Painting a Picture of Success
Woman-owned commercial painting contractor has been raising the bar for more than a quarter century
For 26 years, Michele Wheeler has been at the helm of Wheeler Painting, Inc., a full-fledged commercial painting contractor primarily serving Washington, although projects do take them into Oregon, Northern California and Idaho. From its founding in 1991 until today, every year has brought new adventures.
A graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in communications marketing and a minor in business administration, Michele initially brought that experience into the workings of the company but over the years has achieved a true hands-on role, splitting her time between the office and in-field. As she explains, “You can’t ask someone to do something that you haven’t had experience doing yourself. You need to understand the elements of what it takes to establish, run and oversee a project. Whether I’m directing a project from the field or from the office, I need to have working knowledge of what the crews are up against. They need to know I know what I’m doing to establish good leadership from the top down.”
Regarding her woman-owned business status, Michele doesn’t view that designation as something that has held the company back at all. While she recognizes that women might have a tougher time in this male-dominated industry, she remarks that personally she hasn’t struggled. “Whether I’m climbing ladders or on roofs or in crawl spaces, I get treated the same as my male counterparts.”
Recent jobs have included big names, such as The Gap, KFC and Chase Bank, as well as several local school districts and smaller one-off projects for a host of general contractors throughout the region and beyond. Wheeler Painting has its hand in everything from new construction to rebranding—with an emphasis on providing integrity, quality and craftsmanship. As Michele notes, “We see ourselves not as applicators but as craftsmen.”
Catering to Client Needs
Extremely responsive to the needs of each project, the Wheeler team is there when they say they’re going to be there and they accomplish what they say they’ll do for the day. Michele explains, “A project is never held up because of us. We are very much team players, particularly in commercial projects where a GC has multiple elements in play at the same time. We’re invariably the first ones to provide a solution, particularly when you have multiple trades literally working on top of each other.” One example is their recent work on KFC’s rebranding effort. The Wheeler Painting team made themselves available as needed to suit the schedule of all involved. Michele knows that they can’t just say they will only work Monday to Friday, 8:30-4:00. To achieve the time-sensitive project’s goals, they adjusted their work schedule and shifts—at the price point they bid the project—with an understanding that their success is based on the project’s success. This philosophy holds true for any job they take on.
In fact, Wheeler’s overarching business philosophy is that they are in business to make their GCs look like rock stars. Michele says, “We’re not fighting for the limelight. If someone finds success with us on the team, they’ll want us back on the team. My job is made easier when the jobs come looking for us.” Repeat customers, in fact, make up a huge percentage of their work—nearing 93% in recent years.
Valuing Team and Community
As to the role of her experienced team, she makes no secret of their part in Wheeler Painting’s success throughout the years. She says, “I truly believe we have a corporate culture that’s like no other in the industry. I work very hard to put together a company that I would want to work for. We take care of our employees because I personally value our team. You can’t outsource this work and maintain the quality we value. Our crews should be compensated for being skilled tradesmen.”
In addition to an exemplary business culture, Michele and the Wheeler team make it a priority to give back to their community through a variety of charity work, always taking on several pro bono projects each year, supporting local churches, community centers, foodbanks or senior centers. As Michele sees it, community service is an extension of the work ethic they bring to everything they do.