Every spring, when temperatures start rising, painting companies like Reno-based Kelly Brothers Painting see a surge of inquiries from homeowners looking to repaint their house. Most years, these requests stay strong through the summer before dropping in the fall as cold temperatures settle in. That wasn’t the case in 2020. Due to the pandemic, Kelly Brothers saw repaint requests shoot through the roof, and more than a year later, inquiries are still rolling in like clockwork. “We’ve never seen these numbers for repainting,” said Tessa Sorenson, marketing director at Kelly Brothers. “We’re averaging about 70 estimate requests a week, and that trended through February. We usually don’t see these numbers until now, when it warms up and people are like, ‘let’s do home projects.’” That’s a mindset many homeowners adopted last March. Northern Nevadans, stuck at home without much to do, became increasingly interested in upgrading their living spaces while in quarantine. For some, that included a fresh coat of paint, inside and out. “… It’s been quite a wild ride — we’re busier than ever,” Sorenson said. “People spent time in their homes and realized they wanted to tackle projects. And people weren’t vacationing, so their disposable income was focused on home improvement. “And I think people realized that paint is not always a DIY approach.” The region’s smoking hot housing market is also driving an increase in business, said Sorenson, adding: “When someone is selling their home or buying a new home, painting is often involved with that as well.” REVENUE GAINS
In the Reno market alone, Kelly Brothers’ revenue in 2020 grew 34% compared to 2019, said Sorenson, who did not have the company’s overall revenue growth for 2020 available, though she noted the company’s average annual revenue is $12 million. While Kelly Brothers is benefiting from a fast-growing region with a rebounding economy, that’s not the case for all painting companies in the U.S. Nationwide, revenue for painting contractors dipped 2.6% in 2020, according to market research firm IBISWorld. The market research firm says industry revenue is expected to grow 2.4% this year. Of note, several regional painting companies the NNBW contacted for this story either declined comment or did not return inquiries. Meanwhile, helping Kelly Brothers’ revenue gains is the fact the company has a new construction division, painting new luxury homes being built everywhere from Reno to Carson Valley to Lake Tahoe, as well as crews that paint interiors and exteriors of commercial properties. Early in the pandemic, Sorenson said, Kelly Brothers took on commercial projects that weren’t even on its calendar pre-pandemic. But some businesses that were shuttered decided to fast-track painting projects while their doors were closed. One of those was Harveys Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino in Stateline, which completed a $41 million renovation last year of all 519 guest rooms in its Tahoe Tower — a renovation that, naturally, included painting.
“It wasn’t on our books until COVID hit,” Sorenson said. “And then they realized we had extra guys, and they wanted to expedite the project, so they brought our company on.” WORKFORCE CHALLENGES The consistently high demand, even through the winter, has presented one challenge for Kelly Brothers: keeping up. “The trades have always suffered in this area since the recession, and it’s just a huge struggle for us,” Sorenson said. She said Kelly Brothers has about 40 fewer painters on staff than it typically does heading into summer. “We usually carry about 100 painters going into peak season, and the number I got this morning was we have 57 painters,” Sorenson said in late April. “We cannot recruit enough.” To that end, Sorenson said the company has hosted hiring fairs, and is spending “thousands” every month on recruitment advertisements — billboards, TV and radio. It even started paying for ads to run in cities outside of Reno-Tahoe, including Sacramento and Las Vegas. “It’s a competitive recruitment world out there,” Sorenson said. “The next step we honestly have to look at is increasing pay.” Sorenson said Kelly Brothers hourly wages range from $16 per hour — “if you have zero experience” — to more than $35 an hour for highly skilled workers with significant experience. She said the company is hoping to get back up to 100 painters by summer, especially with the already high demand expected to increase as temperatures heat up. “We have more estimators than we’ve ever had before,” Sorenson said. “But if we can’t get painters then … I mean, we’re booking jobs right now six weeks out. Once we get to the end of May, we’re probably already going to be booking to September. “And you lose business if you’re too far out. So, the demand is there, but the supply is limited.”