Painting Within the Lines Spells Profits
Determination helps Inline Painting to thrive
Sometimes things just fall in line. And, that’s just what happened when Sean Armstrong and his father, Larry, formed Inline Painting, an Indianapolis, Indiana, commercial painting company, in 2007.
Sean, who is Vice President, had extensive knowledge of paint products from his marketing management days at Sherwin-Williams and Larry, who is President, had many business contacts carefully cultivated from his 40-plus years in the commercial painting industry.
The vision was to create a premium quality commercial painting company that was financially solid enough to weather the ups and downs of the construction industry.
“With the economic downturn in 2007, we probably picked one of the worst times to start a company,” remembers Sean. “Yet, within our first two months of business, we’d landed an $80,000 contract. If it weren’t for Larry’s contacts and my paint knowledge, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We’re especially proud that we started our business without any loans.”
Sean says the company experienced a lot of growing pains in its early years, but their overall strategy was successful—to reinvest in the company and maintain a strong cashflow.
“We never really paid ourselves much in the beginning, but the good thing is we don’t have any debt. That was just how we wanted to design the company,” he says.
Painting and Graphics and Murals, Oh My!
Inline Painting specializes in interior and exterior commercial painting, wall coverings, graphics and murals. For example, the company has hand painted wall graphics in Kroger stores, team logos for sports venues, corporate logos and human figures. About 60% of the company’s work is in new construction with the remainder of its projects involving existing structures.
In its first year, the Inline Painting team booked $500,000 in business. Year-over-year growth after that eventually led to earnings just under $10 million in 2019. Today, with more than 100 employees, it is one of the larger commercial painting companies in Indiana. Currently, Inline Painting performs the majority of its work throughout Indiana and surrounding states—but projects have spanned from states east of the Mississippi River and down to Florida.
Sean’s ultimate goal is to become a $30 million-plus company.
“We’re in this to stay,” he says. “We really want to grow and expand our work to more states.”
Acknowledging that this will take hard work and dedication, Sean adds that the management team has implemented a number of technological improvements to further drive growth.
“We switched to an electronic ‘takeoff’ system for measuring jobs off blueprints that’s far more accurate than other methods we used before. Exact measurements help us bid projects better. And, we track all our assignments’ expenses precisely so that we have a clear understanding of every cost related to a project,” he says.
By having a firm grasp of every work-related expense, solid estimating experience and extensive knowledge of paint and wall covering products, Inline Painting can also advise customers on the most cost-effective solutions.
Since opening, Inline Panting has completed more than 2,000 jobs and reached a record 500 projects last year. The company counts retail operations, like McDonald’s and Kroger, among its many customers. The firm also performs work for hospitals, offices, schools and more.
“One of the biggest challenges for specialty contractors in the construction industry is having sufficient manpower to deliver quality performance. I think we deliver on both fronts,” he says.
Painting the Indy 500
Earlier this year, Inline Painting landed a plum assignment—repainting the straightaway, all the I-beams and the viewing stands to give the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway a fresh look. Located in Speedway, Indiana, the automobile racing circuit is home of the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400, and formerly the home of the United States Grand Prix.
“It is such a high-profile venue because everyone in the racing world wants to go to the Indy 500,” he says. “We had the manpower to get this job done on a really quick timeline.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Inline Painting was selected to repaint most of the interiors and also re-paint the intricate ceiling art at the Madam Walker Theatre Center within the Madam Walker Legacy Center in downtown Indianapolis. The theater is one of the iconic buildings that line Indiana Avenue and still retains much of its 1927 architecture. The center commemorates Madam C. J. Walker, daughter of a former slave who became one of the wealthiest, most successful women in the 20th century by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for Black women.
“Our artist hand painted the shapes on the ceiling in the theater,” Sean says. “The theater center staff was ecstatic about our work.”
What’s in a Name?
Sean and Larry chose the name Inline for a couple of reasons. To them, painting within the lines represents exactness, quality and a determined attitude. Sean points out Inline Painting’s response to a recent fire in its building as a good example of his team’s can-do attitude.
In June, an electrical surge started a fire in the company’s 46,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Indianapolis. Before it was extinguished, the fire burned a 30-foot by 6-foot space on the second floor.
Although there was a lot of smoke damage throughout, the real damage was water that came from the ceiling sprinklers that went off for four hours, plus the powerful water deluge from firefighters’ hoses. “We had 3 to 4 inches of water on the first floor, which is where our offices are located.” Sean says.
“Our workers jumped in right away and got everything cleaned up,” he adds. “We rented some large generators to provide electricity so we could operate for a long period of time. Everything came together quickly so we only lost two days of work. I cannot thank my team and co-workers enough. It was a great team-building day.”
Listen, Care, Give
Sean says his team’s work culture is positive and focused on helping employees develop team-building skills. He is proud of their leadership team’s open-door policy.
“We listen to employees and strive to give them the help they need to succeed. When we can help them problem solve to alleviate their stress levels, then our jobs run a lot smoother,” Sean adds.
The company also is adamant about sharing its successes with those in the community who need assistance.
Sean says, “In the past several years, during the Christmas season, we’ve stuffed envelopes full of food gift cards and handed them out to the downtown’s homeless out of a company van. Each year we also purchase a family its entire Christmas and holiday dinner.
“We also donate to Special Olympics, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and several local charities to help support our city. We’re proud to have supplied labor and materials for two Habitat for Humanity houses,” Sean adds, “Those of us who are successful should always give to others. Owning a successful business gives a company those avenues to help donate to amazing non-profit organizations.”