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Color of success

College business becomes high-end painting career for two Lancaster dudes

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Peter Barber, left, and Brian McCaskey own Two Dudes Painting Co. in Lancaster. Photo/Submitted
Peter Barber, left, and Brian McCaskey own Two Dudes Painting Co. in Lancaster. Photo/Submitted

Peter Barber and Brian McCaskey were two friends from Lancaster Catholic High School who got together in college out of financial necessity and started a business.

Two Dudes Painting Co. is going strong after about 25 years, keeping the name and accompanying personality, while developing its craftsmanship, customer and community service — and its book of high-end work.

People more recently have acquired a greater appreciation for what is possible with their homes, Barber said.

Last week, the company was getting ready to add another five people to its staff of 30 employees, said Barber, the company's president, who still prefers being called one of the dudes.

Q: How did your business start, and how did you get into the niche of higher-end work?

A: The whole business got started back in 1987. It was my partner, Brian McCaskey, and myself. We are still partners in the business. We were both students at that time. I was at Franklin & Marshall (College), he was at Millersville (University) and we were high school buddies. The business started out of necessity. …

(We) kept the business going through college, and Brian dropped out of college to do on-the-ground operations (for our projects). … I did the business-development side, meeting with clients, but I couldn't always be on-site every day with my classes.

We started thinking (after graduation) about what we were going to do, if I was going to find a full-time teaching job or not. And we decided to start focusing on the business full time.

And we kept going, and we doubled our revenue and we doubled our staff. Even early on, when we started the business, we might not have been the most experienced painters out there, but I think people could see and feel the true integrity of the effort, and it's something we've tried to maintain all of these years and instill it in our current employees.

How has the economy affected your business, good and bad?

Well, one of the things that it has done for us (is that) about three or four years ago things were starting to decline, and we started thinking about how we were going to respond to this. And we were fortunate that the base of our business was pretty sound — we had built relationships with residential customers. There was still a solid base of people maintaining stuff.

But the challenge was that we wanted to be growing our business, not just maintaining it. So it allowed us to start exploring some commercial work, and working through some contractors.

Frankly, we couldn't be the cheapest cost for them. But we wanted to serve people who could appreciate the caliber of work they were going to get. So that has allowed us to develop some really good, solid relationships with other contractors, other people, (for whom) the dollar figure isn't the entire thing.

So we saw a dip in our sales for a bit, and the growth in our business didn't happen as we had planned — but in the end, we are going to emerge a much better business. It has forced us to critically re-examine our processes to make sure we are operating the best and most efficient way we can.

And we've been able to get great employees out of the deal. There were some smaller painters who couldn't weather the economy as well as others.

What are some features people want inside their homes today, and what role does the economy play?

It's interesting because, depending on where they are at in the (home-ownership cycle), we are seeing it have a tremendous impact. On the one side, people are using colors in more elaborate ways than they had in the past and not be afraid to use color. But then you have people who have a short-term place where they might need to be ready to move and keep to a more neutral palette.

But overall, people's appreciations for how they can customize their homes have grown significantly over the past few years. (From) just thinking that your home needs to be antique white walls with trim, people realize they can really do some fun and interesting things. Even things like wallpaper are starting to have a renaissance.

What are the hurdles to running a painting business in general that you have to overcome?

We might bid a project and then the prospect will say that someone gave them a quote that was half or a third of our price. So (it's) getting people to really understand and appreciate what that means when they are hiring a professional painter and knowing the value they can expect and should expect to get out of that.

We spend a tremendous amount of time training our staff to know what that means to be a professional painter and that being technically proficient is only one piece of it.

So it's getting our employees to know why our customers are spending money with us, (and) it's about helping people to understand what they can expect to get out of a professional paint job versus what they can get on their own.

Do customers ever comment about your name, considering your niche is so far from just two dudes slapping paint on walls?

People understand and appreciate that there is going to be some personality to what we are doing. It would have been easy to be "Pete and Brian's Painting Company," one of the thousands of painting businesses out there. But when we got started, we were two dudes out there who had Volkswagen buses that were part of our fleet of vehicles, so people realized they were dealing with some personalities.

And now that we've proven what we are all about, and proven the quality and caliber of our work, and proven what we are doing on a broader scale, it's been great.

I think it just establishes the tone and personality of our business. We've found that people enjoy working with someone who has some personality to them … and knowing that there is going to be this real, good, solid work attitude behind it, but there is some fun behind it as well.

At a glance:

Two Dudes Painting Co.

Address: 750 Poplar St., Lancaster

Owners (aka The Dudes): Peter Barber, Brian McCaskey

Started in: 1987

Employees: 30

Website: www.twodudes.com

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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