At a Glance
Painting and finishing of high-density, multifamily residential structures
“Anyone with a station wagon and a paintbrush can be a painter,” says Sean Gibson, president of Absolute Painting Inc., but he knows first-hand that it takes a lot more than that to really succeed in the specialty-painting industry. Gibson makes sure his staff maintains a high level of expertise in its field and displays impeccable time-management skills to consistently keep the firm competitive.
Gibson started Absolute Painting in Hillsborough, New Jersey, with one of his cousins in 1995 and brought on his brother Ryan as vice president a few years later. Although the company started out doing mostly single-family and condo developments, the brothers realized around 1998 that developers in their area were much more focused on building up than building out—so they decided to move their work in that direction.
Making the switch from single-family to mid- and high-rise developments required a radical shift in thinking for Gibson as he tried to reorient his systems and processes to the new type of job site. “If you go in to these buildings as if they’re a single-family home, you lose,” Gibson says, explaining that the key to making the transition was being willing to completely rethink his approach. “All the systems that you have for single-family [projects], you almost have to throw them out the window. We really had to go backwards to move forwards.”
Top 5 Practices for a Successful Finishing Company
1. Keep your product knowledge up-to-date. “Especially with things going green,” Gibson says, it is critical to have an exhaustive understanding of your products.
2. Find knowledgeable, conscientious on-site supervisors. “In my experience, if you don’t have good on-site management,” Gibson says, “your life is miserable.”
3. Cultivate strong vendor relationships because those ties make every project go more smoothly.
4. Buy good takeoff software because it’s user-friendly and saves time. Gibson recommends a program called E-Takeoff.
5. Hire a top-notch support staff. None of Absolute Painting’s success would be possible without its expert in-house staff, Gibson says.
One thing the firm had in its favor was the fact that its first big high-rise job—a loft conversion of a former toothpaste factory—was handed its way after the original painting contractor was kicked off the job. “Nothing made sense,” Gibson says about the way the original contractor had approached the job. While that was unfortunate for the client, it was an opportunity for the Absolute Painting crew. The original contractor had left a clear road map of how not to handle large-scale painting work.
Running that project, Gibson established new systems for timing, division of labor, and on-site management that he has since refined and carried forward ever since. “We’re constantly refining everything,” he says. “We’re always looking for a better, faster, more efficient way.”
Efficiency is certainly good for any business, but it’s particularly critical for a painting contractor. If (but really, when) there are unforeseen delays on a project, the finishing contractors, as the last tradespeople on-site, are the ones stuck under the gun. “We’re always the go-to guys to make up the time,” Gibson says, “and we pride ourselves on never compromising on quality.”
Time management is one pillar of Absolute Painting’s success, and exhaustive product knowledge is another. Gibson’s employees are well-versed in every product the company uses, but they’re also knowledgeable about the surfaces they apply them to—and about virtually any other product an architect might decide to specify. It’s especially important, Gibson says, to keep current on green coatings, learning about both their environmental benefits and their long-term performance. With the breadth of experience in its staff, Absolute Painting is not only able to deliver quality craftsmanship on time and under budget; it can also ensure that clients choose the best products for the job at hand, whatever it might be. ABQ