Nick Slavik highlights 4 industry trends every painter should know
As a painter, it’s important for you to keep an eye on developing trends in the field. After all, it can help you make better recommendations for customers and keep your business one step ahead of the competition.
Nick Slavik has a unique perspective on the industry. As the owner of Nick Slavik Painting & Restoration Co. in New Prague, Minnesota, he knows firsthand what business owners and contractors are going through. And as the Chair of the Painting Contractors Association (PCA)’s Board of Directors, he has a national perspective on how the industry as a whole is changing and growing.
In this article, Slavik shares four major trends that he sees shaping the painting industry in 2024 and beyond.
Recent studies by the PCA have found that the painting industry in the U.S. is very fragmented and individualistic. The average painting business consists of 1 to 1.5 people: “Basically one human, who maybe hires a summer helper,” Slavik says. These small businesses often have few resources for growth.
Slavik says this matches his own experience.
“I’m a master craftsperson,” Slavik says. “I’m a very good, fast painter. And I could not find a professional business to work at that would pay me appropriately, take care of me, and be professional. The odds of a tiny business having fully developed HR systems, benefits, and legal standard operating procedures are low. So I had to start my own business.”
That’s part of the impetus behind many industry resources, from Sherwin-Williams PRO+ Business Training Series webinars to the PCA’s annual Expo gathering. Collaboration and cooperation with other industry professionals is vital for long-term business success, because the painting industry model is unique compared to other fields.
“What the PCA is finding is that our industry is really good at painting, but we’re not as good at running businesses,” Slavik continues. “The technician in most other businesses is not normally the same human as the business owner. But in our industry, those roles often fall to the same person. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of support and business resources from Sherwin-Williams, the PCA, and other business owners like myself. With professionalization and help, I think we can help your average business last longer.”
The Silver Tsunami
Changing demographics in the U.S. might completely reshape the painting landscape when it comes to both contractors and potential clients. The “silver tsunami,” as described by Forbes, refers to the fact that nearly a quarter of the current workforce will be aging out of the workforce and into retirement over the next decade. By 2030, all of the Baby Boomer generation will be 65 or older.
“Based on the stats I’m seeing, between 20 to 30 percent of trade workers—not just the painting industry—will be gone in the next 5 to 10 years,” Slavik says. “Those are the people with the most experience, the most acumen, the most industry history. If we don’t create continuity between our most experienced and least experienced painters, there could be a huge knowledge gap over the next few decades.”
However, Slavik says this is also an incredible opportunity for young painters or those new to the trade to grow and thrive. After all, the silver tsunami will not only create job openings in the painting field, but also create more work opportunities, as DIYers too old to handle painting jobs themselves may be forced to hire painters to do it for them.
“Now’s the time to find good people—even if they don’t have prior painting experience—bring them through an insanely robust training system, and make our workforce of the future,” Slavik says. “With all the turnover about to happen, that’s the way of the future. And if the painting industry can make a great value proposition to those workers, I think this is our game to win.”
One way to get connected to potential new employees is Sherwin-Williams Careers in Painting, the industry’s first free, paint-focused site. In less than 15 minutes, you can set up an account, post your job listing, and get connected to a network of qualified painting professionals. If you do hire someone new to the industry, take advantage of online Paint Pro Training resources from Sherwin-Williams to help new hires get up to speed quickly.
The Rise of Hybridization
Is the future of the painting industry W2 employees or subcontractors? Slavik thinks the right answer may be “both.”
“When I started off 30 years ago in the industry, there were only W2 employees in the painting industry, with a few exceptions,” Slavik says. “I used to share all those old stereotypes of subcontracting: ‘That’s the hack way to do it. They’ll never live up to your standards. They’re not true craftspeople.’ Turns out, when you look around in our area, subcontractors are paint business owners just like you. They love the craft just like you. And we partner up with them to form a greater good.”
While many in the industry debate whether to use subcontractors or W2s, Slavik thinks that debate misses the mark. Both should be utilized when it makes sense. And as of 2024 data, the most successful businesses are doing exactly that.
“Both subs and W2s have pros and cons,” Slavik says. “Both are tools we can use to help our clients. And when you look into some of the most robust, profitable painting businesses today, they tend to run hybrid models. Sometimes they even trifurcate it into full-time W2s, part-time W2s, and subcontractors. This is not an either-or situation. If we’re not capitalizing on every opportunity to win, then I think we’re really missing out.”
Diversity in Painting
“Some industry trends are just that—trends—and we don’t control them,” Slavik says. “But some things we can have an effect on. And through the PCA and Sherwin-Williams, we’ve done an immense amount of work on diversity and inclusion in our industry.”
Slavik says the painting industry today is far more diverse than most other trades, particularly when it comes to gender inclusion.
“As a percentage of the workforce, painting has two to three times as many women as most other trades,” he says. “Also, the pay is amazing. It’s almost 1:1 parity, compared to the gender gap that you may find in other industries.”
Spanish-speaking contractors have found similar success in the industry, according to Slavik. He says the PCA will continue to support women in paint and Spanish-speaking painters through new initiatives and events.
“This industry is being innovated by servant leaders: members of the community who want to reach out and help other people,” Slavik says. “And if we don’t include them, they’re going to find somewhere else to give their time. So we’re just trying to make a place for these servant leaders to give their time and innovate this industry.”
The next decade may hold lots of change for painting contractors. The way the industry looks in ten years might be radically different from the way it looks today. But Slavik says he isn’t worried; in fact, these changes make him more hopeful than ever for the industry’s future.
“It’s always easy, especially as a pessimistic house painter, to think of all these data and statistics as these negative black clouds,” Slavik says. “But every one of these is a major opportunity. I’ve never been more optimistic or happy about our industry.”
To hear more from Slavik about the state of the industry, check out his episode of the PRO+ Business Training Series here.