Painting business back in broad strokes

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Greg and Kathy Unseth of Unseth Painting & Windows started their business 30 years ago.

Greg and Kathy Unseth of Unseth Painting & Windows started their business 30 years ago.

When Greg Unseth started his painting business in 1981, his wife Kathy and their kids waited in the car while he gave estimates to potential customers.

“We just crossed our fingers,” Kathy Unseth said. “He would come back to the car, and I’d say, did you get a down payment?”

These days, Greg and Kathy and their two children are still a team in Greg Unseth Painting and Exteriors and this month they are celebrating their 30-year anniversary in the painting business. The business has gone from “a handful of jobs a year to 780 jobs last year,” Greg Unseth said. Today, the company employs 70 crewmembers and sees about $4 million in annual revenues.

“Our biggest change has been adding on new services,” Greg Unseth said. “We were strictly a paint company for 22 years.”

Greg Unseth ran paint and hardware departments for Montgomery Ward stores until 1981 when he left the company and moved his family back to Colorado Springs. He met up with an old friend who was building houses.

“Next thing you know, I was painting houses,” he said. “He was building them and I was painting them.”

In 1986 he printed up fliers and his family went door-to-door and his business turned into re-paint jobs. He estimates his crews have painted 13,000 houses in the Colorado Springs area. In recent years, he started doing windows and now Greg Unseth Painting and Exteriors does just about any job on the outside of the house, including gutters, decks and fences.

The 2008 housing crisis nearly took Greg Unseth Painting under. Revenue plunged in 2009 to just about $640,000.

“People were cautious about where they put their money,” Greg Unseth said. “They stopped doing home improvement.”

The business made a full-court press into Internet marketing, they expanded business into Pueblo and they added services, including stucco over siding — a new trend becoming popular, especially on older homes. And, they returned to marketing a strategy that had worked for them years ago: door-to-door sales.

“We were talking to homeowners on their front porch,” Greg Unseth said.

By the end of 2010 revenues were up 400 percent. And now, the painting company is budgeting a 50 percent increase in 2011.

“With homes being devalued and it being hard to sell your house, I think the attitude is ‘let’s fix it up’,” Greg Unseth said.

Experts in the home improvement industry are predicting that same shift in attitude. Across the country, homeowners are expected to spend more money in 2011 remodeling their homes, according to the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity report released this month by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Spending on home improvement is expected to be up 6.5 percent in the third quarter of 2011.

Already local lenders, including Ent Federal Credit Union, have reported an increase in applications for home improvement loans in the last three months compared to the same period a year ago.

“Most people realize money in the bank is not working for them,” Greg Unseth said. “They might as well invest in the home, at least they will have a nice place to live.”

March kicks off the painting company’s busy season. From now to November Greg Unseth Painting and Exteriors will do about 90 percent of the year’s revenues.

“Right now there is a lot of deferred maintenance in this town,” Greg Unseth said. “People have sat in their homes and have not fixed them up — and now they are starting to move and spend money.”