Paint work draws flak

by Angela Gray

It doesn’t take a Vincent Van Gogh or a Paul Czanne to earn big bucks in the art of painting houses.

Newspaper ads and fliers on campus not only boast of making money, but also of learning about the business world and entrepreneurship.

College Pro Painters is a student painting franchise system. It caters to young adults by offering students an opportunity to learn about the responsibility and accountability of running a business.

But because of varying worksite locations, different styles of franchise management and a variety of job positions in the company, some have said the experience isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

Jon Hartwig, a junior communications student, said his job with College Pro Painters was “a real negative experience in my book.”

He said he was hired as a foreman and his duties were budgeting and distributing hours and workloads on his painting crew.

When Hartwig first started working for the company, it told him he could earn about $37,000 as foreman over one summer.

His supervisor scouted for houses and gave him time and workload estimations, which Hartwig relayed to his crew.

But Hartwig said his supervisor was not dependable.

“He didn’t make accurate estimations of the workload needed to paint the houses,” he said. “After a while, the hours estimated for the job increases, and the estimated profit drops down.

“There were days where we would average $4 an hour,” he said. “We were lucky if we came out with $4,800 with 12-hour days.”

He said the guys in the crew were very sharp and hardworking.

“We got stiffed around $2,200 for a painting assignment, and in the end didn’t even get paid (for the assignment),” he said.

His crew tried to renegotiate with the company in order to be compensated for their losses, but the company said “it was out of the question,” Hartwig said.

“Without being compensated for the houses I painted, I couldn’t pay rent and lost my place.”

On the flip side, Mike Sowers, an entrepreneurship and finance senior, said that in two summers, he earned $85,000 with College Pro Painters.

Sowers, who has worked for College Pro Painters for two years, said he works as a franchise manager for the company. There are 50 franchises in the metropolitan area, he said.

The company targets business students and offers them a unique opportunity to run their own business, he said.

Sowers said the company trains students on how to run a business by providing experience with marketing, accounting and sales.

He said he did a lot of research on different business internships and many seemed very corporate-oriented.

“There are not a lot of opportunities for some 18-, 19- or 20-year-olds to make this kind of money and earn this kind of experience,” he said.

“It’s a reminder that I don’t have to go down the typical corporate track like most students coming out of this business school,” he said. “Here on campus, it’s mostly for Carlson students, but open to everyone at the University,” he said.

Success depends on how much students sell and how tightly they run their business, said Laura Hayburn, a College Pro Painters franchise owner and a finance and French senior.

Working as a franchise owner for the company for two years, she said, she earned enough to pay off her college tuition expenses.

“I’m definitely learning a lot about business,” she said. “Even if you are not a business student, and you have an engineering background or something, you will learn something valuable,” she said.

While experiences working with the company vary, customers of College Pro Painters have lodged official complaints with the organization.

College Pro Painters has been a member with the Better Business Bureau since 1992.

The Better Business Bureau has documented five complaints against the company in Minnesota within the past 36 months (the standard period to hold records), according to a Better Business Bureau phone counselor.

Some of the complaints concerned guarantee and warranty issues, service and repair problems, and contract and product disputes, the counselor said.

All five complaints were either closed or resolved to the customers’ satisfaction.