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Painting and decorating – it’s easy, right? Just advertise your services, turn up on time, grab a paintbrush and slap on the paint. Only that’s not quite the whole story, is it?
It’s a discipline and a trade like any other, and the opportunity to thrive and stand out is clear, given the shortage of good tradespeople in the UK. UK Business Forums looks at the opportunity for those who can see the potential in paint and wallpaper, and in making houses (and offices) beautiful by starting their own business.
For those out there trying to grow a business and a brand on the right terms, the skills question is just one challenge of many.
Kim Spooner, co-founder of Henry Fix Painting and Decorating, based in south-east London, says that next to skills is the connected challenge of finding committed people.
“We started three years ago and we are thriving, but still I would say we are being held back by finding the best people. It is extremely difficult to find good, committed tradespeople who want to work. Our recruitment woes are many and varied – people apply for positions with no relevant experience, they don’t always turn up to interviews or trials, they may not turn up to work. When we find someone good and committed we work hard to keep them,” she says.
Henry Fix was launched by Spooner and director-decorator David Henry with zero investment and has grown strongly, but now it is established it is changing tack.
“We used the aggregation and review platforms like MyBuilder from day one – it was a great way to get going, but the sites can also hold you to ransom because the review system is at the whim of the reviewers who may not always see things fairly,” says Spooner. “Given that a critical review or two could damage our brand, we mostly proceed on word-of-mouth recommendation these days, and also target potential projects with direct marketing and pick up work through partnerships with related trades, like loft-extension and building businesses.”
Henry Fix was started in a small way in 2014.
“We were dipping our toes in. We wanted to work for ourselves and I have a marketing background so we knew we could spread the word effectively. The focus has always been on quality – on doing an exceptional job and letting the work speak for itself.
“The website is quite basic for now but it’s functional and carries what it needs to. We try to ensure it’s useful. Content marketing is next on my list of to-dos: adding value by producing explainer pieces and more that will help our customers,” says Spooner.
The brand is also reasonably evolved, with a visual identity carried through to a uniform for all team members and branded vans.
“I do think these tangible reminders around the brand make a difference. They are a show of our professionalism and commitment to the quality of what we do.”
A brand and a strong and excellent reputation means you aren’t competing on price, says Spooner, but on service excellence.
“There is always someone cheaper out there. We aren’t going head to head with the cheapest. We want to work with those who value our eye for detail and know that what we do, delivering an exceptional finish, they cannot do themselves. The best painting and decorating is skilful, complex work. A lot of the work is hidden, but it shows in the final result.”
The business, like many, has reached a tipping point, as Spooner admits.
“We want to stay in residential work rather than commercial, but aimed at the mid to high-end market. To scale we have to take on more and bigger jobs, but also have the team to deliver. That’s the pinch point I was talking about: ensuring we have a strong and big enough team to keep delivering without compromise. It’s hard. We are up against some single operators that aren’t VAT-registered, so we need our customers to see the value in what we deliver.
“Long term, to keep the quality in the business, we want to forge strong relationships with the colleges and take on apprentices and help individuals to develop their skills and a career with us. We have taken on two on those terms and it has worked well, so we want to build on that.”
The pride Spooner takes in delivering for customers is clear. In this industry, being a true professional can make all the difference.