, “Let’s do this.”
But it just wasn’t the right timing for us. We ended up staying in Chicago and dreaming of living here. We’d come back and forth every year or two. Then January 2018, we left after Christmas and came here for a month to see how the business would react and how we would like living here. In April, we put our house on the market and got prepared to move.
From his new home in Montana, Aaron Moore, owner of Precision Painting & Decorating, remotely helps his Chicago-based company thrive.
APC: Wow. And Bozeman has been listed by Outside Magazine as the top adventure hub in the United States because there’s so much to do.
Aaron: Yes, we have access to everything. Whatever you’re into: hunting, fishing, motorcycles, hiking, running, bicycling, mountain bikes, snowmobiling, you name it. Anything that you want is within striking distance from Bozeman, which makes it a very desirable, but expensive, place to live.
APC: What was the easier decision to make: that this would be a good fit for the family or that the business could handle it?
Aaron: Well, I’ve always been a systems guy and always looking for ways to be less involved in the company. I’m not a micromanager. I’m not in everybody’s face. I expect people to do good things. So more of a trust-andtrack versus command-and-control leadership style. And it seems like the less that I’m involved, the better the business does.
We put systems in place that allow us to manage a lot of the business from behind the computer screen, from project management to estimating. All of our stuff is available on the cloud. So the vast majority of what I was doing was from the office anyways, aside from client meetings. And, scheduled properly, I could easily meet with clients on an every other week or every third week basis.
Four kids — ages two, four, six and eight — keep Aaron as busy as his biweekly commutes to Chicago.
APC: When you were preparing to make this move to Bozeman, did you need to alter people’s job descriptions? Did you need to hire new personnel? A combination of both?
Aaron: We did revisit job descriptions and made sure they still fit, but that’s an ongoing process. It’s not something that is ever set in stone and we really involve our employees. So I gave everyone an outline and said, “Here’s what I’m thinking.” And then I asked them to finish it and write it in the job that they want to be doing rather than the job that I’m assigning. Because then people play to their strengths and if there’s something that they feel we want them to do that’s not a strength of theirs, maybe we can delegate that to someone else.
We did add personnel too, although not right out of the gate. Going into winter we started to actively recruit an additional estimator and someone to manage our residential division. I had been hands-off in the residential division, but our director of field operations was handling some of that and some of the slack was getting picked up by others. We wanted to make sure that was off of his plate because he needs to be focused. He has a major responsibility with the field, because I’m no longer really involved in that aspect of the business other than from watching it on our project management platform to see what’s going on with every job.
We hired two additional people. We used a recruiting firm. That is one strategy we have for hiring for upper-level talent, and we’ve had great success there. Both people have industry experience, had been around for a long time, and had different reasons for wanting to make the move. And I think they found a good home with us. It seems to be working.
Aaron says, “Sometimes the travel gets a little tough ... but my family is so happy in Bozeman and in Montana that it makes it worth it.”
APC: What was it like that first week after the move? How’d that feel? Were there any challenges?
Aaron: I was so excited we actually did it that I wasn’t too concerned with the business. But within a week or two that novelty started to wear off, although I still love coming back here every time I leave.
I do commute back and forth. I’m not in Bozeman 100% of the time. I spend five days in Chicago, 10 days in Bozeman. I am there every other week, Monday to Friday, depending on what else is going on and what I need to make my schedule around. I’ve been gone two weeks at a time, but usually at least every third week I’m back in Chicago. That’s an important piece of making this work, that I’m still in touch with the business.
APC: So in keeping with the logistics, when you’re in Bozeman and you’re communicating with the team in Chicago, are these simply phone calls, is it FaceTime or Skype video calls?
Aaron: It’s a combination of all that. I’ve actually had great success since moving here because what happens is the time you should set aside for the office and not be distracted is forced upon you. Someone can’t call and ask you to come look at a job today. I now end up prioritizing the office work instead of putting it off, which is the tendency for a lot of us entrepreneurs.
One of the things that I have been successful with is I schedule meetings with my key team members on a weekly basis via Zoom or Skype. We’re able to do screen shares back and forth so I can show what I’m doing and see what they’re doing. That really is helpful.
I think the combination of having that time set aside and making sure that I have those meetings has been pivotal. Since I left Chicago, our business has been stronger and done more volume, revenue and profit than it ever did before.
APC: Technology has changed things so much too, the ability to communicate on and off the jobsite. Do you have any estimating software or operational systems or any technology that you specifically rely on for communication?
Aaron: We do. We use a system that looks similar to a social media site, where we set up projects kind of like a Facebook group setup. So we set up a project in there and then everybody gets invited to that project, and is able to comment and post. We have built a protocol for daily updating. We can add video content, photographs, files and drawings, and we can mark up everything. From a project standpoint, we start a job by setting up this social page where we upload the contract, the job checklists and that sort of thing. It all migrates into that platform easily for the field. Then I can watch it from my cellphone anywhere in the world.
APC: Were there any challenges around training anyone to use those systems—or any pushback?
Aaron: Occasionally we have had a little bit of pushback. The main thing was using something easy. We have used other system in the past that were not quite as simple. This system that we’re using now is almost as easy as it is to use as Facebook. Now our leadership team doesn’t have to call and ask, “What did you do today?” They don’t have to constantly send daily updates via email. We can bring customers into the platform so they can see what happens, and aren’t calling me asking, “What got done today?” So I think this has really taken a lot of the burden of constantly chasing down what’s going on in the field and allowed [the leadership team] to be a lot more productive.
APC: You mentioned that you have a degree in finance. To what extent has that degree helped you in the painting business?
Aaron: That’s a big differentiator for us. A lot of people ask, “How can I grow? How can I be strong? How can I get great customers?” I mean, our customers are not always going to pay us at the end of the job. Residential customers possibly. But the fact that we’re not always having to chase down people for money means we’re financially sound. We forecast cash flow for eight weeks. We do a lot of things in a financially responsible manner, which allows us to take on big clients and not be the guy who is always crying for money.
We have a significant line of credit at this point. One of the things that allow me to do that was having a degree in finance, understanding how banking works. The first time we doubled our company, probably close to 10 years ago, we doubled it from money that we had saved. When I talk to someone who has a company that’s trying to figure out how to get to that next level, the first thing you have to do is save money and have the cash flow to take on a bigger job and not have to go broke. You must be able to finance that first job. And once you double your company, then you go to the bank and say, “I doubled my company last year. I’m looking for a line of credit.” Even though you don’t need it at that moment.
The bank says, “How did you double your company?”
“Well, I saved money and over the last five years, then I took a $100,000 job and I had $30,000 in the bank and I could afford to finance it myself.”
And the bank says, “Wow, this guy’s financially responsible. We should lend him some money.”
Then they give you a little bit of a credit line. You do it again the next year, and then you ask for a ridiculous amount of money and they give you half of it and then you’re set.
APC: Now that you’re out in Bozeman 10 days, then five days out in Chicago. What are you up to in Bozeman?
Aaron: I have four kids: two, four, six and eight years old. That keeps me relatively busy. This winter we pretty much spent the entire winter on a ski hill, downhill skiing. The kids have different levels of lessons and now they all ski.
Then we do stuff like hiking, it’s so easy and the kids love it. We take the dog out and everybody’s friendly here. Also camping. We went to Yellowstone for my daughter’s birthday in the fall. We’re just soaking up every bit of the mountains that we can for now since we’re new to it.
APC: You’re just due north of Yellowstone National Park, which is on top of Grand Teton National Park, correct?
Aaron: We also have Big Sky, a resort community about 45 minutes south of here. Most people fly in to Bozeman in order to go to Big Sky or Yellowstone National Park. We’re close to Idaho, not that far from Utah, so a lot of my friends do vacations down to Moab. We’re not that far out, but we are certainly five or six hours from Salt Lake City, which is the closest major city to us.
APC: Did you know contractors or talk to contractors who’ve done something similar? Who manage their company from afar?
Aaron: I did not know anyone who had done it. I knew people who worked remotely. I had a friend who moved to Nashville from Chicago, and still did some business in Chicago and commuted on occasion. But it was a different story.
I’m happy to share my journey and encourage other people. You have one shot at this, so you might as well do it. And my family is so happy in Bozeman and in Montana that it makes it worth it. Sometimes the travel gets a little bit tough. The kids don’t want me to leave. But I also think that it’s great for kids to see a parent have to go out and work. I mean, it’s not all about fun and games. Part of it is if we want to live this lifestyle, we have to work hard for it. So having them see me go out for five days at a time and work hard and come home, it’s part of my job and I’m happy to do it.
APC: Anyone who reads the magazine knows that one of the core beliefs of APC is if you want to grow your business, you’ve got to know your numbers. And so this is a wonderful lesson for any painting contractor. You’ve got to manage your company to boost your life.
Aaron: On that note, we do invest heavily in that. You have to value that. People say, “It’s expensive to do that.” So we have a contract controller who we pay the over $100 an hour to come in one day a week for a half a day just to pick off tasks that I need to have done. We also work with Linnea Blair from Advisors On Target. She puts together advanced spreadsheets that we meet on and we benchmark and we look at how we’re doing against the industry. That’s how we know how much we can charge. And I spend a lot of money on my office staff, putting these numbers together for job costing everything. We make that a priority. People can’t say they can’t afford to do it. You can’t afford not to.
I can’t take all the credit for it, unfortunately. I happen to be the one who asks for information and says we need to do this, and gives permission and authorizes the financing to go into it, but at the end of the day, we really have a team of people working on making sure that we run a fiscally sound business.
APC: That’s the epitome of work hard, play hard.