Contractor Q&A: Sean Nash on the Lessons of a Four-Generation Paint Family

For more than 30 years, PPC magazine has been on job sites throughout the U.S. and Canada asking residential and commercial paint pros to share their stories. This issue: W.W. Nash & Sons, Inc., a commercial painting contracting company based in Richmond, Virginia.

Four generations of Nashes have made their mark as painters in the state capital of Virginia. The company was founded in 1946 by Woodrow Wilson Nash and his wife Augusta as a residential subcontracting paint company. With sons Reggie, Rod and Ken, they expanded into commercial projects, and in 1968, the company was incorporated as W.W. Nash & Sons, Inc.

Strong growth led to splitting into two companies in 1988. W.W. Nash & Sons, Inc. continued handling painting and paperhanging projects while W.W. Nash Construction Company, Inc. focused on services like fireproofing, spray sound insulation, abrasive blasting and asbestos abatement.

Woody’s grandson Sean is now at the helm of both companies, and PPC editor Mike Starling recently sat down with him to learn the secrets of their success.

W.W. Nash is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. That is quite a milestone. What have been the most important factors that have fueled the company’s success?

Willingness to adapt to change, embrace new technology, trim when and where needed, slow steady, intentional growth, strong foundations – financially and emotionally from family. Each owner started at the beginning at the lowest skilled position, working at every level of the business from errand runner, helper, journeyman to foreman, supervisor and owner.

Were there any specific turning points that really helped the company go to the next level?

In 1952, we joined the Richmond PCA Chapter No. 1. Experience and knowledge shared by Holtz, Lane, Mowbray and Chasen are still used today. In 1969, our founder Woodrow Nash died suddenly of a cranial aneurysm while on vacation in Hawaii. Grandma and boys came together to continue the growth into commercial painting.

You recently started a vlog series (wwnash.com/vlog) to speak directly to customers via video. What was the driving force behind that decision?

We wanted to show people the real us. Say thank you to those who have helped us and show folks the “backyard us” – as well as highlight some previous projects, employee spotlights and maybe even get a laugh or two. We have had a great response so far.

You’re also using LinkedIn and other social media channels to market your business. In what ways do you find this helps?

Staying in front of your customers is key. Letting them know you are thinking about them and are ready and willing to help.

What do you recommend to other paint company owners when it comes to digital marketing?

Be honest and transparent. Do not falsely represent yourself on any marketing platform. Do not commit or present project showcases that are outside of your skill set or comfort zone, trying to be something you are not. Own what you are, promote it and do it better than anyone around!

Are there any recent projects that have been especially rewarding for you and your crews?

Knowing how they help people, the Richmond Fisher House here and in West Virginia were very satisfying projects. (Editor’s note: They serve as a “home away from home” for the families of veterans receiving care at local VA medical centers.) We were also part of an emergency COVID overflow project that helped prepare our city just in case our local hospitals got overwhelmed.

W.W. Nash is a multi-generational family business. How important do you think these ties have been to the success of the company?

So very important. It’s all about trust – the willingness to share knowledge, financial openness with one another, and a deep foundation and investment in our personal lives. Our seniors have learned lessons and laid a strong foundation that we don’t have to struggle to establish. Seniors let us “drive” before selling
and are always ready to give advice but not interfere. Longevity gives us the advantage to do business the old- fashioned way when modern technology doesn’t cooperate.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of being part of a family business?

Leaving work at work, and letting others into the trust circle.

Is there any specific business or personal advice you have gotten from a family member over the years that has really made an impact on how you approach your job?

It is from Rod, Sr., who said “Be best friends with your banker and suppliers.” Set clear expectations and overperform.

What advice do you have for paint company owners that see your example and would like to be part of a business that keeps building for many generations?

Be proud of your work, and teach, teach, teach. Don’t assume other generations learn by osmosis. Have fun, make it a good place to work. Be proud of the life you make from it. Don’t let work consume every hour of your day.

Business ownership is your life, but your family must not feel deprived because of the beast you created. As the saying goes: “Don’t just make a living, make a life.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of PPC magazine. Read more about what pro painters have discovered on the job in the PPC magazine What I’ve Learned archive.