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Nick Kozak for the Toronto Star
Case Studies
Posted: August 14, 2012
by Andrew Seale

Business hinges on freelancers, but staffing model slows growth for Wow1Day Painters

Vital Stats
Owner:
Brian Scudamore
Address:
301-887 Great Northern Way. Vancouver, B.C. V5T 4T5
Contact:
604-909-3250
Field:
Painting services
Employees:
60
Years in Business:
2
Offering:
Single-day business and home painting
Notable:
Sister company to 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, the world’s largest junk removal business.

For 1-888-WOW-1DAY! Painting, the name says it all.

The Vancouver-based business, founded two years ago by Brian Scudamore (the brains behind junk collection franchise 1-800-GOT-JUNK?) and veteran painter/entrepreneur Jim Bodden, follows a unique model — using freelancers and subcontractors to complete normally week-long paint projects, in a single working day.

But ensuring enough staff are on hand without the lure of traditional employment benefits – steady pay, consistent hours, etcetera – is a constant struggle, and finding talented freelancers that show up on time (often on short notice) and don’t mind varying salaries presents a significant challenge. This is slowing the business’ potential expansion, and with little brand recognition to speak of — and a business model that’s very easy to copy — expansion will be key to getting a jump on imitators.

Still, the company’s growth defies its staffing issues. In two years, Wow1Day has expanded from a single Vancouver operation to include 15 franchises across Canada, and now has 60 regular staff, not counting freelancers. The company employs a plethora of painters, from industry veterans to cash-strapped students, and even subcontracts work to established paint crews when demand requires.

Jobs vary in size, from small living rooms and bedrooms to entire houses and condos, and anywhere from one to 16 painters are used to complete projects. Contracts range in value from $800 to $4,000, and completing them on time depends entirely on a franchise’s ability to coordinate painters and allocate manpower effectively.

Bodden says cynics claim the Wow1Day model is unrealistic, but adds that its reputation is built on surpassing what clients think is possible.

“Any painter who’s been out there working for a while does jobs in one day,” says Bodden. “Why can’t you paint 10 rooms with 10 painters in one day — it’s the same thing.”

It also keeps the job site cleaner, as crews are in and out without leaving paintbrushes, tarps and other supplies that can clutter a client’s space for days at a time.

As a result, demand is high — including at its newest franchise in Toronto, run by owner Simon Hermant and general manager Pat Findlay.

“The business model lends itself to having to hire the highest quality painters because (it) doesn’t work if we have to go back and touch things up,” says Hermant.

Almost every job uses freelancers, and some require a significant amount of outside help.

“Last week we had a $4,000 contract and had nine guys come in,” he says.

The franchise averages five projects a week, and Findlay and Hermant hope to eventually run two to three jobs a day. But they face the same staffing problem as the rest of the company, and t simply takes a long time to build up a reliable group of freelancers.

In many cases the team only gets two to three days notice before a job, regardless of its size and complexity. Large chunks of the roster are frequently unavailable because, without a guarantee of employment, painters have no reason to turn down other contracts when offered.

“A lot of these guys do have their own work,” says Findlay. “They’re not willing to drop the hat to come the next day.”

When it’s the 11th hour and regular freelancers aren’t available, the company has to hire referrals from clients and other painters. So far this hasn’t caused a problem, but with a brand still in its infancy, one sub-par job or delay caused by an absent painter could put the company’s image on shaky ground.

And with a job market full of people just looking to make a buck, says Ronald Burke, professor emeritus of organizational studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business, it’s only a matter of time before a bad seed makes its way onto Wow1Day’s roster.

Still, he says the company’s business model does have advantages.

“Staffing (is) inexpensive and quick, and it obviously provides stability in a sense that if you’re busy, hire people, and if you’re not, don’t,” he says.

Each Wow1Day requires two permanent employees to form its backbone – a foreman and a skilled painter. Foremen are typically paid $28/hour and skilled painters between $20 and $24/hour, a rate typical in the industry. Freelancers and contractors are added as needed. Their pay is contingent on skill level, so workers aren’t being lured in by salary.

But, Bodden says, being an established brand following a well-known workflow — and payment structure — does give the company an edge.

And finding potential staff isn’t a problem — today’s shaky job market means there are lots of applicants. The problem is ensuring workers are of a high calibre and that they’ll stick around long enough to help grow the little-known company’s reputation.

Burke, for his part, says Wow1Day needs to work on growing that brand fast, because a staffing model can’t be patented, and franchise businesses are very easy to copy.

Hermant knows this is important, but says he still prefers a sure-footed approach.

“We don’t want to be running before we walk,” he says, “and we can’t do three jobs a day until we have a bigger roster of really high quality painters.”

EXPERT VIEWS

As Interviewed by:

Wow1Day’s main challenge comes down to managing staff availability. If they’re just planning jobs over the phone or email, they can make scheduling much easier with the right applications. There aren’t many great scheduling programs available off-the-shelf, but it may be worthwhile to have someone quickly develop a custom application that lets them post jobs and track staff availability. And, in the short term, they could even manually enter jobs on Google Calendar to share with contractors so they always know who’s ready to work. The other thing the company needs is a solid web presence. People search for painters online — they want effective advertising and SEO so they’re found first. The company doesn’t need a fancy website, just something that’s well optimized and provides testimonials, pictures of their work, their value proposition, and contact information. And it will also be important to engage with customers and ask them to write a quick testimonial on contractor review sites like homestars.com. This shouldn’t be a problem, because most clients will be happy to give a recommendation if the company does good work.

by Tisha Rattos

As a homeowner, I have to say this is a great idea. People, especially families with kids, want their homes back as fast as possible, so Wow1Day delivers something customers will value. Still, I appreciate that there are a lot of skeptics, so their reputation in the market will be important, and having a roster of reliable painters will be essential. It might be worthwhile to create an “A” team of two or three rock-solid painters and pair them up with newer or untested freelancers. That way there’s always someone ensuring quality control, and the company can leverage reliable people to weed out the those who can’t get the job done. It may also be appropriate to have a site contractor who can tour between jobs, make sure things are up to snuff, and call in extra help if needed — this will ensure the quality of their reputation. Interestingly, once they start tackling two or three jobs a day, the steady work will make it easier to keep good painters, and thus give some stability when it comes to sourcing qualified workers.

by Mike Michell

Wow1Day could be onto something with real growth potential, if they get some key foundational pieces in place. As mentioned, it isn’t hard to hire people; the challenge is in finding and retaining the right people. It’s important to have a number of levers in place to keep talent flowing into the company. A few options to consider are qualified referrals, retired tradespeople looking for part-time work, and potential staff entering the workforce that are open to new opportunities. Wow1Day can also train people to ensure their skill and service levels meet the quality they promise. This approach will help build a strong customer and employment brand — painters will want to be associated with Wow1Day. But retaining qualified sub-contractors may still be a challenge, so it might be worth offering a premium to maintain their availability and accept Wow1Day’s jobs. They could also give bonuses to sub-contractors who refer excellent workers, or who recommend the company to their clients. These may seem like additional costs, but really are an investment in a solid workforce, satisfied customers, and future business.

by Tara Talbot
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