Greatest Job in the World

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Contractor Profile, Features


Marion Armwood of Goldsboro, NC

Marion Armwood believes in advertising, exposure, and just getting your name out there, because you never know where your next job is coming from. He does know that it won’t come at all if people don’t know he can paint. It starts off every morning when he gets into his van, because everyone who sees this brightly painted vehicle can tell there’s a painter inside. Is your number on your truck? Once Armwood got a call from the guy who was behind him in traffic.

“I was driving down the highway going home from a job and a guy called me and told me he was behind me and saw the van. He wanted me to do the dorms at a university over the summer,” he recalled.He’s not shy about getting the word out, be it the van, the internet, some t-shirts…“Anything for exposure,” he said. He spends a lot of time building his website and marketing on social media. “I used to advertise in newspapers more, but now it’s the Internet: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the website,” he said. His website is hoppin’ with photos of all kinds of jobs, showing a variety of interior and exterior projects from homes to hospitals. Take a tour and you’ll know who he is and what he paints.

Relax and Paint

Based in Goldsboro, NC, Armwood’s company, 1st Choice Painting, has been in business since 2003. He doesn’t consider it work so much as a chance to get up and do what he likes and come home with some coins in his pocket. Coming from a family of contractors, he knew he would follow in the family footsteps, but he needed to decide on a trade. His dad was in concrete, and his uncle was also in the trades. “I knew I wanted to be a contractor and I wanted to have my own business, but I had to figure out what I loved to do. Turned out it was painting. For me it’s relaxing and I love to do it,” he said. He started out as a residential painter, and he still does a bit of that, but he’s found more success in commercial.

Painting in all types of situations keeps him current with what’s changing all over the industry. What’s great with residential business, he noted, is that it keeps you on your toes as homeowners are on the whole much more particular then apartment owners needing repaint jobs. Often when the local Remax or Century 21 office needs a house painted before it goes on the market, they’ll give Armwood a shout. And since they can’t sell a house with last month’s colors, he’ll help them keep current. “That keeps me up with colors and what’s trending,” he said.

Commercial painting—and Armwood’s painted everything from apartments to car dealers to senior living condos to restaurants—takes a different mindset, and Marion has a good head to know what serves his customers best in these cases. If you’re painting a building of fast turnover apartments or dormitories, it’s a different approach from long-term residential. They want you in and done and out in time to rent. “In commercial, #1 is price and #2 speed,” he said. “If you can’t do either one of them you’re not going make it.” There are also different expectations. “They want you to do an OK job and be out before the deadline,” he said. “For residential they want quality—they don’t care much about how bad you want to get out, they want super-duper quality.

”Keeping on top of the latest equipment helps him with both types of work: getting a fast and low-cost bid in a commercial setting as well as investing more time into a residential project. “It’s about technique and getting to know the new equipment’s latest and greatest—now you can make the job faster and easier,” he noted. Something as simple as an 18-inch roller can make the difference, for example. “You can cover a lot of ground faster compared to the nine.”

It matters; since he works in a price driven side of the industry, he’s got to move fast and keep the overhead down. You won’t find a truckfull of 1st Choice painters on his clock sitting under a tree with crosswords and lemonade. Bidding a job that values price first has to take that low price into consideration, but when you’re one man and a truck, you can cut the fat out of a bid. “My cost is pretty low because I don’t have a lot of overhead,” said Armwood. “I don’t have a lot of people working on a job, and I have to keep busy. What matters is price, and how fast you can get it out.”

Well, a little more than that—you still have to do the work, after all, and your client has to feel secure hiring you on. “You have to have references. You have to be insured and have workers comp before they let you in the door.”

Many times he’s on the job himself, or he’ll bring someone along. “The good thing is I don’t have to have a lot of help,” he said. “Two guys can do a lot in a day pretty fast. Apartments are cookie cutter,” he observed, “everything the same. Commercial is different; do a restaurant and they go crazy with colors.” Website photos of the “Bounce House,” a place for kids to jump on inflatable amusement devices, show a stunning transformation from warehouse gray to all kinds of bold, happy in-your-face colors. Based on his references and reputation, he even got the job painting the mayor’s office in Mt. Olive, NC.


Brushes on Tour

As his business grows and with his kids grown up and out of the house, he’s covering more ground, finding jobs throughout North and South Carolina and Virginia, so his colorful van becomes more and more important as he moves through places where his name isn’t a household word. “This is a good thing about my job,” he said. “I can travel to different places and see different people. That’s why I love what I do—if I want to travel I just go out of town and paint. I’ve got the greatest job in the world. I tell my son, ‘find something you love to do and it’s not really work.’”

For folks starting out, he advises investing time into yourself and your work. After all, you’re most likely not the only painter in town. “You’ve got to be competitive. I do a lot of advertising, so people know me. You need to eat, sleep, and breathe with any kind of business you’re doing nowadays. There’s that old saying that you’re married to your work…that’s how it is. It’s that same kind of relationship you’ve got to deal with!”

And what’s better than to go eat at your favorite place and get their business as well? “I get most satisfaction, more than getting paid, in doing a 360 degree transformation. In Goldsboro, I painted a lot of commercial facilities, restaurants and stores, for example. It’s nice when you can go there and know you painted it. You don’t have to be a painter, if you just find what you love and you can do it, you have the greatest job in the world.” Armwood noted that from the time he first contacted us up to press time—just a few months—he has significantly increased the number of apartments he maintains. “Small companies can do big things,” he said.