Redefining Customer Service

Shahan & Son

Since 1946, Shahan & Son, Ltd. has completed painting contracts worth up to $5 million and worked in twenty-seven different states. These days, however, the company is staying closer to its Dallas headquarters, in the belief that bigger is not necessarily better, and that the best companies are those that focus on quality and customer service.

Third-generation paint contracting company Shahan & Son was founded in 1946 by Eddie Shahan. He was succeeded by his son Howard, who took over the business in the late 1960s, and since 2009, the company has been led by grandson Brian Shahan.

“I didn’t get to spend a ton of time with my grandfather,” he says. “By the time I got to be old enough to remember him, he was already retired and out of the business, so I didn’t get a chance to work with him. But I did hear lots of stories about his work ethic and how he ran the business. At one time, we were number one or two in volume in the U.S., and we had work from Washington, D.C. to Hawaii,” shares Brian.

“So it was a huge company when my dad took over, but I think it had grown as big as it could get. Over the years, the competition got bigger and tighter, and we shrunk back down to just doing work in Texas, mainly serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area.” Projects, he says, focus on corporate campuses, office towers, warehouses, schools and universities, churches, hospitals, and other public institutions. These are places like the American Airlines Integrated Operations Center and Toyota’s new North America Headquarters.

“I wouldn’t say we’re in a growth mode. There aren’t many competitors locally that are bigger than us, and if they are they complete work out of our region, and there’s a lot that goes with that that I am not interested in pursuing at this time. I would much rather focus on quality and on doing what we do better than everyone else” says Brian.

“I think customer service is the thing we do that separates us from our competitors. Commercial paint contractors aren’t always known for high-quality service. They are known for saying ‘This is a big job, and we can get it done,’ but we like to take that a step further. No phone call here goes unanswered. If you call our office, we are going to call you back within twenty-four hours. Even though we are a ‘mom and pop’ shop, we take pride in customer service and follow up to make sure everything is done correctly the first time and follows the schedule,” he explains.

“We’ll reach out, even if we can’t take the job. If someone calls and says I’m looking to have work done in South Texas, I’ll tell them ‘I don’t work there, but I can tell you who does, and I can give you a referral.’ We’re always there to help whomever we can, even if it’s not us. If they need a drywall or a mechanical company referral, we’re there for them. Others might say ‘Sorry I can’t help you,’ but that’s not us. We do whatever the customer wants, and we will make it happen.”

As a result of stellar customer service, the company does not do much advertising, and ninety-five percent of its business is repeat business from satisfied customers. “When people have tough jobs with tough schedules, they call us because they know we can get it done.”

Each project the company takes on is assigned a project manager, who works with the client from beginning to end. “If someone has an issue, the project manager will take his or her time to make sure, no matter the time, cost or trouble, to get it done and will be done right when we walk off the job,” he says. “It’s the same whether I’m running the job or one of my guys. We’re going to be out there making sure it’s done right.”

Brian explains that, “We have a one-year warranty period, and that covers workmanship and materials, and if the materials fail, we will fix it at no cost, but that is extremely rare. If we get called back, it’s because someone has damaged the wall, run a forklift or a doorknob through it, and we’d expect to be reimbursed for that.” He notes that the company has full business insurance coverage with $10 million in liability limits and unlimited bonding capacity.

Shahan & Son can do applications for interiors, exteriors, institutions such as hospitals, and for light industrial facilities, which may require a higher class of coatings. “These are high-performance coatings for exterior metals exposed to constant UV light or weather. They’re also used on metal stairs and places exposed to chemicals and have to be high grade. We can also finish concrete floors. There’s a wide variety of finishes, a million different coatings for a million different applications, and we can pretty much do any of them. If it’s a liquid that has to be applied to a surface, we can probably do it,” he says with confidence.

Included in the company’s portfolio are joint treatment of sheetrock, painting, special coatings, stained epoxy and resinous floor finishes, decorative coatings, and wall coverings. It also has a vented and filtered spray booth in the warehouse for secure and climate-controlled finishing of items that cannot or do not need to be painted on the job site.

“Not only do we paint, we do vinyl wall coverings, and they can be very simple, or they can have patterns that need to be matched, or they can be printed like pictures, but come in rolls, and we install them on the wall. Right now we’re doing Pioneer Resources in Irving, and that has over one hundred large-scale mural wall coverings, and they take a lot of coordination and footwork to install. So that’s one complication, but we do it, and we’ve done it on four of the last five large projects we’ve done.”

Since Shahan & Son was formed in 1946, there has been a huge shift in what goes into paint due to environmental concerns. “Most coatings nowadays have very low rates of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) unless it’s a specialty product, and those are industrial coatings. If you’re painting an office or a hospital, there are coatings especially for that, and they have next to no off-gassing,” Brian says.

“As far as waste is concerned, we try not to dispose of paint, and we try to reuse coatings. Say we have five gallons leftover from a job. We will try to mix it up with primers for another job where allowed so that none of it goes to a landfill. We try to reuse and recycle pretty much everything.”

But there is one challenge that commercial painters have always faced, and that is scheduling. “For a variety of reasons, the painter always comes at the end of the job, so that means any scheduling mishaps early in the project affect us at the end because we are the last ones on the job. There’s also a labor shortage, but all of the other subcontractors are dealing with it too, be it mechanical, electrical, plumbing, so that contributes to the scheduling issues.”

Shahan & Son has been able to deal with the issue, however, by offering on-the-job training to new employees, ensuring that OSHA standards are followed, and performing drug testing before painters begin. “The GC (general contractor), which is our customer, is responsible for oversight of safety on the whole project, and that trickles down, so every subcontractor is responsible. That means my superintendent and foreman on the job are responsible for the safety of everyone on their charge for safety. It’s pretty strict on the larger projects we do. There’s an entire regime set up for safety training and drug testing, and it’s done in both English and Spanish, so there is no miscommunication. GC’s take it seriously, and so do we. We want everyone to go home the same way they came in in the morning.”

A few years back, the company worked on the new Dallas Cowboys stadium painting 360 luxury suites. “Right now, we’re just finishing up on Pioneer Resources, which is an oil and gas company in Irving, a suburb of Dallas. And we did a large portion of Toyota’s North American headquarters. The contract was so big, in fact, that they split it up among three contractors.”

Shahan & Son’s biggest client by volume is general contractor Austin Commercial, located in Dallas. Among major projects completed in recent years for Austin is the McLane Football Stadium at Baylor University in Waco, Texas and the regional headquarters of State Farm in Richardson, Texas.

In recent years, businesses have been moving more and more to corporate social responsibility and Shahan & Son is no exception. “Earlier in my life, I did quite a bit for Habitat for Humanity,” Shahan says, “but that was on my personal time. Now we are selective as to what we do when it comes to charity projects. Often our customers will come to us with a project, and we will join in with them and work towards its completion.” The company has also done work for homeless shelters and a couple of projects for therapeutic equestrian facilities.

As a young man, Brian was not sure he wanted to go into the family business. “I didn’t plan it. I just kind of fell into it. I was between jobs, and my father said, ‘Hey, we need help if you’re interested,’” he says.

“I decided to jump on board, and things just kind of went ahead naturally. I dove in headfirst and started painting in the field and worked on several big jobs and eventually moved into the office as an estimator and worked my way through accounting and different levels of management and then started running the whole thing when my dad decided to get out of it.”

Is he glad he did? You bet he is. By staying close to home and focusing on customer service, he has been able to more than double the company’s bottom line since taking over in 2009. But it is not only about money. “I love my job,” he says. “I’m always meeting new people and seeing the insides of places most people don’t get to see.” What’s not to love?

Seeing Red

In 2018, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released several of the worst examples of so-called “Red Tape” that businesses and developers need to complete before getting projects off the ground. The list reads almost as a cautionary tale for anyone hoping to get a development, whether a condominium or a warehouse, completed quickly and on time.

December 14, 2019, 6:03 AM EST