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Commercial vs. Residential

They are not the same

10 June, 2024


When you've been in the painting industry for a while, you develop the habit of pointing out all the houses, buildings, or facilities you've painted—it's something that happens to all of us. Likewise, you become so attuned to the painting industry that you notice painters and projects underway no matter where you go, even on vacation!

Another occupational hazard is the ability to spot a paint truck from a mile away. If it's lettered, it's obvious, but even unlettered vans and trucks with paint splattered over the back bumper or specific equipment like ladders on roof racks signal a painter's presence. Lettering on a vehicle typically includes the company name, a logo (often featuring a paintbrush, roller, paint palette, or paint splash), contact information like the phone number and website, and the words "RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL."

Most painters advertise that they handle both types of work, and on the surface, it may seem like there isn't a significant difference between residential and commercial repaint projects. For 25 years, that's exactly how I thought as well.

However, having spent a substantial amount of time on the commercial side, the distinctions are now more apparent to me. Let me be clear—neither is superior to the other, but they are more distinct than most owners of painting businesses realize. Let's delve into the disparities between residential repaint and commercial repaint.

The Setting and Relationship

In residential repaint, your workplace is someone's home. It's their personal and private space, and especially if you're working on the interior, you're in that space for multiple days, if not weeks. You're moving furniture, perhaps emptying closets, and maybe, like me, you've found things under a bed that even the homeowner didn't know were there (cue all the good stories). Even if it's an exterior job, it's still a deeply personal experience. I remember times when clients would invite us to sit with them at their kitchen table for lunch—a truly personal touch. You may even get to know the clients' kids and pets since you're in their home, witnessing their routine and family dynamics. It's an intimate glimpse into someone else's life that you wouldn't get otherwise.

Conversely, in commercial repaint, the setting is much less personal because it's a place  of business. While you may be in someone's personal space or office, for the most part, you're in an environment with many people, and the ambiance is distinctly less personal. The atmosphere shifts to a more professional tone, and your interaction with people you encounter is more detached. They might be curious about your work, but ultimately, they leave, and it probably doesn't occupy much of their thoughts, even if you're there for an extended project.

Your primary relationship is with the person responsible for the facility—be it a general contractor, facilities director, maintenance person, or building engineer. The interactions are scheduled because they have other responsibilities throughout the day. Your goal is to set expectations, communicate clearly and regularly, and set up the client for success with their higher-ups.

The Decision-Making Process

Here's where significant differences emerge. In residential repainting, the decision-making process is usually straightforward. The homeowners are the decision-makers; they don't need approval from anyone else. While they might consult with a spouse or significant other before making a final decision, you know who the key players are. Residential customers can also be influenced by factors like price and timing during the decision-making process. Discounts can sometimes work because homeowners see it as money back in their pockets, and timing can be crucial if they're hosting an event or have other life circumstances dictating the project's timeline.

In commercial repainting, the decision-making process is quite different. The person setting up an estimate might not be the one you meet to visit the job and prepare the quote. The person you meet to prepare the quote may not be the ultimate decision-maker either—they might simply be tasked with gathering quotes. There could be multiple layers of decision-makers above those you interact with, and sometimes, the client doesn't disclose who the ultimate decision-maker is. You might even find yourself dealing with a board, which, as we know, can significantly slow down decision-making. Moreover, if you're not speaking directly to the decision-maker, your influence on the process is limited. The person you're dealing with might not prioritize price or timing until they're ready to proceed with the work. Offering discounts or quick turnaround times may not carry much weight. It's also essential to remember that in commercial repaint, the decision-makers aren't using their funds, so their perspective on pricing is different—it matters, but in a different way when it's not coming out of their bank account.

Products and Specifications

One of the aspects I appreciated most about selling residential repaint work was the opportunity to educate homeowners about paint types and recommend the best products for their projects. This freedom to specify products based on expertise and customer needs is common in residential settings and can be quite rewarding.

Transitioning to commercial repaint, I discovered that things were different. In most commercial repaint jobs, there's a pre-set specification outlining the scope, required preparation, number of coats, and specific products to use. While this simplifies the process and ensures consistency in bids, it also means losing the flexibility to recommend products and educate clients. When there's no predefined specification for a commercial job, clients often request one from paint manufacturers to establish a documented process and mitigate risks.

Job Size, Safety, and Equipment

Residential repaint projects vary in size but generally average between $3,000 and

$5,000. The equipment used, such as ladders, scaffolding, and lifts for exterior work, is

predictable. Safety protocols are aligned with these tools and include ladder safety,

scaffolding safety, and so on.

Commercial repaint projects, on the other hand, tend to have larger average sizes—$20,000 and up. This influences the equipment used, with lifts, spray rigs, water trailers, and other heavy-duty equipment being more common. Safety precautions are also more stringent, including hard hats, steel-toe boots, harnesses, lanyards, respirators, and specialized training for various job site conditions.


In residential repaints, oversight primarily comes from homeowners who closely monitor the progress and quality of the work. They're deeply involved and often inspect completed stages promptly, facilitating quick resolutions to any issues.

In commercial repaints, oversight takes various forms. Paint representatives, clients, and even engineering consultants may be involved in quality checks and documentation, including daily logs and comprehensive inspections.

Risk and Cash Flow

Residential repaint work carries its own set of risks, including potential property damage and safety hazards. However, the cash flow is generally more straightforward, with deposits and progress payments ensuring steady income throughout the project.

Commercial repaint work involves different risks, particularly around safety and cash flow. Safety protocols are stringent, but cash flow management can be challenging due to delayed payments and longer project durations.

Understanding these differences between residential and commercial repaint work is crucial. By recognizing and addressing these distinctions, we can enhance professionalism, safety, and overall performance in the painting industry.

Matt Van Groningen, the Director of Operations for Performance Painting Contractors Inc. and Performance Painting Franchising, based in Jacksonville, Fla., brings over 30 years of experience in the painting industry. For more details about owning a Performance Painting Franchise, email or call 1-888-653-3583.


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