Not by Numbers
Vork Brothers Painting LLC Becomes a Quick Success After Unexpected Beginning
When five members of a family lose their jobs on the same day, some would see it as a crisis. The Vork brothers saw it as an opportunity.
“There had always been talk of us starting our own business,” says Shane Vork, who owns Vork Brothers Painting LLC along with his brothers, Corey and Travis. “At that point, when we lost our jobs, we had no option. There wasn’t a Plan B. It was now or never.”
The “now” was July 2014, when Lamar Construction—where the brothers were working along with their sister, father and about 350 other people—abruptly declared bankruptcy and closed its doors. The brothers were on a painting contract for Lamar at a school in Detroit when the news came. Returning home to Zeeland, Michigan, near Grand Rapids, they decided it was time to go out on their own and launched Vork Brothers Painting.
The brothers’ first job was to pick up right where they left off—finishing the painting contract they had started for Lamar. Fortunately, they had someone to call on for help.
“Our dad had been project manager on the job for Lamar,” Shane says. “He had connections with the school board. Through him, we got in touch with the right people who eventually awarded us the job. We packed everything up in a van and went to Detroit to finish what we’d started. It was just us three brothers on a six-person job. But we got it finished and they were thrilled with what we’d done.”
Vork Brothers Painting LLC started small in 2014, with just the three brothers doing all the work and Shane doing all the estimating in his bedroom at home. It has grown swiftly, however. The brothers have added 16 employees—several of them former Lamar co-workers. They’re currently in the process of moving into a 6,000-square-foot building with a spray booth and other amenities. Vork Brothers brought in $400,000 in revenue in 2015, $850,000 in 2016 and $1.6 million in 2017. So far, 2018 is on track to bring in more than $2 million for the young company.
Going from working for someone else to running their own business was a bit of an adjustment for the brothers. Fortunately, their father used to own his own business and was able to show his sons some of the ropes to get them started.
“We knew how to get the job done,” Shane says. “That was no problem. The biggest problem was the business side, from starting the limited liability company to hiring new employees. This was new to all of us; we went from strictly running jobs to operating a business. Thankfully, we’ve had some great mentors helping us along the way, whose advice we’ve taken and incorporated into Vork Brothers Painting.”
Determination and Experience
The brothers’ tenure at Lamar was also beneficial to getting Vork Brothers off the ground, Shane says, as it connected them to a large number of contacts they could reach out to when looking for work. The brothers found that with those contacts, plus determination to succeed on their own and a clear vision of how to run the business, there was plenty of work out there.
“The biggest key to our success was just a lot of hard work,” Shane says. “That and knowing what we have to do. You put your head down and work. That’s what we’ve done, that’s what we’ll keep doing. If you have a good work ethic and treat people right, it can happen. We challenge ourselves to be better every single day.”
In the company’s early days, most of the projects were fairly small—jobs topping out at $30,000 or $40,000—but Shane and his brothers worked diligently to expand.
They painted 10 stores in Tanger Outlets in Byron Center, Michigan, and in 2017 finished a new high school. “Our biggest job to date has been the new Caledonia High School. It was an entirely new campus and a $320,000 contract,” Shane says. “It was exciting to have a company believe we could handle it. It’s definitely helped us land more projects.”
Not all the projects have been easy, but even those that were a particular challenge helped the brothers learn more about running their business, and gave them the chance to prove they could go above and beyond to get the job done.
“I think the biggest challenge we’ve had so far was a warehouse job,” Shane says. “It was a 75,000-square-foot warehouse that needed to be sprayed in under a week, at night, working around multiple trades while keeping safety our highest priority.”
Painting with Perspective
Shane says Vork Brothers intends to remain a painting company specializing in painting, coating and decorative wall coverings, as there’s plenty of work within that niche. In 2017 alone, the company sprayed more than 1 million square feet of drywall.
“Our goal is to be known as one of the top painting companies in West Michigan,” Shane says. “We want to continue to grow, but never lose sight of why we started. We enjoy building new relationships in business and continuing to grow those. We brothers always want to be involved in the day-to-day and projects we have going on. If there is ever conflict on a project, we are there with our team coming up with a solution. We never want to get away from that.”
The last three and a half years have been an exciting time for the Vork brothers—launching their own business and learning how to run it as they go. As shocking as it was when Lamar abruptly closed its doors, they’re now glad it happened and proud of what they’ve accomplished together.
“We talk about this every day,” Shane says. “We talk about how lucky and grateful we are for the opportunity to have our own business together. Not a lot of people get to say they love what they do. I love what I do and I get to share these experiences with my family, which is awesome to us.”