A Passion for Painting by Claudia Moose
Special Feature in the SE Connecticut/SW Rhode Island Edition of Builder/Architect
It's 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and all the employees at Fitzgerald Painting, Inc., in Old Saybrook, CT,are gathered for a "Super Tuesday" brainstorming and planning session. Displayed on the office wall are the bold letters TGIT Thank God It's Today — reminding each of them to enjoy and optimize this day in all aspects of their work. President Charles (Chuck) Fitzgerald Jr. uses these weekly 40-minute meetings to encourage and energize his "team." He reminds them that running a successful painting and decorating business is about a lot more than knowing how to achieve results with a paintbrush. It's about careful planning, enthusiastic service and the desire to "do whatever it takes" to ensure that each job is done to the client's complete satisfaction.
While he was a college student in New Hampshire, Chuck painted his way through the summers in Old Saybrook. He remembers the advice from his father, an accomplished salesman, during those years: "If you want to be successful, study the people who are successful. You'll find a lot of common denominators there." What Chuck also found were the common pitfalls that derail many small businesses: lack of understanding of the needs of others and poor planning. Later, armed with accounting and management skills, he developed a business strategy for the company he founded in 1987. Chuck firmly believes that success in the service sector of the market is dependent upon a good basic knowledge of people's needs and expectations. "In this business," he says, "you succeed by helping others both employees and clients — get what they want."Chuck Fitzgerald refers to his employees as his "team," and has developed a five-point system that establishes a fundamental philosophy for them to adhere to:
- Be safe. The primary goal is safety on the job. (Chuck notes that they have an excellent track record in this area.)
- Allow no damage to the client's home or possessions. Ensure that everything is protected before the job begins.
- Follow the Company Policy Manual. Here individual rights and job descriptions are clearly spelled out.
- Do your job to the very best of your ability. Be sure each aspect of the work is perfect before moving on.
- Be excited about coming to work. Have fun in this job or find another one.
"This philosophy is not a 'do it my way' approach," explains Chuck, "but is a 'higher way' targeted at enabling everyone to be the best they can be." Discussion of one or more of these five points is often the focus of "Super Tuesday" morning meetings.
In addition to candor and dialogue, written communication plays a key role in the company. A 90-day business plan is drawn up and distributed, then consistently reviewed and analyzed at weekly staff meetings and at sessions with sales reps and team leaders. Commenting on his leadership style, Chuck says, "I play the role of coach, and I do a lot of delegating. This empowers others to step up to the job and take ownership of their work in the company."
Fitzgerald Painting currently serves the New Haven, Middlesex and New London counties, with near-term plans to expand into the Hartford County area. As crews of team members head off in their vans each work-day morning (often after voluntarily arriving early to wash them), they are prepared to offer the following custom residential and commercial services:
- Historical Restoration
- Exterior Power Washing and Painting
Rotten wood replacement
- Expert Interior Preparation and Painting
Plaster and sheetrock repair
Water damage repair
All types of finishes: roller, brush or airless
- Wall Preparation and Paperhanging
All types of wall-coverings: from European silks to vinyl
- Window Repair and Painting
Antique glass replacement
- In-Shop Services
Spray finishes on wood furniture, wicker, wrought iron, cabinets and shutters.
Marvin Window Replacement
Kitchen Remodeling, Bathroom Remodeling
New cedar siding and new cedar roofs.
Additionally, the company's "Painter for a Day" and “Carpenter for a Day” Program offers basic maintenance work at hourly rates.
In the area of sales, Chuck has a strong rapport with clients. As he points out, "It's important to give them what they want — not what you think they should want." To that end, Fitzgerald Painting offers different levels of painting services — from area touch-ups to a complete overhaul. To illustrate, Chuck views the painting preparation process as a series of six procedures, each building upon the other:
- Level 1: No surface preparation
Open the can and paint. No warranty for adhesion.
- Level 2: Basic
Remove surface dust, dirt and obvious loose paint by hand. No sanding. Little concern for appearance. No warranty for adhesion.
- Level 3: Standard
Caulk and patch for good adhesion and longevity of finish. Appear-ance is of secondary concern. Correction for obvious, existing defects in the painted surface (when viewed at a distance of five feet). Warranty.
- Level 4: Superior
Substrate soundness, adhesion and appearance are of generally equal priorities, while retaining character of existing painted surface. Includes filling, patching, taping cracks in drywall and properly dealing with nail pops. Aggressive sanding to minimize existing runs, sags, brush and roller marks, cracks and peeling areas. Sand to feather edge. Warranty.
- Level 5: Premium
Final appearance and feel is of first priority without minimizing substrate adhesion. All necessary preparation techniques are employed except complete paint removal.
- Level 6: Restoration Resurfacing
Complete removal of paint from all surfaces, use all necessary fillers, focus on look and feel as well as longevity
When it comes to work orders, Fitzgerald Painting doesn't take anything for granted. "First of all, we make sure we know what level of service the client wants," says Chuck. All job orders are in writing, specifying both a definite start and finish date. Only superior quality materials are used, ample time is allowed for each project, and prices quoted reflect these factors. "We don't cut corners, and we stand behind our work 100 percent," Chuck emphasizes he credits Clare Morrison with keeping the day-to-day operations running smoothly. They produce a written plan for each day, which greatly aids in keeping the whole team on schedule and also details the exact status of each job, thereby minimizing any potential problems. "Our goal," Chuck explains, "is never to give the client cause to complain." Nevertheless, at the end of each job he asks every client to fill out a report card on their experience with Fitzgerald Painting. "90 percent of people won't complain unless they're asked," he notes. "So we ask if there's anything we can improve upon." The vast majority of these cards return with overwhelmingly positive comments such as:
"Thorough and dependable."
"Such energetic and upbeat painters."
"A pleasure to do business with."
Tony Shetenski, who owns a 250-year-old home in East Haddam, CT, comments, "We are very particular about work done on this house. Fitzgerald Painting did a superb job. The crew was delightful and professional. They paid attention to every detail, yet got the job done quickly and perfectly. It was our most enjoyable painting experience in 30 years!" And Kel Tyler of Rings End Lumber in Niantic, CT has these observations: "It never fails — when I see Chuck's painters in our offices purchasing supplies, their appearance is immaculate, they are precise and articulate about what they want, knowledgeable about all the latest painting techniques, and their vans are always shiny and clean as well!"
Chuck attributes these responses to his team's approach to their work: "A good job is doing what is expected of you; a great job is doing more than what is expected of you."
Over the years Fitzgerald Painting has had to do very little advertising. More than 60 percent of jobs are repeat business or are the result of recommendations from satisfied clients.
"It's more beneficial to work hard at keeping our current clients than to spend time going after new ones," reasons Chuck. And as evidenced by the feedback he receives, Chuck knows that clients appreciate not only the craftsmanship of the work, but also the meticulous care taken by team workmen while on their property. "We are very aware that when we are working we are in people's homes," Chuck reflects. "Even a new construction site is treated as someone's home." In addition to providing services to individual homeowners, Chuck has had a long and profitable relationship with shoreline home builder, Steve Hallihan of SDHallihan Housewright in Old Saybrook, CT, "He has built magnificent homes, and they've helped us grow our business," acknowledges Chuck.
Additionally, he credits a professional association with contributing to the growth of his company: The Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA). Chuck was the president of PDCA's New Haven chapter, was a frequent speaker at their national conventions, and several years ago won the coveted National Residential Council Marketing Award. Regionally, the PDCA supports individual contractors through educational programs, referrals and local chapter meetings. Nationally, it monitors legislative and regulatory affairs that affect their members. In the New Haven chapter, more than 35 con tractors meet monthly to hear guest speakers, share local referrals, review new industry regulations and collaborate on how they can best assist each other in their businesses. "We mirror each other's success," Chuck points out. He believes the support these trade associations provide to their members is invaluable. Furthermore, these groups actively give back to their communities. Once a year local PDCA contractors come together for a charitable project, donating their time, talent and supplies. Chuck's PDCA group has recently refurbished a women's shelter in New Haven, CT, and the Vista Vocational Life-Skills Center in Westbrook, CT.
A life-long resident of Old Saybrook, Chuck resides with his wife, Jane. They have twin daughters, Carey and Meghan.
Claudia Moose is a freelance writer who has written her own publications in Ohio and Virginia, Boston and New York.