College Pro Painters

The original student painting business celebrates 40 years

The story of College Pro Painters is truly a journey from rags to riches. Founded in 1971 by a student looking to save for university, the business celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with nearly 25,000 homes treated annually. Today, the company operates in local communities across seven Canadian provinces and 28 U.S. states.

In 1971, Greg Clarke started the company as part of his business school project at the University of Western Ontario in London. He looked at the liability of a larger model of a student painting franchising business. Today the company trains, certifies and employs college students as its franchisees, who then provide house-painting and window-cleaning services across North America.

Tony Valle, CEO of College Pro Painters, says, “What really attracts a young person is the chance at a very early age to get the entrepreneurial skills to build a small business in a supportive way. Each franchisee is connected to a coach. This puts business theory into practice at a very early time. They take risk, they have success, they have challenges to overcome, and at the end of the day they have to satisfy customers, work with employees and make a profit.”

Finding needles in a haystack

College Pro Painters has about 720 painting and window cleaning franchisees, which stay on for an average of one year. Valle adds, “We have to find those needles in a haystack, the young person who fits and is willing to take the risk.”

Rodney Larmand, President of College Pro Painters, joined as a student when he was attending the University of Guelph.

Larmand says, “It was the idea of running a business, having employees, sales, control over my success that attracted me to the company.”

Larmand moved to Toronto to run the franchise in 1990 where he went through training, in terms of the financial aspects of running a business, adding, “We have significant training on how to run the business and also on how to paint. There is a big focus on safety, so any franchisee is certified in estimating, selling, and all the safety precautions.

“As a full-time employee I did not own my own business but there is a lot of autonomy and freedom in terms of how you are working. The goals are around the success of our franchise managers and our painters, and that concept of having an influence in the development of people.”

Once students join the company and then graduate from university with an eye to become part of full-time operations, many graduate to production training, learning the theory and concepts of how to produce a job safely. The training starts in April and runs until May, during which time they produce two jobs and work with real customers. A painter will go through 40 hours of training and then it is continual coaching where daily goals are set. Valle adds, “They are on the job with a full-time employee, really reviewing how to organize a job, produce a job, and working with the customer.”

Cleaning and painting for all

Employees are equipped to handle all painting needs, including complete exteriors, wood-siding, garages, decks, trim work, fences, stucco and vinyl siding. Cleaning is available for interior and exterior windows, siding, gutters and eaves, storm windows are removed, cleaned and reinstalled, and screens are brushed to remove loose dirt.

College Pro Painters’ aim this year is to double its operations. “During the recession, the fourth we have been through in our history, our key focus was other services suitable to students such as window cleaning,” says Larmand. “Our big goal is to have varying experiences for young entrepreneurs. We are looking at a bunch of different businesses. We fought through and gained market share through the recession, but we really want to be double what we are.”

While it works toward this goal, the company’s competitive advantage is to have the best employees. Larmand adds, “Anyone can have a student business but we add all that training on how to produce a job, how to speak to a client, and do a good job safely. We also need to look after the customer. We need to be their choice.”