Painting the city green: how a local business reconciles its values with growth and evolution | Yelp
- Get involved in professional associations and networks to get inspired, build your community and learn more about your industry
- Keep your initial set of values, but also be sure to balance them with the growth of your business and a changing market
- Clear communication around values-based business practices attracts people to your mission, even beyond the company
Nichole Lovett has been painting since she could hold a paintbrush. Learning about home improvement and developing her handiness alongside her mother, Nichole pursued art studies, but found herself in the hospitality industry for the first decade of her career. After developing her courage and being inspired by another local small business owner in the Chicagoland area, Nichole started Harmony Haus, an Evanston-based house painting business.
In creating and developing her brand and operational plan, she knew she wanted her fledgling business to reflect her personal values: reduce waste, avoid toxic materials, and reuse anything and everything in her projects. An avid believer in the “practice what you preach” mindset, Nichole had already given up her car for ten years before founding Harmony Haus. “People can see that I’m really living my values,” Nichole said. “I think that’s part of the reason why they like having me around.”
After five years working in the interior home painting industry, Nichole decided to branch out and join a few trade associations. And that’s what took Harmony Haus to the next level, she said. It was one of the first moments when she felt part of a bigger community and became a real “painting geek”.
“I started to really be able to learn and be friends with some of the best people in my field from across the country,” Nichole said. “It opened my eyes because before that, I didn’t know any other painter. I had just done my own thing. So I was able to learn the basics and learn more about the industry standards that I have to meet. »
The move was a turning point that changed her perspective on how to grow and innovate with Harmony Haus, but it also provided a platform to share her own principles with her peers. “Being taken under the wing of professional colleagues, and being able to learn and grow from them, and sharing my ideas about being environmentally friendly was a special opportunity,” said Nichole. “Focusing on sustainability in the building trades isn’t popular, so these professional networks have allowed me to introduce new ways of thinking to my peers. »
Trade associations exist for a wide range of industries. Many associations hold nationwide events, such as conferences, that serve as information-sharing hubs for their members. Not only can such events help your business get noticed, but they also provide special opportunities to connect with other business owners who can empathize with you and hopefully help you in some way. or another. Such professional networks make it possible to connect experts from the same sectors, but they can also connect people with a common identity, whether geographical, ethnic or other.
Having experienced sexism on the jobsite, Nichole’s professional associations have served as an uplifting space where she is celebrated for being a woman in the paint industry. “It’s amazing for me to be in a ballroom with [industry professionals] and everyone is so welcoming to me as a woman,” Nichole said.
As businesses grow, they inevitably expand beyond what their owners originally imagined. For Nichole, it started slowly as she worked in a borrowed van, and now she has a waiting list and can take her pick of projects.
Resources such as time, energy and supplies need to be reworked and redesigned to match the growth and evolution of the business. As her client list grew, Nichole made an intentional decision to keep her team small, which helped prioritize quality work and her commitment to minimizing waste. “My team consists of me and another painter,” Nichole said. “We work project by project.”
As the number of calls Nichole received each day increased, her priorities had to be reassessed. Originally using only the limited color palette of a single non-toxic, planet-friendly paint company called Colorhouse, Nichole has since expanded not just her palette, but her entire suite of sustainability practices. “As I grew in the number of years I did this, I kind of grew in my specialization as well,” Nichole said.
To uphold her original values and the mission that sparked Harmony Haus in the first place, Nichole has established a work system that makes the planet her number one priority. In addition to committing to using eco-friendly paints and other materials, Nichole uses TerraCycle bins to create an all-in-one zero-waste box. “I’m always aware of how much waste I create on each job site and how much is thrown away,” she said. “I approach projects with a mindset of restoration and preservation instead of just tearing it all down and starting over.”
Rather than jumping into a new project with the idea that she is simply there to complete the work necessary to realize the client’s vision, Nichole embeds herself in the process. Driven by her commitment to reusing materials and reducing waste, her projects often become highly consultative.
“I think my clients appreciate that. They know I’m going to push them to restore the plaster walls they have instead of tearing everything down and putting up drywall,” Nichole said. “I push for things like restoring the existing windows they have in their house instead of just ripping them out and throwing them in a landfill. If they get rid of a light fixture or something that can be used, I take it to the Evanston Reconstruction Warehouse to donate so it can get a second life.
Harmony Haus has cultivated a strong social media presence to help communicate its mission. Nichole takes care to explain the sustainability strategies she uses in her business and to speak out on topics that matter to her. A recent post discussed specific materials she plans to recycle and mentioned the TerraCycle device. “Being an environmentally conscious paint company is about more than just applying low-VOC or no-VOC paint,” she wrote. “It’s time for the building trades to stop being so incredibly wasteful and realize that we only have one planet.”
Harmony Haus Pictures
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