"This is why I'm here." So says Jeff Woodward, relaxing by the freshwater stream that runs by his house at the end of a long day running his paint business in Hiawassee, Ga. Oak and pine trees keep the property shady, the Appalachian Mountains are in view to the east and his two sons are playing in the backyard. This weekend, they'll be off with dad on one of their favorite outings: waterskiing on Lake Chatuge.
Born in Tallahassee, Fla., Woodward first started coming to the picturesque mountain country of northern Georgia at a young age. His father brought the family there for vacations almost every year, and Jeff continued the tradition when he married and started his own family. In 1989, Jeff decided to combine his love for the mountains with his passion for the painting trade, and moved his family permanently to Hiawassee.
"There are a lot of small mountain towns here in northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina," Jeff says. "Each town is about 15 to 20 miles apart. I decided that living in a small resort community like this could be very successful for my business."
Twenty-one years later, he's built his company, Appalachian Painting, into one of the region's top residential painting companies. With an average of five to seven painters on staff, he's become an institution in the area. But he's not resting on his laurels. He's always looking for new ways to grow.
Anticipating the slowdown in new construction, for example, Jeff re-directed his marketing efforts into repaints.
"Like most small companies, the current recession has changed the way I do business," he says. "Where most of my time before was spent with builders and general contractors, I now focus on homeowners and repaints. I see my business as a recession-buster, and continue to grow."
He found another successful niche in restoring the region's popular log homes.
"Many of these cabins have been neglected for years, and I can come in and simply amaze the owners with the before-and-after effect," he says. The key to making them look new again, he says, is DeckScapes Revive Deck & Siding Brightener. This specially formulated cleaner helps remove dirt and stains and restores the surface to its bright, clean natural look, and is always his first step when confronted with a home where the logs are darkened from dirt, mildew or algae.
Jeff has also found opportunities in fire restoration work and in repainting vinyl siding, popular in many of the houses built in the area in the 1980s. "You get a lot of fading here from the sun, sometimes extreme discoloration," he says. "And many people want to see different colors on their houses."
Color options were once limited as painting dark colors on light vinyl siding could cause buckling. That changed with the introduction of VinylSafe Color technology by Sherwin-Williams.
"I just consult the VinylSafe Color chart at Sherwin-Williams," Jeff says. "Since they have tested all of the colors, I know I can safely recommend them to my customers. I even have them on my own home."
Besides this kind of expert product and application knowledge, Sherwin-Williams also helps Woodward's company grow through job referrals. "They're a valuable asset to my business," he says. And in tough times like these, painters need to explore a lot of new ideas to keep their companies strong.
"In the past, word of mouth was all you needed in a small town, but times have changed," Jeff says. "Now I utilize television, the phone book, newspapers, and the greatest tool of all, the Internet. Through my own website and referral sites like angieslist.com, servepro.com and my local chamber of commerce, I market to new customers daily."
In the end, it's this open-minded attitude, in combination with a strong work ethic, that is helping Jeff and his family live out their Appalachian Mountain dream.