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Ep 24: How 1 Painting Contractor Achieved Explosive Growth In A Totally Different Way – Eric Barstow

How chasing too many opportunities stunted Eric’s growth
Why Eric doesn’t like the traditional Franchise model for scaling
The unique model Eric has created that has allowed him to scale to 11 million and maintain balance
Why pursuing fast growth ironically led to a 2 year setback
How to spot opportunity and why you want to avoid the flashy ones
The reason setting goals around personal income can lead to failure

Watch Episode 24 of the Contractor Evolution ShoW

Listen to Episode 24

Read a Summary of Episode 24

When it comes to scaling up, there’s no “one size fits all” approach.

Yes, while the growth path for most construction companies tends to follow a similar pattern, every so often someone follows a path less traveled . . .and absolutely nails it.

Eric Barstow, our guest on this episode of Contractor Evolution, is one such entrepreneur.

Eric, founder of National Painting Group, Painting Business Pro and co-owner of Painter Choice, used a unique expansion model to turn his painting business into an $11-million revenue generator. And he’s heading towards even bigger growth.

However his path to success was rocky. He admits he made plenty of mistakes along the way.


In this episode, Eric shares with us 3 of his biggest scaling failures, and what he learned.

Lesson 1: Avoid Distractions & Focus

Eric spent years chasing “sexy” businesses and money-making schemes like Bitcoin. But after years of failing at new businesses, his painting company kept growing and growing with little focus on it.

One day he had an epiphany: His “less sexy” painting company, Foothills Painting, was the only thing making him money and could actually be the home run opportunity he had been looking for. Time to focus.

The trouble was, after spending his youth in the painting industry, he wanted an exit plan. So Eric gave his employee Ben (who he had been grooming to take over the company) 50% ownership of his painting company on the understanding that Ben would run the business.

What happened next was amazing. In the space of one year, 23-year-old Ben almost doubled the business’ revenue to $1.1 million, and Eric was able to reduce his hours from 10 to 2 a week.

“Discipline, patience and focus is a rare commodity right now, it's what separates you [from your competitors]!”

Lesson 2: Be Patient & Disciplined

Eric considered the franchise route, but felt it took away the entrepreneurship element, restricted geographical growth, required upfront payment and had limited growth potential.

So instead, taking what he had learned from his partnership with Ben, he decided to build 50/50 partnerships with other painting companies.

He found partners and opened more companies; some worked, some didn’t.

In 2015, flushed with what he calls “dollar signs and arrogance,” he launched 4 companies, 2 made it. In 2016 he launched 9 companies – 8 of them closed within 8 months.

Eric says, “One huge mistake was we brought on people we should never have partnered with. We were super arrogant. We partnered with people we didn’t screen – one person who showed up didn’t even have a car!”

He was burned out. It was “a relief” for him when his companies crashed.

Stop….Take A Breather

Eric then began a two-year recovery journey with the idea that instead of scaling his million-dollar business to 100 locations, he would scale a $10-million business to 10 locations. “It would be a much cleaner outcome, plus our offer to a potential partner would be so much better. We can say, ‘hey, you partner with us, and in 5-7 years we will grow a $10-million painting company together.”

3 Key Initiatives under Eric’s new 50/50 business model included:

  • Find The Right Partners. “We wanted highly talented individuals already in leadership roles, but whose current path would involve another 15 years of working 50-60 hours, and were ready instead for an entrepreneurial opportunity.”
  • Alleviate The Burden. “One way to do this is to share services such as accounting, human resources, and management systems.”
  • Create An Exit Strategy. The goal of this strategy: to create economic independence and freedom! “When the partners get to $10 million, we either: put a general manager in place, plug them into our system and the partner can be the support and reduce their hours; put a couple of leadership people in place; they can give some equity to someone and remove yourself entirely; or, we continue to grow together.” 

A far more appealing offer!

Another important piece to the puzzle was shoring up the foundational systems and processes; everything from the learning management systems, CRM, and tax structure, to the corporate structure and operating agreements. “All of this takes time and discipline, but the results are worth it,” he says. “We’ve grown a ton while not trying to grow. We’ve been giving our team 20 to 25% raises every year because our systems are better, people’s performance is better, our customer experience has improved, and we’re getting more profitable.”

Lesson 3: Build a Business for the Right Reason

At some point in your scaling journey, you have to ask yourself: “Why am I building this business?”

Don’t let your ego drive your decision making. Just because your buddy has 3 sales guys, doesn’t mean you need 3 sales guys. Consider What YOU NEED & WHY.

Eric has targeted 2023 as the year he will bring on 5-10 additional partners and expand, but he points out that unlike the early days of his career, he no longer has $$ signs in his eyes. “Build something you love, are proud of and excited to build. When I think of expansion, I think about how it will benefit my partners, their employees, and our customers,” Eric says. “That’s what I mean about building something great: it adds tremendous value rather than taking away from others.”

And always remember Business Lesson 101: Add value to the world and the people you are influencing.

There’s so much more in this episode of Contractor Evolution as Eric details his scaling journey (bumps and all). We hope you’ll be inspired by what he has to say. Scaling a great construction company right and stepping back is indeed possible, and there is more than one route to get you there!

Igor Trninic

Igor Trninic

Igor moved to Canada at a young age, where he learned the value of hard work as he watched his family rebuild a thriving life in a new world with extreme change. Most of Igor’s early learning came from competitive sports, where he learned how to hustle and lead. This learning transferred well to business, when he started running a College Pro Painters franchise at 18 and quickly grew it to one of the top franchises in Canada. After finishing an honours degree in Accounting and HR at the SFU Beedie School of Business, he decided to leave the dull world of numbers and followed his passion of developing people and businesses. He fell in love with leading great people and growing companies to their potential.

Working at College Pro as a General Manager for the franchisor, he tripled the revenue of his division in three years by hiring and leading great managers. Here, Igor saw the power of combining amazing people with strong systems to drive scalability. After College Pro, he chose to test these principles on a new venture with the launch of Shack Shine, and together with the guidance of a highly experienced trades entrepreneur, they grew the company to a full scale franchisor within a year and a half. Shack Shine was eventually acquired by 1-800-GOT-JUNK to be scaled across North America and Igor launched the Breakthrough Academy to guide trades and home service entrepreneurs grow their businesses through proven principles. Igor has a passion and true care for developing people and their businesses, which has formed the foundation of Breakthrough Academy. His work in developing BTA has recently been highlighted in Igor’s Top 30 Under 30 selection by BC Business Magazine.

Igor resides in Vancouver, British Columbia and loves to take on all the adventure that BC can offer. From hunting to skiing to downhill mountain biking, any outdoor adventure is up his alley.

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Welcome to Contractor Evolution, a show created for high-performing contractors that are focused on scaling up, working less and increasing profitability.

While a lot of other shows focus on early stage growth challenges, we focus on real life scenarios faced by contractors that are scaling at a rapid rate, and how they keep everything dialed in without losing sight of work/life balance.

If you’re ready to evolve from a contractor into a better business owner, you’re in the right place.

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