Noah Kanter worked on a paint crew over summers and breaks to help pay for college. Now it has turned into his chosen career.
The owner of Nth Degree Painting in Burlington, Vermont hired his first employees this summer, and is launching a new podcast in December 2019. PPC sat down with Noah this summer to talk about his work, the current state of the industry, and what fuels his success.
You have a college degree. Why choose a career in painting?
After college, I became an archaeologist for a little while and then I decided that wasn’t going to be my future. I looked at what I knew and what I enjoyed in the past and realized that I actually enjoyed the act of painting. I liked the physicality of it. I liked changing the world around me. People love the difference in their homes when they’re painted. I also noticed it was a great line of business. There’s always demand for it, and there are not enough people doing it. So, you put all of that together and it’s a great way to make a living.
What have been some of the most important turning points so far in the growth of your company?
I started on my own in January 2014, and ran the business like that for a while. I would work like a dog for months and then I would run off and go backpacking for a few months after that. And that was fine for me at age 24 or 25. It was good money and I was happy with the work, but I wasn’t really developing as a business. I realized that I had just a job and I created my own rat race really. So there was a big transition where I really looked at all of my systems and my processes and just what kind of a lifestyle I wanted to create for myself, and revamped everything.
In 2019, you hired your first employees. Why make the leap?
I chose to hire because I really had hit a ceiling. I could do no more as a one-man show, in terms of production and profitability.
What were your biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenge for me with hiring for the first time was mostly mental. It just felt like it was a whole lot to do in addition to all my other duties. When you look at all the compliance and all the regulations, it just felt like, “Oh my God, I have to do this as well?” It turns out that’s mostly unfounded. There are great programs and systems and accountants that help you manage this. I’m so glad I did it.
What are you doing differently now that you have employees?
I started out as a solo guy, so every minute on a job site was go, go, go. Then you have a super green, fresh employee and you have to stop and teach. It all really starts with finding the right person and then slowing down and giving them the time of day and setting them up for success.
After a few weeks, I started noticing that I was doing far less of the entry-level repetitive tasks. And in a few more weeks I was able to delegate even more. I was able to quarterback jobs at a different level with so much more room to really think about my processes.
Your podcast will be called “Advice from a Young Tradesman.” Where did the idea come from?
Everyone is asking questions about the next generation of young craftspeople, but I don’t hear any answers. At a certain point I realized I was in a position to provide that perspective. The name is a riff on a Benjamin Franklin essay from 1748.
What will you focus on?
Some of the content is going to be that big exploration: the why and the how. How did we get here, and why is this the status quo? Other parts are going to be business support, such as the person considering hiring for the first time. I don’t think there’s really any resource out there for the sole proprietor tradesperson thinking about doing that – I didn’t find any when I was thinking about doing it. And, then there’s going to be some episodes that are just musings, essays, thoughts on the industry.
How can people listen to it?
You can listen wherever you get your podcasts, and you can also check out advicefromayoungtradesman.com for episodes and show notes.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of PPC magazine. Read more of what pro painters have discovered on the job in the PPC What I’ve Learned archive.