Tyler Hansen of Beachwood, NJ
Showing up with a beard in a land of razors might not always get you the job—but neither, some say, does putting that razor to work and looking like you’re too young to know a quart from a gallon. New Jersey painter Tyler Hansen goes out scruffy in a society that likes to shave, but he makes it his shtick; he’s grown out his business as The Bearded Painter, and he cuts an imposing figure bolstered by open-hearted friendliness and a strong work ethic.
Sometimes you just have to be who you are. “I have a big ol’ beard and paint all over my clothes and I’m not a clean cut guy,” he acknowledges. “Most people in New Jersey are, so it makes me stand apart, but as soon as I start talking about paint, they realize ‘this guy knows what he’s doing.’ I have to have a beard,” he says. Even at age 29, in some eyes, he still looks a little too young to do the job.
He’s also got to know what he’s talking about because Painting By Tyler isn’t the cheapest cut on the block. But he’s been around that block a few times, with over ten years’ experience already. And he’s not afraid to ask other folks for help if needed.
“I started when I was 16, with a friend who had a painting company,” he said. “He took me on and trained me up.” A couple years later he jumped on with another painter who took him a step further, teaching him production-style painting but at the same time showing him faux techniques and how to really do up a house; how to succeed at those jobs where you’re there for three months and you’ve worked a coating into every nook, cranny, cubbyhole, and hard to reach spindle.
Tyler became a husband at age 20 and a father at 21, and one of the first big decisions in the new marriage was to toss the roller and hang up the brush (after cleaning it, of course). They didn’t think painting could pay the bills. He joined an HVAC firm and started giving private guitar lessons, but when the economy went south in the waning years of the ’00s, a lot of folks put their guitars down and Hansen replaced his music money by painting on the side. A second child came along, and since Hansen wasn’t enjoying HVAC work, he decided to take that brush down and try painting one more time.
“A friend helped me with recommendations and soon we were booked out three or four months,” he said. “I gave three weeks’ notice and it’s been a wild ride ever since.”
With several years of informal apprenticeship under his belt, Hansen still needed some way to make himself stand out—something more than a beard and a 10-color smock. He makes sure to give the customer more than “just a paint job;” he wants to provide a positive and memorable experience.
What’s the difference? That old one-two-three of customer service. “For example, before we start, I ask the customer if they can give me a list of things they’d like us to do every day,” he says. If they need a door closed to keep dogs in or out, if they want him to leave the drops dropped, pick up the drops, whatever it is, with Painting By Tyler the customer gets it their way.
“I worked for a lady with three dogs and 27 cats and she wrote me a nice letter saying she wasn’t worried about me doing what she asked me to do. It’s more the experience than the paint job,” he said. “It’s both, definitely, but that separates us from many painters.”
Superior on the Interior
“Play to your strength” is another of his ideas, so most of the time, Hansen pitches it inside. He’s done many interior jobs where he’s had to fix problems created by the previous painter or a homeowner who was convinced he could paint like a pro. “We try to stick to interiors and cabinet painting,” he said. “Those are our specialties. I will only do an exterior if it’s for a really good customer and I’ve already done interior work for them. Then way they know what to expect.”
The experience starts by taking a look at the house he’s painting and working out what’s most convenient for both Painting by Tyler and the occupants who will be painted by Tyler. “I try to give the homeowner direction on what will help us the best,” he said. That might sound selfish, but it also saves the customer money and gets Tyler out of the way faster. “I have them move as much furniture and things as they can out of the room. I try to go top to bottom, but we do what’s more convenient for them.”
Even though he’s under 30, he likes to do a room like he’s over 50. “I know a lot of guys do trim first, then mask it off and do the walls. I do it old school— ceiling, walls, then trim. I still find that to be one of the fastest ways.”
As paint reformulates though, so does his strategy. “We are changing the way we paint because paint is changing all the time,” he noted. “We used to be able to cut a room all at one time and then roll two coats, no problem.” Now with paint being faster dry and laying down differently, Hansen has to rethink. “We can’t cut in a whole room and then roll. We have to cut in one wall complete, then roll it on one coat at a time, Otherwise we notice severe flashing issues. It almost looks like we didn’t cut in—it’s more like two colors,” he said. You’ve got to pay attention to product as well, he noted. “Since we started to use Emerald by Sherwin-Williams we haven’t had any more of these issues.”
But still, he doesn’t know everything, and he’s quick to ask people who have the answers he doesn’t. “I always keep a good relationship with my paint reps,” he said. “I talk to one of my reps three or four times a week. If it’s nine at night and I’m sitting on the couch thinking about what I want to paint and I have a question about a new product, for example, he’ll give me all the data and info.” Cabinet painting in particular gets Tyler on the phone, because of their special coatings needs.
Then there’s pro contractor Nick Slavik, or as Tyler calls him, The Paint God. Slavik, based in New Prague, Minnesota, has gained some fame with his “Ask a Painter” internet segments (not to mention being on the cover of The Paint Contractor). Homeowners and painters alike have found him a great source of coatings wisdom. “He knows everything about everything,” Hansen says. “We’ve been part of the same painter’s group. We’ve never met but we’ve chatted, so if I have a super technical question I hit him up and he’ll have an answer for me in a few hours. You could spend two days talking about the difference between water and oil with that man!” But Hansen doesn’t abuse the privilege. “I try to be very specific with my questions,” he said.
You Too Can Be a Winner!
When I win the lottery, I’ll give you a call.”
That might be funny, but not if it’s in response to your estimate. It could mean that your estimate’s too high or your customer has unrealistic expectations. Or it could be a combo of both, but the Hansen experience, as he’ll be the first to tell you, isn’t on the McDonald’s dollar menu. “A lot of people don’t know how much painting costs if you’re going to do it the right way,” he said. It’s discouraging when they answer his estimates with lottery jokes. “It’s not so much that you didn’t get the job, it’s that they had no idea it was that much.”
That being the case, Tyler tries to make sure customers realize what goes into a paint job and why it costs what it does. “We usually are higher, but they understand what they get with me.”
Along with that, he fights the idea that people paint because they can’t do anything else, or that he should get a Schick and a real job. “I think that the stereotypical painter is usually thought of as a drug addict or alcoholic. People don’t look at painters as intelligent or clean or smart business people, and that’s an uphill battle all the way,” he observed.
Tyler doesn’t have time for such things, because he’s got a business to run and a family to feed. But we all have days where we just ain’t feelin’ the latex, and you have to work extra hard to make that professionalism kick in. We can go back to his guitar, which he plays in a church band—and while he’s there he’s not afraid to appeal to a higher power. “If things are that bad, I usually shoot up a prayer,” he says, “Also I have three kids and I’ve got to put food in their mouths.” He lets others inspire him towards continuing success. “I listen to a lot of entrepreneurial podcasts, like Gary Vee, for example. I might be down, but if I stay down, the guy next door is going to go to work and beat me, so I need to go to work and beat him. It may be selfish, but it’s my self-motivation.”
Another thing is to stay on top of the crew and learn to understand their moods, because he’s not the only one that might come to work on a day when life weighs heavy on his mind. “My lead painter is my younger brother and I can tell if he’s in one of his moods or he’s not having a good day. I’ll sit him down and chat with him and see what’s going on. Sometimes I’ll just give him a day off, but usually after a little conversation he’s back to it.”
Besides, customers don’t have time to wait for him to get it together. It’s no secret that New Jersey is next to New York, and the fast pace spills over. “I have to be very responsive. We get estimates out in 24 hours so we can keep up.”
One thing that helps: he doesn’t lose time shaving in the morning.