For the first installment of our new “Climbing the Ladder” series on the leaders of a new generation of professional painting contractors, we caught up with Rodrigo Vasconcellos at the PDCA Expo, an annual industry education and networking event.
In 2009, Vasconcellos founded Palette Pro Painting and Renovation in White Plains, New York, about 30 minutes from New York City. The company specializes in residential repaint and remodeling.
Your college background was in communications, correct?
Right. I was one of those kids that didn’t have a very clear direction in college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went to an audio engineering technical school first and then I transferred to a school to study communications. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do but I always had the background in construction and the painting industry.
When I graduated, we were right in the middle of the recession. I started looking for jobs in an office setting but I didn’t see myself working for someone else. I enjoyed working in the painting industry. But, I always had high dreams of actually growing a business and not be painting all the time. So, that’s why I knew I had the drive to start and build a company.
Is painting a good industry to get into at this point and time?
I think it is. If you are determined, if you’re a hard worker, you can actually build a business and be very successful in the painting industry. It’s a tough industry but if you have the right education, if you have the network, which PDCA provides, you can be very successful.
You started as a one-person crew but now have 20 employees. What were some of the turning points that helped you grow to that next level?
One of the biggest turning points for me was finding that No. 2 guy. It was essential to find someone that I could trust and that can do essentially whatever I can do in my business. So, when I did find that guy he was actually in the family, my brother-in-law. I made him an offer to come and be a partner with me and that was so valuable. We grew 100 percent that first year. The following year, we did the same thing because I trusted him and he really helped me develop the business.
What do you find is the biggest challenge for you at this point of your career and where your company is at?
Well, we grew very fast in the last few years so were bringing a lot of new people into this business. Creating a culture and a process to manage all of the employees is a challenge for us.
What are some of the things you’ve done to be better at that kind of thing?
Communication is key when you start growing. One thing that we started doing is conducting operations meetings with all of our employees, plus different meetings with only our crew leaders and admin office. So, that’s been very helpful.
What’s the biggest difference between having, say 9 or 10 painters, to employing 20?
Your quality will definitely not be at a top level if you’re managing 20 people by yourself. Bringing in my brother-in-law as a partner helped a lot in terms of managing all of those people. Then, bringing on an office manager to take care of all of the customer requests and leads coming in, also helped with the customer service part of it.
How is your staffing set up at this point?
We have an office manager and my brother-in-law and I do all of the sales and project management. We have crew leaders for each project.
You recently started a community outreach program called Painting Hope. Could you tell me how that got started and how it works?
Having my own business helped me have this platform to really give back to the community. At one point, we thought of something that was close to my heart and to my brother-in-law’s as well. Every year, we select a family that is affected by breast cancer and we remodel their home. We paint their entire home and we touch their lives that way.
You posted a video of your first Painting Hope family on your website. What kind of reaction have you gotten from people when they see the video?
Tremendous reaction. That was actually our first Painting Hope and we were blessed to meet the family which is on the video. We had a blast working at that project, meeting the family and seeing what they were going through. It was a great experience for our employees. It was uplifting for all of us at the company and we were just blessed to be part of that project.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of owning your own company and being part of the painting industry?
Being able to have a platform to give back to the community. I think that’s the reason why I started Painting Hope. Also, to have a platform at this point to give a career to employees and being able to support their families as well. To think that I started this business by myself and now I’m able to support multiple families, it’s just very rewarding.
Rodrigo Vasconcellos was interviewed for the Pro on the Go series by Mike Starling, PPC Editor. Video production by Mike Starling, with assistance by Brett Huus. Read more of what pro painters have discovered on the job in the PPC What I’ve Learned archive.