Originally published in PPC Magazine.
What’s the secret to a successful, long-lasting paint contracting company? Two contractors share their family secrets for staying in business for over 100 years.

Embrace new ideas

When they say the Cleveland skyline is their resume, the Pinchot family isn’t kidding. Their firm, Frank Novak and Sons Companies, has painted numerous Cleveland landmarks including Browns Stadium, the Key Tower and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Founded in 1912 by Frank Novak as a small residential painting company, a pivotal point for the company came when his son Frank Jr. took over the company and hired Allen Pinchot as an estimator in 1959. Pinchot started bringing in commercial work, and was made a partner in 1976. With the current management team of his wife Gayle and their children Brad, Mark and Pam, Pinchot has built the firm into one of Cleveland’s top commercial painting contractors.

One key to growth: Each generation has built on the company’s solid foundation by bringing new ideas to the table.

“We’re always willing to try something new that helps us solve our customer’s problems,” says Pam Pinchot. That may include anything from better job-tracking software to more technologically advanced paint products. New high-performance coatings like ProMar 200 Zero VOC, Pro Industrial Acrylic Coating and Pro Industrial Pre-Catalyzed Water Based Epoxy coatings, for example, have been the answers to questions the company was fielding from architects on which products to spec to be in VOC compliance.

“We look to Sherwin-Williams for new products and equipment that help us become as productive as we can be,” says Mark.

Diversify and conquer

This strong supplier relationship has also been a boon as the Pinchots embarked on new growth opportunities. When they opened their Flooring Specialties Division, for example, they learned they could count on Sherwin-Williams for the same expertise and service for commercial flooring as they do for paint.

“The synergy between the two has helped both divisions,” Brad says. “About 10 percent of our flooring jobs today are done in conjunction with painting.”

In their efforts to fulfill changing customer needs, the family has also added several other interconnected divisions such as acoustic panels, molded extruded parts and specialty ceilings. While growth is important, Allen says it’s also critical to make sure you can manage and handle the jobs you have.

“Above all, treat the customer with honesty and integrity. Your reputation is everything in this business,” he says.

The worst thing for a painting firm, Allen says, is to be underfinanced. “Even the best contractors will not survive if cash flow is poor. Try to make a profit on every job. That means knowing your costs! Be willing to walk away if the job won’t make you any money.”

Learn from past leaders

Founded in 1912 by brothers Alfred and Harry Ring, Ring Painting has seen significant growth from its origins as a small residential paint company in Martinsburg, West Virginia. David Ring, a 1999 graduate of Shepherd University, has been at the helm since 2005.

Two things are key to their long-term success, says David: “Building lasting relationships with local contractors and never leaving a jobsite until not only the customer was satisfied, but until we were satisfied with the final product as well.”

As the fourth generation of the family to run the company, he says that “being able to pick my father’s brain when I have a question or problem is an invaluable asset.”

Chief among the lessons he’s learned is to be honest and upfront with customers. “When inevitable problems arise, standing your ground is sometimes necessary, but always try to come to an amicable solution that will leave both sides happy,” he says.

Ride the economic waves

The ability to anticipate and respond to the inevitable ups and downs of the economy is another key to long-term survival in the painting business.

“The recent downturn in the economy affected nearly every commercial contractor,” Ring says. “We try to keep our crew between eight and 12 painters. Even though there have been opportunities to greatly expand over the years, we have tried to keep our business size at this level. We have seen many contractors overextend themselves financially and also lose the day-to-day oversight needed to run a successful painting business.”

Like the Pinchots, he believes working with a quality paint supplier is crucial.

“Not only will a good supplier help keep your product costs low with great customer service and product knowledge, they can also logistically help you by delivering supplies when and where you need them,” he says.

“Sherwin-Williams is willing to go the extra mile to help us with even the most menial tasks to help us complete a project. From matching stain samples to getting up on lifts to match colors 60 feet in the air, Sherwin-Williams does what needs to be done to please their customers.”

Prime the next generation

Passing your business on to the next generation can be tricky. Ring has this advice:

“Make sure not to pressure them into thinking that it is the only career choice they have. Upon graduation from Shepherd University with a Business Administration degree, I was unsure on which career path I would follow. I was lucky enough to have a father that would show me the ups and downs of the contractor’s lifestyle, but never once pressured me on what to do for a living. I ultimately chose to take over the business and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.”