Color My World

Vince Bailey / August 2018

In several past columns, I’ve suggested that broadening scope is a good strategy for capturing more volume on the backlog without increasing the number of projects. After all, there are numerous construction services that are complementary to commercial metal framing and drywall. They include, for instance, insulation, paint, plaster and acoustical ceilings, just to name the most apparent. And suffice it to say, present economic conditions provide a ripe environment for acting on any contemplation of expanding the operation. Specifically, I would go so far as to suggest to a drywall subcontractor who only does framing and board, and is looking to broaden his horizons, that adding paint to the list of in-house activities makes the most sense for a number of reasons.
It’s readily apparent that the combining effect is going to make the bid package more attractive to the general contractor. Bundling not only streamlines the bidding and award process, but dealing with the fewest number of subcontractors possible makes delivery of the project vastly simpler and cheaper for him in the long run. And by including paint in the list of wall/ceiling services, the smart sub has already ingratiated himself on bid day to the GC by being the full-service Division 9 subcontractor, and thereby offering to make his life easier and his wedge of pie fatter.
Clearly, the advantages to adding paint to the mix go way beyond the obvious. Just in terms of interior finish, the edge one enjoys in performing the entire finish installation quickly becomes evident. Consider the control one gains on schedule, sequence and quality assurance simply because the drywall finishing and the painting are so closely related and interdependent. From something as critical as determining the volume of work to be readied for a work cycle to something as simple as sharing masking efforts, the positive cost effects immediately surface.
For instance, I have numerous times cited the advantage of using high-build primer over the outdated skim-coat method for achieving smooth Level 5 finishes. Being the paint sub, one who owes a prime coat on the drywall anyway, shooting a high-build primer in lieu of a skim coat after a Level 4 gains you the windfall of eliminating that entire step.
Another example of the scheduling advantages occurs on jobs that require spray texture. Due to harsh lighting conditions, many jobs require a prime coat of paint before texture to seal the product evenly and thus equalize the disparate porosity between the drywall mud and the wallboard paper face, thereby diminishing the consequent flashing effect. Depending on the size and sequence of the project, many stand-alone painters are loath to cycle a crew in, then go away and come back after the spray texture. It’s more costly for the painter, but it eliminates rework for the drywaller. But hey, if you’re performing both steps, cooperation prevails and contention dissipates. Prime before texture becomes company policy.
But this is narrow thinking when we only assess the paint scope as an interior drywall coating. The advantages to broadening scope with paint stretch beyond what we initially imagine. We tend to think of paint riding on the coattails of drywall when the nature of many projects is the exact opposite. It is commonplace to open the plans and find minimal framing and drywall work, but much in the way of paint. Think of a Wal-Mart superstore, where there are a few full-height walls and a few bulkheads, but a bazillion square feet of OTS dryfall. In such cases, it is the paint scope that is carrying drywall on bid day, not vice versa.
Then there are the stand-alone paint projects that add further justification for including a paint department in your approach. Concrete tilt-ups, parking garages, infrastructure projects and industrial facilities are examples of paint-only projects that have the potential for good profit.
Considering the evidence thus far, adding paint to your repertoire seems like a no-brainer, if you haven’t already. But like anything else worth its salt, it comes with a price. Not that the barriers to entry are high. Very little investment in equipment is needed to add paint to the program. But as we pointed out before, painting is not just a matter of covering the drywall. There are many aspects to painting that require an unanticipated level of sophistication. A typical commercial project demands extensive work in areas such as site and roof (site walls, gates, bollards, light-pole bases, screen walls, dormers)—areas unfamiliar to a studs-and-drywall estimator—that demand the eye and expertise of a specialist. Therefore, I strongly suggest to any commercial drywall contractor considering adding paint to the scope to include adding some overhead in the way of a qualified paint estimator who knows the ropes. Specialty coatings, wall covering and the aforementioned site work are all paint items that could easily place an unassuming drywall estimator in over his head. Obviously, number one on the list for adding a paint department would be adding a paint estimator.
Latent sophistication notwithstanding, any commercial drywall contractor who is thinking about increasing his odds on bid day by increasing his scope of work, my advice is to add paint. You’ll be adding some color to the world as a nice added benefit. I may be using a broad brush here, but I think that just about covers it.

Vince Bailey is senior estimator at Berg Drywall of Phoenix.