Elevating the Painting Trade

Cornerstone Coatings

Cornerstone Coatings is not your average specialty-coatings contractor. With a dedicated focus on continuously training its painters, the company is an industry leader in elevating the painting trade itself in order to meet the high technological demands of today’s specialty-coatings market.

In its 27 years, Cornerstone has certainly developed and grown since its humble beginnings. Raymond Kummer, founder and CEO, established the company in August 1993 as a one-man operation. After six months, his venture was just successful enough for him to hire his first employee, leading to a shift in his focus to larger multifamily and apartment complex projects.

It wasn’t long before that focus expanded to provide painting services to big-box retailers such as The Home Depot, Costco and Walmart, among others, and when Starbucks began to expand their locations into the Colorado region, Cornerstone took over their commercial tenant finishes. Despite his company’s progressive success, growing and expanding into new markets, Kummer remained ambitious for more. He could see a future for Cornerstone that went further and deeper than conventional painting.

“Every time we entered into a new market that could be considered ‘cookie-cutter’, whether that was Starbucks or big-box or multifamily, we discovered that any average painter could win and perform the work to a passable standard of quality,” says Kummer. “They could simply look at the floor print of the project, throw a price at it, and have a relatively good chance to win the bid; there was a low barrier to entry. Over the years, we’ve evolved from just a commercial painting contractor to a specialty-coatings contractor. Now we’re executing complex applications for clients such as Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace, projects that require a higher level of sophistication and application prowess. This is exactly where we want and plan to be moving forward with our new production facility.”

Today, Cornerstone is the largest Division 9 contractor in a five-state region, with approximately 100 employees and upwards of 150 during the busy season. Headquartered in Colorado, the company recently acquired its contractor license in Utah and is currently in the process of obtaining another one for Arizona.

Moving into aerospace
More recently, Cornerstone has constructed a new state-of-the-art production facility housing two environmentally controlled booths – one dedicated to abrasive blasting and the second for all types of liquid spray applications. Both 60’ long x 20’ wide x 14’ high, this production facility is now the largest of its kind in Denver. The company is growing rapidly and cannily invested the fruits of this growth into expansion. As a result, Cornerstone has been attracting a higher caliber of clientele in aerospace, defense, energy, and other high-tech industrial sectors.

“When I started Cornerstone, it was just latex paint; that’s all there was,” says Kummer. “Today, there are thousands of types of high-performance and specialty coating products, and new ones coming to market all the time. We truly see ourselves as a specialty contractor that works in conjunction with these coating manufacturers. They’re looking for a qualified applicator that can do their product justice.” He emphasizes, “They’re looking for someone with a higher level of sophistication.”

Cornerstone’s preeminent vision is: “To become the preferred coatings applicator in the Rocky Mountain Region.” This mission statement applies to all its divisions: commercial, industrial, and shop-applied specialty-coatings of all types. The team works closely with the coating manufacturers to ensure that their employees both receive the necessary training on product-specific application requirements (e.g., surface preparation standards, mixing guidelines, environmental conditions, induction times, application techniques, recoat windows, et cetera) and acquire the necessary certifications. This dedication to continuous training and high-quality craftsmanship is central to Cornerstone’s culture.

Cornerstone University
This culture is exemplified in Cornerstone University, a proprietary 52-week training program that incorporates and covers all of the company’s systems and processes, including best practices for coating application techniques, safety, quality control, budgetary tracking, administrative processes, and leadership topics for employees with a desire to advance their careers. Over the last three years, the company has engaged in continuously refining these courses to be as clear, concise, and time-efficient as possible.

“Cornerstone University is a major differentiating factor from our competition,” says Kummer. “General contractors love it because it provides them with higher quality coatings, quicker production rates, better communication, and stronger safety programs on their projects. This in turn helps them to achieve satisfaction with their clients. In today’s industry, you can’t find the journeyman painters who were around in the 60s and 70s that went through apprenticeship programs; we’ve accepted the fact that the new norm for employers is to do that training in-house.”

Certainly, internal training is a major contributor to Cornerstone’s success in building such a competent and qualified workforce. Another is incentivization. The company compensates its craftsmen approximately 10 percent more than the industry average. However, internal training and higher wages is only part of the equation. When it comes to vetting potential candidates for these desirable positions, Cornerstone not only evaluates their experience and skill in the trade; they also try to determine whether or not they’re a compatible cultural fit for the company.

The ideal profile
Cornerstone’s hiring process utilizes a personality assessment tool that can help identify an ideal profile for a given position within the company. Cornerstone adamantly believes that the most important aspect of any hire is selecting and placing the right person in the right role. “Our passion is seeing people do what they love to do, but also what they’re naturally gifted in and talented at,” says Kummer.

This has enabled the company to build a team of people that not only have the requisite experience and skill set for their specific position and related job duties, but also have an innate capacity for teamwork and a personal investment in the success of each project.

Cornerstone conducts quarterly reviews to ensure that each member of the workforce is receiving thoughtful, constructive, and encouraging feedback on their performance. The company believes in the value of incentivization for all its employees; therefore, bonuses are given out based upon the quarterly reviews – not only for field employees, but for all administrative staff as well.

Vice President Michael Huskey believes that a culture-focused hiring process is a key component of the company’s success. “A candidate could have more documented experience than any other candidate – they could have a lifetime of experience in the industry listed on their résumé,” Huskey says, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean they also have the desire to work at the highest level – that burning passion, drive, and self-governing work ethic. That’s what we’re looking for – the total cultural fit. They have to exhibit those core values on a daily basis through their work.”

Key projects
The company’s mission statement is a mantra that defines what the leadership team believes is the most valuable message to convey to their customers: “Your project, our craftsmanship, complete satisfaction.” In essence, it’s a commitment to customers that Cornerstone employees understand that they’re guests on their contractors’ projects, and working with the conviction that they’re there for one reason only – to produce the absolute best quality on that project. Cornerstone brings a level of pride and expertise to each and every project that is truly unique in the Colorado construction industry.

One such project was the Aurora Colorado VA Hospital, which made national headlines in 2018. It began as a $365 million-budgeted project and eventually ballooned to more than a billion dollars over budget. Despite the turmoil and challenges surrounding the project – unrelated to Cornerstone’s involvement – the company allocated approximately 40 employees to be onsite every day until the project was completed. In the most difficult of circumstances, the company resolutely committed to weathering the storm and crossing the finish line. All large-scale projects bring inherent challenges, but Cornerstone’s efficient and collaborative team has proven its ability to produce in all project conditions, time and time again.

In May 2017, the Colorado Mills Shopping Center was devastated by extreme hail of nearly three inches in diameter. The owners were forced to remove the roof and gut the entire structure, and the city anticipated that it would lose $350,000 per month in sales taxes, and that thousands would be out of work.

A goal was set to get the project back up and running before the upcoming Black Friday holiday. As it turned out, Cornerstone was the only painting contractor with the manpower to accommodate that compressed schedule. The company allocated 60 painters for the project and managed to successfully complete its scope on time, before the Black Friday goal.

Another project, Wyoming State’s Capitol building, presented a unique set of challenges due to the historic nature of the structure. Cornerstone was hired to treat both the interior and the exterior of the building, with conditions related to preserving the heritage materials that were used in its original construction.

The exterior of the building utilized gold leaf, copper, galvanized steel, aluminum, stainless steel, and lead. Cornerstone was chosen for this project because of its expertise in specialty-coatings. Specialty products and surface preparatory techniques had to be strictly adhered to in order preserve the historical designation of the building. “It was a very difficult project but we pulled it off, and we beat the deadline set for us. That’s what we pride ourselves on – our ability to complete highly technical, complex, and tight-deadline projects that are massive in scope,” says Huskey.

A lost art rediscovered
In its 27 years, Cornerstone has reinvented what it means to be a painting company.

“Historically, painters are kind of rated down there at the bottom of the scale because painting is an afterthought on a project,” says Kummer, “but you don’t see the drywall, or the studs, or the plumbing behind the wall. You see the paint!” he says.

“We see ourselves as reinstituting a level of pride and quality within the painting industry. Our team can drive through town and pass a project they worked on and hold their heads up high because they have a sense of pride in what they accomplished. They’re not ‘just a painter;’ they’re craftsman, and that’s kind of a lost art.”

August 14, 2020, 3:14 AM EDT