They are racing the clock as part of Merrills’s latest business venture: Wow 1Day Painting, a Vancouver, B.C.-based painting franchise company that Merrills brought to Washington less than six months ago.
I am thinking how surreal it is for a career restaurateur to be running a painting business. But as I sidle up to Merrills, he explains that the skills required to run two restaurants and his new painting franchise are pretty much the same. And I realize that many of the qualities that make a good manager — planning, strategy, hiring, execution — are transferable to various businesses.
“The similarities are ridiculous because the basics of business all apply,” Merrills said. “It’s even easier than restaurants, where you might have 30 different things to focus on. I don’t paint. I don’t even know how to paint. But I know how to manage a business and find good people.”
He estimates jobs, hires good painters, then ensures they show up and are motivated to finish the job on the timetable.
It’s managing people, really.
Tim Pierson, a Realtor who owns and lives in the McLean colonial, said Merrills could be successful “if he can create a business that’s more professional and better managed than small contractors,” many of whom are great at their craft but not effective managers. “When you are a good worker bee, a good painter, you are often not a good businessperson. Most small businesses . . . run into problems. When they become big enough, they are not good at managing the business, missing appointments, you can’t rely on them.”
For this job, Merrills called his troops together at 7:30 a.m. in a Giant grocery store parking lot nearby and mapped out the attack. He made sure everyone knew their assignments, that the supplies were sufficient (they weren’t; the paint ran out in the morning) and that they would finish by that afternoon.
These painters come from all over the Washington area, part of an informal network. To find them, Merrills plugged into the local painter network, talking to fellow painting contractors. He got a bunch of names from a salesman at a Sherwin-Williams paint store and even gleaned some names from Craigslist.
As he looks over the project estimated to cost $4,500 after a discount — which will earn him $1,000 to $1,200 after labor and expenses — Merrills describes each of his painters’ strengths.
“You can tell just by the way they hold the brush if they are a good painter,” Merrills said. “You see if they can paint in a straight line. Whether they are neat . . . no spots they miss. You know pretty fast.”
He started hiring them for small jobs like the bedroom of a house, then picked out the most skilled and brought them back for more work. The best painters are guaranteed at least 35 hours a week of pay. For this crew, the average hourly rate is around $20, though it can vary from $17 to around $25. No one gets health insurance, but Merrills hopes to offer that benefit eventually.