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Two Words that Made this Contractor Tremble with Fear: Color Advice

MONDAY, MAY 2, 2011

By Burt Olhiser


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During my years of contracting I loved most everything about my career choice, with one exception:

Those occasions when I was asked by a client for color advice.

The reason for my dread and loathing was simple—I was terrible at it, or as my kids would say, “Dad, you suck at that.”

Of course my clients, like yours, no doubt just assume that because you’re a painting contractor, you possess this talent. And indeed, I have known many peers in the trade for whom this was true. But in my case, when this talent or gift was being handed out I must have been asleep or not present, as I missed the boat entirely.

One recollection that comes to mind that illustrates my shortcomings in this area happened early in my career, when I was still ignorant and arrogant enough to think that color expertise was something that I not only could, but should, possess.

While painting a client’s Victorian house inside and out, I was asked by the owner to consult with her on colors for her front room and parlor. In lofty tones about hues and lighting and such, I suggested she go with a pink and black motif with gold highlights, as she had pillows in those colors. Well, when we got it done, it looked like we’d painted Dolly Parton’s Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, I can tell you. And so, red of face, we repainted with off-whites—for free.

Being a thickheaded sort, however, I did not learn quickly and so contributed to a few more horror stories of a similar sort, until these reoccurrences caused me to gain enough humility to finally recognize and eventually even appreciate this limitation.

Appreciate? Yes, because coming to this conclusion allowed me to truly begin to provide my clients with professional services, which in the case of color consultation meant I referred them to others.

So, the question for this installment or our ongoing discussion is,

What do you do when a customer comes to you with color concerns?

• Never offer advice, recommending them instead to an interior designer or color expert;

• Offer to place test colors or “swatches” on a wall; or

• Whip out your fandeck and proceed to give advice on color selection?

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Burt Olhiser

Burt Olhiser founded Vantage Point Consulting in 1991 after a 15-year stint as a successful Northern California painting contractor. He initially provided safety, training and business consulting services to fellow contractors. He was an instructor at UC Davis’ EPA Western Regional Lead Training Center until the program’s closure, at which time he moved to UC Berkeley's Center for Occupational & Environmental Health program where he still serves today. Burt also served as Environmental Health & Safety Director and Quality Control Manager for one of California's largest industrial painting contractors. A member of SSPC, CSI, PDCA, and NACE, Burt is a CDPH Lead Related Construction Professional, Certified Asbestos Consultant, Certified Professional Estimator, and NACE Certified Coatings Inspector. Burt is a contributing editor to D+D.

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Tagged categories: Color; Color selection; Paint application; Purdy

Comment from Barbara Jacobs, (5/17/2011, 1:58 PM)

Burt gives a perfect example of the value of professional resources! When a client asks me about window treatments, I know just who to bring to the project. When asked my input for a painter,I've also got great resources for painters. After all, even painters can have specialties--not all do interior, and not all do exterior work! As a color consultant I particularly appreciate Burt's acknowledgement of the value that an architectural color consultant can bring to his own work and company, and the to the project overall!


Comment from lynne whiteside, (5/17/2011, 3:14 PM)

Choosing a color consultant is the fastest and easiest way to help your clients to their final goal, beautiful colors for their home. Recommending a color consultant also makes the painting contractor look more professional for thinking of the client First, because they are First. I can't talk about asbestos or safety issues, but I can educate and lead a client to great colors for their home. We all need each other to spread the wealth and knowledge. Hey Burt, thanks for being so open about what you can and can't do, it's refreshing.


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