Contractor Q&A: Wilber Vargas on Building a Large Residential Painting Firm and the Value of Using Quality Products

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: Wilber Vargas, owner of Wilber’s Painting in Maplewood, New Jersey.

When did you first get into painting?

I started in 1995 so I have been doing this for 28 years. But I started like everyone else, sanding and painting. Little by little I kept learning, then I became a supervisor, estimator and salesman for a company where I worked for 12 years. Then when that company was winding down, I was ready to start my own business.

Do you focus mostly on residential painting?

Yes, 95 percent. We repair, restore, repaint. We also work on new homes, though, which are easier to paint. The older homes we paint require intensive prep work, sanding down to the wood. We duplicate moldings, restoring them as they were originally. We also replace the shingles since in many of those old houses they are warped, rotten and need to be replaced.

How many people work for the firm?

Between employees and subcontractors, we have about 250 people working, and sometimes more in the summer. For employees we have about 40 on the books, and most subcontractors work almost year-round with us, although they have their own smaller companies.

You have a lot of people working for you. To what do you attribute that growth?

We’ve achieved it by being flexible with the crew – treating the staff well and providing fair pay. And as much as possible, by being a friend.

I tell the guys to always listen to the customer and understand what they are looking for, to become their partners and treat the place where they work as if it were their own home. We are in this not just for the money but to do a good job and create a good name. You may not profit on every project, but if sometimes you didn’t get paid correctly and you’re not going to make as much as you expect, you still win by having a satisfied client and leaving with a good reputation. I see the company as a building where each one of us is a brick. We are all an important part of being a big company.

What is the main challenge for your company?

We have many historic homes where even the colors must be approved by the city to maintain the style of Victorian homes. The most common problem is that sometimes we can’t finish a paint job because of missing carpentry work. In those colonial homes, much of the woodwork consists of duplicating the old moldings to make them look like the originals. That’s why we decided to add a carpentry repair service. That way we can move projects forward so they don’t sit idle.

How has your paint supplier helped your business?

Sherwin-Williams has always been there for us and for any issues with a client. It’s one of the reasons we’ve grown like this. I’ve always been a fan of Sherwin-Williams products. To please the customer, there’s nothing better than using good products. Sherwin-Williams products are so good that I will show new customers houses that I did years ago as an example of their paint’s durability.

What is your marketing strategy?

We rely on referrals, 60 percent of our new customers come from referrals from other people. We also use Angie’s List, now called Angi. We like it because they verify that the reviews are from customers who have actually used the company’s services. We also have a website that gets a lot of hits. In addition, we use large yard signs, and all of our vans are painted with company signs.

Would you recommend painting as a career?

Of course I would. Thanks to painting I have achieved personal accomplishments that I never imagined I would have. I recommend it to anyone who wants to excel and get ahead. In my personal life, painting has led me to achievements I never imagined. It has been a great experience.

What is your advice for someone just starting out?

Be honest and look for what’s best for the client. For the guys who are working in a crew I would tell them to be happy, because that mood rubs off on the clients. Getting started in painting is a very good thing.

Another important tip is that I recommend that you use Sherwin-Williams products, because they will help you build a good reputation, and you can be sure that the job is going to look good.

This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of PPC magazine. ©2023 Randall Reilly. Photography courtesy Wilber’s Painting. Read more about what pro painters have discovered on the job in the PPC magazine archive.