Pouring into People: Emphasis on People over Profits Has Been Key to the Revitalization of M&E Painting

Loveland, Colorado-based M&E Painting was first profiled in the Summer 2013 issue of PPC magazine. We caught up with owner Matt Shoup for this 2nd installment of our Where Are They Now? series.

Running a professional painting company has been a long, rewarding and sometimes humbling journey for Matt Shoup. Serving more than 10,000 homeowners, his company M&E Painting has built a reputation as one of Northern Colorado’s top painting firms. Its success has allowed Shoup to branch out into several other successful business ventures. This is his story.

From banking to painting

Originally from New Jersey, Shoup moved with his family to Colorado at age 10 and went on to college at Colorado State University. He graduated in 2003 and married his college sweetheart Emily in 2004. They settled down in Fort Collins to begin their life together and Matt’s corporate career in mortgage banking. A year later, though, he was laid off.

“Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Shoup says. “However, at the time I was scared, yet encouraged beyond belief to go make things happen. I decided that day I would never work for a boss again.”

With $100 to his name and $170,000 in debt, he started M&E Painting in 2005. Shoup had first learned the trade when he took an internship with a college painting company.

“I figured it would be a cool gig in college,” he says. “Little did I know that it would eventually lead to my own business.”

On the fast track

His company grew quickly, growing from a one-man operation to a multi-million-dollar-a-year business within a few short years. Despite the fast gains, however, Shoup discovered that he still had a lot to learn about managing people.

“I didn’t know how to lead people very well because I didn’t know how to lead myself very well at that point in my life,” he says. One result was that key team members left the company for other opportunities.

“If I was them, I would’ve left too because I wouldn’t want to have worked with me,” he says. “And I think if I would’ve developed my leadership skills and learned the lesson earlier about investing in people, they might still be around.”

Bottom line, he says: “You need to be invested in yourself, so that you can understand how to invest in other people.”

A turn for the better

After some deep reflection, Shoup looked at this change as an opportunity to adopt a more human perspective and make M&E more than just a painting company – with a new mission to “enhance the community, inspire leaders and impact lives.”

That means sincerely caring about the people you work with and understanding the responsibility that brings. For M&E, one way to get there was to improve communication lines within the company.

“So, create an environment where we’re open – especially me as the leader – to critical feedback about where I can improve,” Shoup says. “To close my blind spots and to work on those things.”

Then, get real about your strengths and weaknesses.

“Determine what you’re great at, what you love to do, and what your business needs,” he says. “When those three things intersect, that’s your magic moment, your sweet spot.”

If you focus on this, he says, you learn what you’re not good at and what you don’t like to do but that your business still needs.

“In my case, I’m good at sales and marketing,” he says. “I’m not good at accounting. So, I hired somebody that is good at and loves accounting. Create a job description. Lead them. Make their life better. Care about them, like for real. And if you don’t, it’s fake. People are going to know.”

Today, the company has 10 core employees with up to 20 additional independent contractors during peak season. More importantly, he says, it’s “a tight-knit group where we all have each other’s backs.”

The best policy

Honest, open and vulnerable communication is a cornerstone of the company, both internally and with customers.

“We are a company of humans serving other humans, and since we are not perfect, we sometimes make mistakes,” Shoup says. “If we make a mistake while working with you, we promise to take ownership, accountability and responsibility to fix it and make things right.”

He actively pursues what he calls “brave and vulnerable storytelling” best epitomized by M&E’s Painted Baby story – the time a paint sprayer exploded on the job site and got paint on the customer’s baby. (The baby was OK.)

“It was our company’s worst event and we wanted to hide that story because I didn’t want the competition to know about that,” he says. “But guess what, if you’re honest and vulnerable and real when you talk about your mistakes, and you’re human and imperfect, you actually connect more with your client base, with your vendor base, with your team.”

This is illustrated by a recent experience with a client who wanted to hear how the company handles adversity.

“I shared my Painted Baby story with him, and he signed the biggest contract that I had ever signed to that date in my business history.” The Painted Baby story, in fact, will be the topic of Shoup’s next book.

M&E Painting has painted over 10,000 homes and hundreds of commercial buildings in Loveland, Fort Collins, Windsor and surrounding cities in Colorado. For more samples of the company’s work, visit mandepainting.com.

Think about where you want to be

Inspired by his success as a painting business owner, Shoup has founded several more companies and grown them from the ground up. He holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and teaches martial arts at Northern Colorado Jiu Jitsu, an academy he founded with his friend and long-time training partner Troy Pettyjohn. He’s also a Realtor, author and speaker.

His advice to painters is to think about the end game.

“Think about the vision of what you want life to look like and write it down,” he says. Then reverse engineer it to get to where you want to be.

“Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” he says. “Most business owners are just trying to survive. There’s a level of ‘I gotta eat, I gotta pay the bills, I gotta pay the mortgage, I don’t wanna be homeless.’ That’s surviving.

“Then there’s thriving – when you’re not just scratching by and worrying where the next dollar’s going to come from.”

But, he says, you can also get stuck when your business is flourishing.

“There’s a next level which is ultimate contribution back to your community – and pouring back into the people that helped get you there.”

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of PPC magazine. ©2022 Northbrook Publishing. Story by Mike Starling, PPC editor. Photography by Photo Conscious. Read more about what pro painters have discovered on the job in the PPC magazine archive.