Dave Barry started painting at age 14 in Boston. He moved to the mountains of Colorado in 1996 and started his own company, Barry Painting Inc. Over the years he has painted everything from small homes to some of the most exclusive residential properties in the Boulder, Colorado area, as well as commercial and multifamily properties. He recently started a new business called Rocky Mountain Finishing LLC, with a spray booth that helps him expand into finishing cabinets, metal, furniture, trim packs, doors and more. PPC editor Mike Starling caught up with Dave to ask him about the challenges he’s facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How is the painting market right now in Colorado?
Things are going as well as they could be under the current circumstances. Work has continued to boom. I tried to slow it down, giving all my guys the option to work or not, but they all chose to work. The new leads keep coming.
What are you having to do differently due to COVID-19?
We have requested contractors only have one sub crew on the job at a time. We have decided to not intermix our painting crews. The employees that were together as crew when this started have stayed together. If you’re feeling sick, stay home. If you have put yourself into a high risk situation outside of work, we ask that you do not work for 14 days. Basically, everyone is accountable to each other on the crew, and that includes how they conduct themselves off the job. Before we enter a job, hands are washed or disinfected, masks are on. We are all using our own tools, no sharing. We are trying to maintain a safe distance from each other.
How are your painters adapting to the new guidelines?
There are easier days and harder days! People’s moods fluctuate day-to-day more than normal. If our rules affect someone in a way they do not like, there is a feeling that the rules are not fair, or that someone is getting special treatment. At times it has brought the crews closer together, and then the very next day it could feel like they’re pulling apart based on a changing circumstance on the job, in the news, or at home.
I have tried hard to be transparent. I gave everyone the option to work or not. The policy was I would get the work done with a skeleton crew for a month and a job would be waiting at the end of that month for anyone who decided not to work. It was their choice. From a financial standpoint, some of them may feel like they have to work, but at least the decision is ultimately theirs.
How are you communicating with your customers to help them feel safe?
We explain to our clients that we have protocols in place. When we’re on a job site, fresh gloves are worn, masks are on, and distancing is practiced. We assure them that we are taking this situation seriously and are taking all precautions possible. When we do an estimate, we also ask our clients to wear personal protective gear if they have it.
Are you doing any interior work, or is it mostly exterior right now?
We are working on new construction interiors, but not in occupied homes. Fortunately the weather is getting nice, and we have focused on exteriors. We have moved the schedule around to stack up the exterior work for a couple months.
Several years ago, I had a chance to talk with you right after the big floods in Colorado. I loved this quote from you then:
“Instead of getting aggravated by a tough situation, I’m gonna embrace it. I say to myself, all right, here’s where I’m gonna shine. I rise to the challenge, and so do my guys. And we do it with a smile.”
How do you think that experience helped prepare you for the current situation?
We try to have that attitude, but this situation proved to be very different. This time we were dealing with our employees’ emotions, feelings, concerns, and also a threat to all of us. Last time, most of the people needing help were our clients, and it was their property that was damaged. This time it was all of us, and the feeling that our lives are being threatened.
I have tried to shine as a leader. To understand that everyone is handling this in different ways, and on different timelines. I have offered myself as someone that would listen and give the best advice I could. I found myself playing more of a counselor role first and business owner second, all while trying to have a clear path with my own emotions.
I have always known that running a business requires you to wear all the hats, but this really brought that front and center. Yes, I do think the 2013 floods helped me to be prepared, because I think that any time we face adversity, and come through it, we’ve built tools to handle the next problem just a little better than the last. At least that is my goal.
Any advice you would offer to other painting contractors during this challenging time?
This is a time to learn who you are, or who you want to be as a leader of your company. Yes, getting the work done is one of our top goals, but leading the team in many other ways is also our goal. Remember that not everyone has the tools to deal with this from a mental standpoint. Moods and feelings vary from day to day. We as leaders need to try hard to stay steady, but also make sure that we are getting the support we need. Do not forget about working through our own emotions, in order to be available for others. Control what we can, and let go of the things we can not.
The article was published May 14, 2020. Story and photography by Mike Starling, PPC Editor. Read more of what pro painters have discovered on the job in the PPC What I’ve Learned archive.