Painting the Town

Ask any business owner to name the worst job they've ever held, and they'll often point to work they did in high school: flipping burgers, washing dishes, or cleaning cars.

But for Traverse City entrepreneur Dan Brady, a $7-an-hour high school job painting houses led to a lifetime love of the profession – as well as a successful company bearing his name, a national spokesperson gig and a line of instructional DVDs.

The self-described "paint nerd" and owner of Dan Brady Painting & Wood Restoration spoke with the TCBN about his unexpected journey to success, the business lessons he's learned over the past 25 years, and a few of his favorite pro tips for turning out perfect paint jobs.

Humble Beginnings

"I was going to St. Francis High School [in the late 1980s] and there was a master painter in the area who took me on as his apprentice," Brady said. "He knew every technique of painting – not just brush and roll, but spraying, which is a superior method but difficult to learn. Learning from him made me into a great painter."

Brady's mentor moved to the East Coast shortly thereafter and rented his equipment out to Brady, who hired high school buddies to work for him. He kept Brady's Painting and Power Washing going during summer months while at Central Michigan University pursuing a business administration degree.

"I thought I'd go off to corporate America," said Brady. "And for five years I did, working for a computer company in Dearborn and then Grand Rapids. But I came to a fork in the road where I had to decide if I was going to keep doing that or work for myself. And I kept thinking about returning to Traverse City."

Taking Off in TC

Brady took the plunge and returned home in 2000, researching franchise opportunities with his brother Scott. Eventually, the siblings decided to go into business for themselves.

After running Brady Specialty Coatings for two years, the brothers split the business, with Scott retaining the bath and kitchen refinishing jobs and Brady returning to his roots: painting.

Dan Brady Painting & Wood Restoration opened in 2002, with Brady handling the sales, marketing, and painting all on his own.

"I had an entrepreneurial spirit," the 41-year-old said. "I knew I didn't want to still be on the end of a ladder when I was 42. So I went to national conferences and networked with business owners who ran successful paint companies and figured out how they pulled it off."

In the past 11 years, Brady has added ten painters and an advertising manager to his staff. He has also joined a national consulting group of painters that provides business systems to help companies grow intelligently.

Though he occasionally gets his hands dirty, his current role is focused almost entirely on management, sales, and selling a line of DIY videos on his website

Brady has also gotten some national exposure as the spokesperson for FrogTapeĀ®, a professional painter's tape.

"It may sound nerdy, but I love the products and techniques of painting," he said. "So this is where I see myself continuing in the future: making DVDs, traveling around the country teaching, and sharing what I know with others."