In our PPC Climbing the Ladder series, we celebrate the leaders of a new generation of professional painting contractors. Featured in our third installment is Nick Slavik, who owns and operates the Nick Slavik Painting & Restoration Co. in New Prague, Minnesota.
Slavik is a firm believer in the value of master craftsmanship, and he has carved out a profitable niche using “traditional finishing methods to create the best finishes for modern applications.” You can read about one of his recent showcase residential projects in the fall 2018 edition of PPC magazine. He’s also a savvy marketer and hosts a popular weekly Facebook Live show called Ask A Painter.
We recently sat down to talk shop with Nick. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
How did you become a painter?
There’s basically two ways that people seem to get into painting field. Either you did it with your dad or you did it during college. I was one of the did-it-with-your dad types. So, from about 10 years old I got pressed into indentured servitude until 18 with the family business. Evenings, weekends, holidays, summer. I went to the army for a couple years after high school and then I went to college. I tailored my college education to specifically fill the needs that I saw were lacking in my family business. And, I did not realize this, but my father really didn’t have a place for me in the family business after that. So, I went off on my own and it’s been almost 11 years now I’ve been doing this.
When you started out, were you painting by yourself or did you have other employees?
The only type of painting business I ever knew was where one person did it and if that person had sons or daughters that wanted to do it they’d do it with him. So, I sort of operated under that for a couple years, until you finally realize, oh yeah, that’s right: I went to college for business, I should maybe apply some of that, and I started taking on employees. As most people do, you take safe, scientific approaches to hiring and seeing how it works. So, you take on teacher friends because you know, they have a job, and you figure out what works and doesn’t work and start building from there.
What were some of the things you learned from hiring people?
Basically, all the problems you have in business revolve around people. You’re a person, a lot of problems come from that. Your clients are people and your apprentices are people, and people add the most variables to a business. So, if you can sort of work to minimize the variable you’re better off. Through the PDCA and somebody I met through Sherwin-Williams, I got one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
It was somebody who ran a crew of maybe 50 or 60 painters and I said: “You must have this solved. You do this every day, you have tons of people, your whole life must be dedicated to figuring out and solving this problem. Give me the solution.” And, that person basically said, “You’re never going to solve this. It’s something you need to put effort into every day and it’s never going to go away. And, the more effort you put into it, the better it’s going to be.”
And, immediately a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders because I thought I just didn’t have the solution to people problems. I knew how to handle clients. I attract a certain type of client – it’s a self-selecting group and over the years I’ve gotten very good at handling them. It was just the apprentice (employee) side now that I needed work on.
How important is experience for the painters you hire?
What painters want, and I would certainly want too, is an experienced painter that’s still got a lot of years left to paint that you can take and insert into your company and they can just be a unit that’s revenue producing from day one.
But the problem is… maybe it’s because of my geographical location, I’m 45 minutes outside of the major metro area here in Minnesota. Or maybe it’s because of the labor pool here. I mean, the county we’re in has less than a 2½ percent unemployment rate. So, basically everybody who wants a job has two jobs now. But I was just not finding these experienced painters and I would always put the same ad out that everyone else had – “Experienced painter, lift 50 pounds, driver’s license, you must be reliable, you must know how to paint” – and it just never worked.
So, I made an intentional effort to specifically say, no experience needed, you just have to be a decent human being. You come on with me, you already fit the culture of the business, the painting is the easy part. I would rather devote my time to imparting the craft into people, than teaching them the culture of my business. You can’t teach someone to be a decent human being. You can teach anyone how to paint.
How is social media impacting your business?
Social media has become an amazingly important part of my business. When I started my business 10 years ago, all I needed was an ad in my local newspaper, a name on the side of my truck and a local phone number and business just poured through the door. And, as that generation, my core demo, started getting a little bit older, a new generation started becoming homeowners and clients, and they start finding things in different ways. They ask friends more on social media. They do Google searches. So my business had to change with that. Five or six years ago I started tiptoeing into the world of social media and now it’s basically been the main driver for growth in my business. I’ve joined groups and built connections using the social networks, and that’s creating the new growth in my businesses.
Nick Slavik was interviewed and photographed by PPC Editor Mike Starling. Read more of what pro painters have discovered on the job in the PPC What I’ve Learned archive.