Sometimes I ask myself how I got to this point in my career; I started with no more than a passing interest into eco and sustainable painting. Sustainable paints are now at the core of my business and I aim to use them wherever possible. Like any business, since starting out in self-employment in 1998, it’s been a continuous challenge: endless work, deadlines, cash flow, chasing late payments, 60-day payment terms, challenging customers and work/life balance issues! Working all hours becomes a way of life – why? Because of the aforementioned points and never knowing what lies ahead (if anything at all). Maintaining a focus to prevent disillusionment can be a challenge on it’s own.
Painting an Education
One of my past customers lacked any business morals when it came to paying for my work. I ceased work to prevent any financial black marks and I wasn’t prepared to run on the self-employment treadmill any longer. On reflection to cease trading was my first mistake. I should have just mothballed the business leaving an opportunity to return. My second mistake was relying on a dubious customer to pay his invoice and failing to prevent the situation. In hindsight, I do believe things happen for a reason and this was one mighty learning curve.
At this point I’d finished with painting and had no intentions to pick up a brush again. Taking time out put my thoughts into perspective as I thought about my other skills and attributes. I realised painting was all I knew and deep down I didn’t really want to abandon everything I’d learnt over the passing years. During this time, I had almost finished painting a narrowboat when I had a visit from Maurice, a painting acquaintance, who gave me an encouraging chat which resulted in teaching painting and decorating at a local college.
Frustrations had started to build and I was in at the deep end. I had felt all fired up for some time and things were good. I remember being inspired after speaking to Maurice and achieving my teaching qualification was a big milestone. It led to four years of moving around various colleges and education establishments. It was during the last 18 months of this period that disappointment began to set in. Working for agencies in colleges and other establishments, the main topic of conversation was of scaling back, cutting courses and redundancies – nothing positive was evolving at this stage.
In comparison to my first year, remuneration was reducing with each new temporary position. My days consisted of large amounts of repetitive paperwork, covering irrelevant short courses and being advised that not hitting benchmarks meant no position. To top it all off, I was assigned students with no interest in decorating. I had a growing realisation that my situation was not going to improve.
Two relevant pieces of advice given to me in the past stood out at this moment in time. I had done some work for an ex college lecturer and mentioned my urge to venture into teaching to him and he warned me off for the very same reasons that I had just experienced. I had also worked with an old decorator who helped me out when I needed an extra pair of hands. He claimed that working self-employed for a considerable amount of time led to certain ways such as being able to make your own decisions and becoming regimented in your own work habits. Joining a large organisation is a challenge in itself as working for someone else is difficult without feeling frustrated or hemmed in. How true that was! Life was rigid from start to finish as I followed the status quo. I felt it was time for me to return to the brush despite experiencing a rewarding and reflective career in education. A course on sustainability reignited my spark for working with natural paints.
Nouveau Decor with Sustainable Paints
This time I intended to focus on two specific areas of the business: natural materials and high-end work. In order to succeed I needed to be selective without being detrimental to Nouveau Decor. I had previous experience of water-based paints in their infancy and I was not impressed with the results, nor was I happy with the changes solvent-based paints were going through to cut emissions. I needed something that ticked the boxes of both application and finish. There was however an overriding reason, that of health and environmental benefits of natural paints:
1. Renewable resources
2. None toxic and compostable ingredients
3. Less energy to produce thus creating a low carbon footprint
4. Chemical free
5. Low or odour free
The potential hazard to health from the chemicals of synthetic ingredients in this new generation of paints is high. I appreciate that synthetic paints are now regarded as environmentally friendly due to their reduced volatile organic compounds (VOC). This does not convince me that there are no adverse health issues, particularly after feeling the effects myself on my throat and chest. This is more noticeable after working with natural paints for a while and then returning to synthetic paints.
I now have a biased opinion, however it is based on forty years of experience and research of these paints and I know that I prefer to use sustainable paints and where I want to use them in order to achieve the best results. I first attended a natural paint training day at Mike Wye & Associates around 2004 and a day to further understand these paints at Womersley’s. Since then I have researched all the information I possibly can to establish a set of suppliers whose paints I can rely on (see our suppliers on our home page). I have a good working relationship with Oricalcum and I met with Edward Bulmer Natural Paint to see their products before returning to Mike Wye for an updated course on their paints.
Choosing my Clientele
Now seven years on since restarting Nouveau Decor, I have learnt from my past mistakes. Even so, I still get it wrong every now and then, but I suppose that’s a reality check. High-end work selection evolved from reading “The Modern Painter & Decorator” by Arthur Seymour Jennings (Caxton, 4th ed, 1947). A paragraph titled ‘Business Individuality’ explains that “every painting and decorating business develops along individual lines” and goes on to say “skilled craftsmen will attract commissions worthy of their abilities” and the work of a “mediocre standard will not be of an exacting nature.” A painter’s reputation is built of their capabilities and he/she should make up their mind of the class of job they are capable of doing. Another point he makes is “fine quality work certainly costs more, but more time must be spent on it.”
The factors written here will live on however old they may be, making them relatable to today’s business. I relate to these by:
• focusing on continually building a reputation
• being individual in determining where I want to be in the trade and what I want to use
• client realisation of project costs
Only a select proportion of customers can relate to the true costs behind a project. I have built up a reputation for what I do and I do it well. I worked up from the bottom and understand my objective. We live in an age where some consumers interpret quality as a desire for the best whilst paying a cheap price, regardless of the amount of work needed to achieve this. Customers need to be realistic when thinking about their budget and the time I need to complete their project.
My original idealism of operating a decorating business and taking on everything has had to change. Exploring this sector of a niche market working with my primary choice of natural and traditional paints has proved to be a positive step.
Is it working?
Yes. Although occasionally using synthetic materials is inevitable in my line of work, since moving towards sustainable paints the business has gained momentum, I don’t view this as a negative point as it reinforces the quality of work I have a reputation for. It should be understood by potential clients that whatever the material, the objective is the same.
Working with sustainable paints at this level means the client generally hands over to a project manager, builder and or designer. I have not yet come across one of these professionals who appears to explore natural paint compared to trade brand synthetic or designer paints. I consider this a great shame and a missed opportunity to realise the benefits and product quality. Why did I take this decision? I need to stimulate interest in what I do. To continue doing the same old repetitive decorating from when I first started out does nothing to maintain interest. Variation equals satisfaction and focusing on high quality work reinforces that satisfaction.
To read about my previous career history and decorating experience, check out my last blog post here.