The worst week of my house painting career (Part 2/2)

Continued from part 1 linked HERE.

The first thing I heard every morning at 6:00am was F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X by Fall of Troy (from Guitar Hero 2). My brother Simon slept on my couch the whole summer and used the song for his alarm. I literally haven’t listened to this song once since that summer and it causes me more anxiety than it probably should. I get ready and leave for the job site.

I pull up to the house in a big black 2002 Ford Explorer held together with dried paint and optimism. I unload the ladders and waited for my 4 painters (3 newbies) to arrive.

Only 3 of them showed up and I started training them. After a brief run-through (painting can’t really be that hard can it?) I left the job site. My brother Simon and I were both running our businesses in separate Columbus suburbs, and we only had 1 car capable of carrying ladders. I left to trade cars with him.

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Ole Faithful

I went around and did some marketing and made some scheduling calls, and my phone rings — a call from my production manager.

“Hey, uh… this is going really really slow. The stucco is soaking up all the paint and we’re going to need more soon.”

Halfway through day 1 we were running way behind budget on paint: Not what you want to hear as a manager. I run to the paint store and bring 4 more gallons back to the job site. At this point I’m walking around and looking at the house, not really sure of what to make of it. I send my 3 painters to lunch, and only 2 return.

On a big job, especially one where you’re painting an unfamiliar surface, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge where you are on the budget after one day. This is one situation where my positive outlook played against me. I was thinking in terms of the best case scenario, which at this point that I probably wouldn’t make very much money and we would be a day or two behind on production. The problem was that everything went perfectly from here on out things would have still been pretty bad. I close down the day knowing that we were behind schedule and decide to ask around for some new painters. I pulled one from a manager who had quit and Simon had an extra painter, but could only spare his slowest and most unreliable one.

Most of the details of day 2 involved multiple trips to the paint store, and the ball busting realization that we were now over-budget on paint (at $50/gallon this was going to get out of hand fast). The two new painters seemed to be doing OK and we are still under budget on labor. I had spent most of the day off the job site trying to keep up with marketing and hit my goals, plus I kind of just thought if I put my fingers in my ears and shouted “LALALALALA!” as loud as I could the problems would go away, so I left my production manager to close down the job site. He was leaving on vacation the next day and wouldn’t be around to help for the rest of the week.

Now this point in the story is analogous to every film when a character cries “How could this possibly get any worse!?”, only to hear the rumble of thunder and realize that, in fact, in could get much much worse.

The third morning of the job, instead of a Fall of Troy song, I was woken up by an unknown phone number, also at 6:00am. I gathered myself and tried to pretend like I wasn’t just sleeping.

“Hey Eric, Mr. G here… Did you guys leave the water on last night when you left?”

Uh-oh.

I get to the job site as soon as possible to witness the devastation. Apparently one of my new painters had left the water running after cleaning out their gear and flooded the entire backyard. I told Mr. G that he should thank us for building a lake in his backyard for free. Strike 1. Mr G walks me around the house and I am absolutely speechless. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single surface that could have an errant paint splatter of SW6108 Latte on it, did.

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Not the actual house, but this is what it looked like.

We walk around to the garage side of the house to the AC unit, which was not only covered in paint splatters, but was knocked off of the pedestal it was supposed to be anchored to. It was the middle of summer and my customer’s dreams of being at a comfortable temperature in their house were ruined. Strike 3. One of my more brilliant new painters had used it as a step stool and tipped it over.

In 12 hours we had gone from a bit behind budget to an absolute shitstorm.

It became clear to me that the only possible way to salvage this situation was to be on the job 24/7 and supervise the cleanup effort. The next 4 days from sunrise to sunset were spent not only repainting the surfaces that were missed or didn’t cover well (almost all of them), but also scraping paint off of every surface of the home where it should not be. Every gutter and downspout, every awning, every roof shingle where my painters had stepped, the front walkway, back deck, light fixtures, grill, plants, mulch… you name it, it was covered in paint.

Imagine working 4 straight 16 hour manual labor work days, muttering curse words under your breath knowing every single second you spend was just to try and put a cap on how much money you were going to lose. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted and embarrassed. I would do anything for it to be over.

So we finished it. With the help of my last painter and my saintly brother, we finished it.

By the time the job was finished, we walked away with a check for $1,000, almost no pride, and a very upset customer. The $1,000 didn’t even come close to covering our expenses. We ended tripling up our budget on both materials and labor, effectively erasing an entire month of profit.

Any one of the problems that happened would have been manageable if they happened on their own, but the accumulation of issue after issue pushed the job to a breaking point.

Looking back there is no way on earth I would want to go through this experience again. If I had to rank the worst weeks of my life all-time, this would hold the #1 spot.

I am beyond grateful that it happened.

I’ve found that the tough experiences in your life are the ones that help you grow the most. I was so far out of my comfort zone and even though the experience was terrible in the moment, I learned more about business, leadership, expectation setting, life, and most importantly myself in that one week than I did in any other places I’ve been employed combined.

That summer I went on to produce $60,000 in revenue and was fortunate enough to go on the year-end awards cruise to the Bahamas, after which I was promoted to Regional Manager and then to General Manager. Despite enormous setback and roadblocks (some unquestionably self-inflicted), I hit the goal that I promised to reach 8 months earlier.

If you’re in a tough spot in your life, try and remember it’s only going to make you stronger.

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The Ohio/KY Team on the Awards Cruise

 

One thought on “The worst week of my house painting career (Part 2/2)

  1. Pingback: What I learned writing for 30 days straight. – Eric Fraser

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