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What painters can expect on commercial painting projects



I was recently asked about working for a specific general contractor which prompted this post. Before I start I must make it clear that all general contractors and companies are different and by doing your due diligence prior to submitting your painting bid you will relieve a whole lot of headaches should you win the bid.  This post mostly talks about working for general contractors as a subcontractor.  When bidding work for owners like city, state, or federal many of the items apply but you typically will be paid on time, they have the money in their accounts.

We are professional painting contractors and know how to paint surfaces. What is different about working as a commercial painting contractor is that you really have to have a strong cash flow or savings account to make it work for your painting company. Many contractors (myself included) get excited about bidding the first few projects that are large six figure projects. What we don’t realize is that the money for the work comes in quite slow. Although most contracts state a 30 day term, if the general contractor has not been paid you will not be paid. So although you are submitting your billings as you should every 30 days if the owner of the commercial project has not paid the general contractor you will more than likely not be paid. This can drag on for six months or more. Not to mention that you may have a 5% or 10% retention payment that they will hold on until the project is closed out. Painters are lucky as we are normally the last contractors on the job so we shouldn’t have to wait as long as the excavation contractors, but we will still be waiting. This retention might be your profit on the job.

Some other considerations to consider are:

  • Increases in insurance policies. Many contractors require higher than normal umbrella and liability policies that will cost you more than you are paying now.
  • Safety.  Be prepared to have a job specific safety plan before your first day on the job.  Be ready to pay for your employees to sit through a one to two hour safety project orientation.  Expect to provide safety vests and hard hats to your staff that does’t already have them.
  • Create a job account with your paint supplier so your main account isn’t getting clogged up with all of the product you are purchasing for your commercial project.
    If the project goes over 30 days be ready to pony up the cost for the man lifts or scissor lift rentals before you see a dollar from the project.
  • Schedule. Commercial contracts are well planned and scheduled typically. So be prepared that when the contractor needs you on the job, you better be there and with enough man power to get it done. If you don’t be prepared for your contract to possibly take a hit.
    Keep track of change orders. Know your plans. You bid your project on a set of plans to come up with your pricing. Between the time you bid and your painting those plans could have changed over 20 times. If you don’t catch the changes you won’t get paid. The same goes for other trade damage to your completed work.
  • Wall coverings or commercial vinyl. If you are an experienced wall covering contractor you know this already but if you are not and bidding a project that has some wall vinyl scope be ready. If the material (wall paper) is not provided by the general contractor or owner of the project, get ready to do some phone dialing. Its so imperative to have a good relationship with a quality and knowledgable wall paper hanger.
  • Spraying equipment. Are you spraying elastomeric or block filler? That Titan 440i or Graco 695 will not be enough for your large job. Get ready to shell out over $3,000 for a new pump for your project, and $100’s on new tips. Maybe just an HOA or apartment complex. Same situation, you will want a gas powered pump for your larger scale projects. You can’t be hunting for outlets everyday and your pumps will be shot at the end.  Look at your data sheets and find out what size tips and pumps you need.
  • Ladders and other equipment. Keep track of everything on the job site, or better yet just take it away each night. Theft from other trades and vandals is a normal thing. Metal gas cans, extension cords, smaller ladders, are all those small high dollar value products that disappear. Also, remember that if your equipment is on the commercial site you will need to add other equipment to produce the residential work that will keep you cash flow rolling for the next three to six months.

There is a lot that goes into these projects and it is a very exciting time for you and your company.  The biggest take away is that you know your business the best.  Don’t let outside sources push you in a direction you don’t feel comfortable going.   I have just scratched the surface. I will add new thoughts as we move forward.

Thanks for reading.

Brad Bolinger