Colin and His Wide Brush

Years ago, a colleague of mine told me how he had once doubled his rate of pay, simply by using a 4-inch wide brush for piecework – rather than the 2-inch brush his boss had given him.

Steve Maxwell
Steve Maxwell

When technology shifts, it creates new profit opportunities. That’s happening in all areas of the economy, including the painting business.

And to understand how, you need to hear a story told by Colin, a rides maintenance mechanic I met while I was working at Canada’s Wonderland, an amusement park north of Toronto, when it opened in 1981.

Before Wonderland, Colin worked in a fiberglass shop making canoes. On his first day there his new boss handed him a 2-inch wide paint brush, a tub of polyester resin and a sack of fiberglass cloth – just like all the other guys were using. The boss paid piecework for every canoe laid up over the molds, and this gave Colin an idea. It wasn’t long before he snuck his own 4-inch wide brush into the shop and, keeping it quiet, nearly doubling his output and his pay. The boss noticed how fast this new guy worked, but whenever he came to ask questions, Colin hid his 4-inch wide brush, pulling out the standard-issue 2-inch brush instead. Eventually Colin’s competitive advantage was discovered, everyone in the shop was given 4-inch brushes and the piecework rate got cut in half.

Today’s best painting business innovations are like Colin’s wider paintbrush in more than one way. When only a few people have innovations, it translates into more money. But by the time everyone is “using a wide brush” so to speak, market competition eliminates the financial advantage. So what are today’s new advantages in the painting business? The best ones have nothing to do with spreading paint faster and better, but rather about running your business more easily and efficiently. That’s why you’ve really got to read about the experiences of a painter named Brandon Lewis on page 26. If ever there was a “wide brush” to make your business run more profitably, Brandon’s ideas are it.

The trick in all this is discerning the real advances from the imposters, choosing the best ideas for your painting business, then keeping ahead of the crowd. Big brushes are only good when the other guys’ brushes are small.

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