Delane Smith Painting began as a family-owned house painting business 40 miles southwest of Portland, Oregon, back in 1960. It was with his dad’s business that Parker Smith apprenticed during the summers of his teenage years before eventually starting his own business, Smith & Company Painting, in 1997 at the age of 19. To this day, Smith runs his operation out of his dad’s former shop. And over the years, he has seen some exciting growth and changes at Smith & Company Painting, including the expansion into commercial painting, exterior waterproofing, concrete floor coatings, and metal roof painting.
A conversation with Smith, crew leader Rene Mendoza and painter Cesar Guzman provided unique insight and perspective from each level of the business on what keeps Smith & Company Painting going strong.
The view from the top
Aside from keeping an eye on what he labels “smaller things”—making sure they have the best equipment, quality materials and reliable vehicles on hand—Smith’s attention is primarily focused on the amount of work flowing in and the manpower available to handle it. Maintaining the balance between those two is essential to keeping the business running smoothly and ensuring the quality of the work being done.
While different business owners have different strategies for maintaining that balance, Smith is a firm believer in hiring and cultivating full-time employees rather than relying on a temporary labor force.
“It’s important to me to be able to build relationships,” Smith explains, “And, to put together a team with people I can get to know and trust.”
Of course, in today’s labor market, that can be easier said than done. For short-term challenges, Smith works with another local contractor, borrowing and lending painters from each other if they get caught short. When the signs point to long-term growth, he turns to various online job posting sites to gather the volume of resumes that will result in “a handful” of good employees.
This leads to another one of Smith’s core tenets for business success: hire for attitude, not skill.
“What we do isn’t the most technical,” says Smith. “The skills are easy enough to teach. But if someone is 20, 25, 30 years old and doesn’t have a good attitude, there’s nothing I’m going to do to change that.
Getting the job done
Crew leader Rene Mendoza is a testament to Smith’s talent acquisition philosophy. When he came on board in 2014, he was not only new to Smith & Company, he was also new to painting. Less than seven years later, he is running his own crew.
Mendoza embodies the traits Smith & Company values in its employees. His attitude is open and friendly, and it’s clear that he not only enjoys working with other painters, but also takes a great deal of pride in doing a good job. Those traits have elevated him to a position in which he is able to pass on everything he’s learned—and he means everything.
“Some crew leaders keep secrets,” Mendoza says. “They won’t show the new guys everything. But I show them all I know. Because it’s not about me. It’s about doing what the customer wants.”
Smith adds, “There are people in this industry who will actually sabotage new guys by holding back knowledge or actually showing them the wrong techniques. We don’t do that here.”
Mendoza admits that it isn’t always easy to keep a team motivated and maintain their passion for doing quality work that meets Smith’s expectations. He says it takes patience and a commitment to just keep going.
“It’s the same job, but not the same job,” he explains. “The way we do it at Smith & Company may be different from how they did it somewhere else.” Getting his team to adapt to a new approach is a step by step process.
With a staff that varies from six to nine painters, depending on the season, this very personal approach is working. Smith & Company is a small but steadily successful operation, as the six decades of business and expansion into new service lines can attest. But as the business grows, Smith aims to institute a more systematic training program, so none of that accumulated knowledge falls through the cracks.
Smith is confident about the future. He’s very open about what he feels is the secret to his success: the overall atmosphere and culture of Smith & Company. In fact, he’ll choose the power of a strong culture over a strong business strategy any day.
“Culture impacts everyone—employees, owners, customers,” he explains. “If you have a bad culture, you’ll never have a platform to work off of and grow.”
About the Author: Diane Walsh is Vice President of Market & Channel Development for Shurtape Technologies, LLC, makers of FrogTape® brand Painter’s Tape. She also serves as director of the Shurtape Professional Paint Advisory Board, working with leading contractors across the country to explore industry trends and share innovations for the benefit of the entire trade. Diane was named the PDCA Associate Member of the Year in 2018.