At the ripe old age of 21, armed with an accounting degree, but no painting experience, Nathan Flett started his own company 17 years ago.
“My father asked me if I’d paint the house, so I did that and it just grew from there.”
Today Nathan employs 15 painters – and that is up from five just three years ago. The key to his success, he believes, is looking at the big picture.
“You have a contract to do a job – but largely it’s about client satisfaction. So you don’t cut corners to get through the job as quick as you can. It’s about doing a quality job and doing it properly. Then there are no comebacks.
“We try to go the extra mile and make sure we do the job properly, even if it’s a bit on us, if it costs us – you have to do that sometimes. It’s swings and roundabouts.”
Going the extra mile earned Flett Painters high praise by the 2009 winner of the Wellington Master Builders House of the Year award. Owner/manager of Pearson Group builders Andrew Pearson made special mention of Flett Painters in the post-win publicity.
The winning entry was a complex alteration and restoration of an early 1900s, four-storey house in Central Wellington.
“The restoration of a lot of features and the degree of difficulty went a long way toward winning the award. Definitely the standard of finish was very high. Nathan did a great job with the painting. He went above and beyond. Features like the pressed tin ceilings, they are very old and irreplaceable. He had guys on scaffolds for weeks on end, carefully sealing splits and removing rust. You can’t just sand, you have to recreate the detail. It is quite a job and they did it really well.
“Nathan’s guys worked well with us. I’d hate to add up the hours they spent. Nathan didn’t charge for touch ups. If I had to get them to redo, I’d go around and put red dots on things I didn’t like and they were really good about it. He is a great contractor; he’s very, very dedicated to making sure we were happy with the final result,” said Andrew.
Nathan believes the most powerful form of advertising is word of mouth. He might not have made a fortune out of the House of the Year, but the positive referrals that have come from the good publicity are what being in business is all about. The majority of his work comes through personal referrals.
“If you are going to survive in recessions, the main thing is to keep your standards high and integrity up. Don’t compromise that. We have been busy and kept growing over the last couple of years. That is what we try to do differently.
“If something is not quite right then we’ll come back and fix it up. I think it’s important – if someone is not happy you have to sort it out. Our company motto is: We are satisfied when you are!”
Being a member of Master Painters is valuable in terms of giving an ‘authenticity’ to the trade, and distinct benefits to members.
“People know them and you know you can rely on them to back you up. We haven’t been involved in any disputes but it’s nice to know they are there if we needed them.”
Nathan is looking forward to continuing to grow his business over the years ahead.
“We’ve grown a lot over the past few years, and the challenge is trying to maintain that momentum. You go through stages where you grow – and it’s a big step to go to the next level – it can be quite scary. You have to talk to people who have done it before you. But I am keen to keep growing – while at the same time keeping in mind what size company is most profitable. You need to have systems in place. You can then get anyone to fit into a role.
“So the challenges of the future are about how to get that down pat.”
Nathan is also strong on providing support and loyalty to his workers. If they are going through a rough patch in their private lives, support and flexibility are pivotal.
“People are your main resource, so you have to stand by your workers. When they come out the other side, they will be more loyal to you. A lot of people treat their workers like rubbish. Respect goes out the door if you are not looking after them and paying well.”
Nathan and his wife Annette are Christians and attend church regularly.
“That is part of who I am. I believe in honesty, integrity, reliability. And yes, hard work. You are not going to make money by not working hard. If you work hard you do get the rewards.”
The Fletts have two sons, aged six and four, and an eighteen-month-old daughter. With a thriving business and young family – and Church – that’s pretty much the week filled up.
“I spend any spare time with the family – just hanging out with the kids.”