Pressing issues facing smaller painting and decorating firms have been overshadowed by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, writes Neil Ogilvie, CEO of the Painting and Decorating Association (PDA).
The virus is an extraordinary circumstance and we cannot predict how long it will impact on our global economy, the health of people worldwide and, of course, our members. Many of our sole traders and smaller firms reported mass cancellations in mid-March as people began to self-isolate. In response to this, we immediately put together a guide outlining special hygiene protocols for members to reassure customers that work could safely go ahead, as well as an information hub on our website.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, work seemed to be going well for our members, many of whom had full order books – the situation has now changed dramatically. Previously, leaving the EU was among the key issues facing our smaller members. There had been some uncertainty, but as many people shied away from committing to a house move and invested in extensions or renovations instead, there were opportunities for smaller painting and decorating businesses.
Earlier this year we embarked on an engagement programme, which included conducting a number of surveys with our members. One of the most recent surveys found 97 per cent of PDA members felt Continuing Professional Development to be important, but 42 per cent hadn’t attended a training course in the last 12 months.
97 per cent were willing to pay for training, with a preference for manufacturing workshops and practical sessions and a majority would consider travelling more than 50 miles to access training. The survey revealed three clear areas in which members felt training was most needed: Specialist Decorating Techniques, Marketing and Social Media along with Estimating and Measurement Rates.
Following on from these results, we have started to develop training packages for members. They are keen to upskill, and want to master new techniques to offer their clients the different finishes and effects they are looking for. Clients are quick to share images of new decor on social media, and that showcases new ideas to more people who are inspired in turn. Social media is certainly driving people to get more creative with their homes, and we as a trade body are ready to help our members get the training they need to meet that demand.
Health and Safety has always been a difficulty for smaller businesses, particularly as we enter the summer months when accidents across the building sector generally are on the rise. We have a wealth of advice for members to help them stay safe at work and follow the correct procedures for situations, such as working at height.
One of the biggest concerns for smaller businesses is the ‘professional non-payer.’ A trader goes in, does the job, there are no complaints, they complete with no issues raised and when they send in the invoice, suddenly there is a list of reasons why the client is unhappy with the result and won’t pay. It then goes to dispute and that’s where PDA members have got full support with our 24-hour claims and helpline.
We advise members to always spend 15 minutes at the end of a job, walking around the property completing a customer satisfaction form with their client. The form can be downloaded from our website, is easy to fill in and requires a sign-off from the customer, so there is a paper trail showing any snags that were discussed and – when snagging work is complete – that the client agreed the standard of work was satisfactory.
Finally, the business aspect of being self-employed or running a small company can be daunting for some, but we give the best support we can to these members to help them establish and run a professional painting and decorating business.
Our thoughts are with all those families who have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic and we feel for the sole traders and businesses who have been hit hard during these past weeks. We made a commitment back in March to provide our members with whatever information we can, which is sent out via social media, our website, magazine and newsletter.
As members of the umbrella trade association Build UK, the PDA is able to gather industry information, push for legislation and lobby on behalf of members. The support we will be able to offer through our membership of Build UK will be invaluable to our members in the future.
The Painting & Decorating Association has produced a whole series of podcasts, with the latest highlighting the pitfalls and triumphs of working in people’s homes. Experienced tradesman, Stuart Yates, who runs Chesterfield-based Stuart Yates Décor, shared stories from his 43-year career, as part of a ‘how to get the best from working with clients in their homes’ discussion. While chatting with podcast host Neil Ogilvie, Stuart explained the importance of establishing a rapport with clients. You can listen at: soundcloud.com/user-343346164/painting-and-decorating-association-podcast-episode-3