The Perfect Paint Job

The hardest part of perfection is charging for it

Writing the article on doing the perfect paint job made me wince a little as I remembered some of my early jobs. They say you have to make mistakes to learn. I learned a lot.

Who knew that if you roll a freshly sanded wall over a floor that hadn’t been swept you’ll pick up all kinds of dust and transfer blobs of it onto the wall? I didn’t. And then, I thought I could fix the mess by sanding between coats; That didn’t work at all. I wasn’t willing to do the sweeping because my margins were so thin, but the contractor thought I was crazy to want to have a swept floor anyway. It took a few heated discussions with the contractor to get him to vacuum the house for us. I quickly learned he was not the kind of guy I wanted to work for if 1 wanted to be known for doing quality work.

I speak from experience when I say most painters settle for medium-range prices because they lack the confidence to walk into a customer’s home and ask for twice the going rate to do a superior job. I also found that, once I became proficient at painting, I lacked the selling skills to market myself correctly. I would take the time to do the little things right to get a great finish, but at my cost, because I didn’t charge enough. Then there were jobs 1 slaved away on and thought were pretty darn good, only to have the customer walk through the house with a magnifying glass. What I considered a perfect job turned out to be flawed. Imagine my horror the first time I saw a customer shine a bright light on the wall and look at it from an angle.

I began my first ulcer when I was subcontracted to spray-paint all the walls of a four-floor townhouse metallic silver. My first mistake was agreeing to do the job without a long discussion with the customer: The second was agreeing to do it for our standard rates, with a “little extra for preparation. The building wasn’t two years old yet and was still shifting. You can imagine the amount of nail pops we had to repair. There were serious bows in the walls from the randomly crowned green lumber that showed up as soon as the glossy finish was applied.

We slaved away for more than a week doing the plastering and priming, losing money and not enjoying my relationship with the contractor very much. The day after we finally sprayed, we came in to find the walls littered with little post-it papers highlighting imperfections; They were everywhere. What was worse was that most of the things the customer saw were only visible to him because of the way the light was at the time of day he examined the work. We couldn’t even tell what his problem was until we figured that out.

You might say we had a failure to communicate. The customer thought that the higher price to do this specialty finish gave him license to be brutally nit-picky. Meanwhile, I thought with the incredible degree of difficulty we faced in transforming a new condo into a car-like finish gave us some latitude. The customer had the gall to expect a discount, only to find out the contractor wanted to charge him even more for the aggravation. It turned out perfection would have cost a lot more than I was willing to charge and what the customer was willing to pay. No one was happy in the end, and I was least happy of all having lost my shirt to learn the lesson of perfection.