Phoenix has always been known for its boom-and-bust cycles. But the last five years have been some of the toughest. So says Dan Foster, owner of Foster's Painting & Wallcovering Inc. starting out with eight painters in 1980, he has grown his company through several up-and-down cycles in one of the Southwest's largest markets, employing as many as 160 at one point in the '80s. Later he trimmed back to a staff of 60 –a size he says is optimal for both manageability and profitability.
He's running even leaner now –15 painters – and profits are plowed back into the company to keep the firm solvent during this down cycle. Nevertheless, new commercial jobs at places like the Metrocenter Mall and Sea Life Aquarium are starting to come in, and Foster has plans to start hiring again – up to 25 painters at first, then gradually back to his ideal crew size of 60.
"We were here in the good times, and we'll make it through the bad," he says, passing on some of his hard-won insights for painting contractors of all sizes, markets and economic times.
What do you do when faced with these kinds of market challenges?
We find ourselves working harder than ever to keep our customers happy. We strive every day to give our customers 100 percent satisfaction. We achieve this by consistently adhering to PDCA (Painting and Decorating Contractors of America) standards, using professional business practices and always going above and beyond what is expected of us by our customers. The professional painting contractor, those who are founded on good business principles, will survive.
You're a big champion of the PDCA. How has it helped your company?
Had I not joined the PDCA 27 years ago, I would not have learned what I know today and would not have been able to move my company forward. I've met some of the best painting contractors in the United States through the PDCA.
When did you get your first paint job?
In the sixth grade, my best friend's dad was a real estate broker. He asked his son and me if we wanted to make some extra money by painting the interior of a rental property for him.
How did you end up owning your own company?
In 1980, I was painting for a union painting contractor and the union took a $3-an-hour cut in wages. With $300, a spray rig and a prayer, I started Foster's Painting and Wallcovering Inc.
How has your business evolved over the years?
Like many companies, we started out doing a lot of residential repaints. That makes up about 20 percent of our business today. The bulk of our work now is in new commercial construction projects and commercial repaint projects.
What role do paint products play in your success?
Quality coatings are easier to use, make us more productive and give our customers longer-lasting paint jobs. Some of our favorites are Sherwin-Williams A-100 Exterior Latex Flat, Sher-Cryl HPA, Vertical Concrete Stain, and the Pro Industrial line.
Besides word-of mouth referrals, do you do anything else to market and promote your company?
I am a certified and featured contractor of RosieOnTheHouse.com, which is the oldest contractor referral network in Arizona. It's a radio talk show and website which consists of only quality contractors. Word-of-mouth, though, is still key to promoting our business. I pride myself in being able to knock on any door to promote my company.
What's the best business advice you have received over the years?
To never take no for an answer, and never give up.
What would you like other painters to remember most about your company after reading this article?
That you can build a successful business with $300 in your pocket, a sprayer and a prayer…because this is the United States of America, the best country in the world.