I recently had the opportunity to speak with some Estimate Rocket users about their businesses. It was a wonderful chance to get to know our customers and learn about how they got to where they are today. In this series, we’ll share stories about what they did before, how they got started, and their experiences along the way.
This time, I had the privilege of speaking with Mike Kremsreiter, owner of DBK Painting.
What were you doing before you started your business?
I was actually working for a computer company doing inside sales. I was sitting at a desk making cold calls trying to sell technology, and painting on the weekends.
What made you decide to start a business?
I’ve always been good with my hands. My dad is a very hands-on kind of guy and I was always helping do little things around the house growing up. When I got to college, I was looking for a summer job, and painted with a few exterior painting companies for a couple of summers. It was something I realized I was really good at and enjoyed, so I picked up a lot of side work.
After college, I wanted to try to use my degree. I ended up in corporate America and didn’t like it. I was doing okay but I got tired of going to the office every day, being in the same place, and sitting at a desk. It just wasn’t fulfilling for me.
I was starting to make just as much money, if not more, painting on the weekends. I had a few big job opportunities come up and that drove me to decide to pursue painting as a full-time thing in 2003. The moment the word got out that I was available full-time and not just for side work or on the weekends, it snowballed.
What are the most difficult parts of running your own business?
The most difficult part for me is being able to turn it off. As a sole proprietor, wearing all of those different hats, it can be tough to turn off the business because you’re always thinking about it. The phone is always ringing, you’re always thinking about the next job and who’s going to be doing it. It’s really hard to say “I’m not going to answer my phone. I’m not going to pay attention to work right now. I need a break. I’m in family mode or I’m in personal mode.” It’s hard because when you have a free moment, you want to take care of something. You always have something on the list to get done.
A very difficult part right now in the trades is finding qualified individuals that want to come to work every day and want to learn and do an honest day's work. I can sell the work and provide a lot of work to my guys, but it’s trying to find the guys to do all those jobs that makes running this business difficult. This time of year gets extremely busy, no matter how well you prepare. The guys I have are pretty good. They’re self-reliant once you put them out there and do pretty well. I’m lucky to have them, but could use more guys like them.
What are the most rewarding parts?
The two things that I found very rewarding are building a brand and a name for ourselves, and providing a good service to our customers.
We do 95 to 98 percent residential work, so the jobs that we do are changing where our customers live and making it better. It’s always awesome to see their faces at the end of a project and how we have transformed their home. It makes people feel good when you do that work, so it’s very rewarding.
Being my own boss is also nice and I can create my own hours. I have two young children, and I’m able to be involved in their lives in the morning or be able to pick them up after school. The extra time I get with them makes the hard parts of owning a business very worth it.
What advice would you give to someone starting a similar business today?
Set it up as a business from the start. I took the long road to getting where I’m at in my business structure. I started off as a sole proprietor working for myself and when it came to the tax structure, I didn’t have separation. I was just basically a contractor working under my name.
It was less expensive and less paperwork, but I found the transition to having employees and separating of myself from the company hard to do. If I would have started my business right off the bat as either an LLC or incorporated, it would have allowed me to grow a lot faster and would have made taking on employees a lot easier. When I started hiring guys, I always treated them as subcontractors and 1099’d them. Technically they were probably employees by definition, but I didn’t realize it at the time and had to change my whole structure because it’s what was best for my clients and employees.
It’s hard to change in anything, because you’ve done it a certain way for so long you get very comfortable. Even though you learn there is a better way, you have to allow yourself to do it. Just pull the band aid off. Just change. You will be glad you did.
Also, try new technology and see how it can help you utilize the hours in your day. One of those examples of new technology for me would be Estimate Rocket. Transitioning was super, super difficult for me, because I had been using the same system for twelve or thirteen years. But I forced myself to jump straight in and cut the ties with my old system and now I’m so much more productive.
Where do you see yourself and DBK Painting in the next 10 years?
The first step for me was getting out of the field on a daily basis. When I made the transition to do mostly estimating and the management of the company, that allowed me to grow. Right now, the challenge of finding employees is holding me back a bit, but I need to force myself to not go work on a daily basis. Some business owners don’t necessarily have the knowledge to go and do the work, but I do, and I’m still enjoying it, so it’s hard to force myself not to go do that work, even though I can.
Since I want to be less involved in the field and the production, my next steps would be to hire a production manager and project manager or a combination thereof. They would take over those aspects so I can concentrate on the estimating, sales, and possibly work more with training our guys. In five to ten years I want to have all of those things in place, where I can step out of some of the day-to-day aspects and into the larger vision of networking and getting future work.
Thanks so much, Mike for taking the time to talk with me about DBK Painting!