The mission of Denver-based Helix Painting is “to revitalize and enhance your home with unparalleled quality and service.” Owners Vanessa and Brandon Homuth are passionate about running a business that works hard to delight customers, and with the pandemic keeping people at home, they’ve been able to help customers freshen up their homes more than ever.
We spoke with with the husband-wife duo to hear about how business has been during COVID, what they attribute their top-notch reputation to, and the truth behind running a business with your significant other.
How did Helix Painting start?
My husband and I came from a corporate background on Wall Street so we were actually never in the small business world at all. We moved to Denver in January of 2017, and both of us were used to working for decently sized organizations in the corporate world. After owning a bunch of homes and having bad experiences with contractors, we knew that we could bring all we’ve learned in the corporate world to the service industry—that was our lightbulb.
From there, we thought a lot about what kind of business we wanted to start. We wanted it to be something that we could really believe in, something that would have and add value. Next we looked at what industries we thought we could be part of. We found that painting is actually a highly dispersed industry, making it pretty easy to kind of jump in there without having to be a big name. Our plan was to hire highly skilled people that would help us get up to speed, but then also who could take the reins and really lead our company in a great direction. If we could just take that vision and partner up with somebody who had the skill sets that we didn’t have, then we could build a great company. We founded the company in October of 2017, and then we were off to the races.
How is it working with your significant other?
We are two peas in a pod! We think very similarly. A lot of the things that could kind of become a challenge, we can see each other’s point of view very easily because we think alike. We may not always agree, but we understand how each other’s brains work because our brains work the same way. Because of that, we get through arguments pretty easily, and since we really like each other, we don’t mind spending 12 hours in an office together or traveling out to jobs with each other. It’s a fun thing that lets us spend a lot of time together. When COVID hit, it wasn’t really that different for us because we both were used to working in the same home office anyways. Now with Zoom meetings, sometimes one of us steps out of the office so the other person can have a quiet space, but it’s been natural for us.
You have such a good reputation on all platforms—what do you attribute that to?
The first thing I would attribute our reputation to is our employees. Our employees are our face, brand, and company out there—I actually don’t really go out in the field that much. Our employees are the ones who interact with our customers 90% of the time. It’s not only the painters but also the sales people and operations—they all know and understand our company’s values and they live them fully. For example, if a customer can’t pay via check and needs to pay by credit card—although we don’t traditionally take credit card as a medium—they know we put the customer first and it’s time to figure this out together. How can we help the customer? We’re all about coming up with solutions together and figuring out the yes instead of saying no. Even if a client wants us to do a lot more than their budget will allow, we will guide them on what to do on their own, walk them through it, so they can save money. The customer comes first.
We really value the customer interaction, providing great customer service and quality. We hope that differentiates us from others. The biggest message we want people to know is that we are a customer-focused organization looking to provide great customer service with great quality and all at a reasonable price.
There’s also so much power in just doing what you say you’re going to do; it’s super simple. When you say you’re going to be somewhere at a certain time, and then you are actually there—people appreciate that. Sometimes things come up, life happens, but in those moments, great communication is so key. If you can’t show up at the time you said you could, but yet you are radio silent or don’t bring things to the customer’s attention, then they won’t be bought into the partnership of working together.
How has the pandemic affected Helix?
It’s been, I don’t want to say a roller coaster, that’s maybe too dramatic, but… a bit of a rollercoaster. When COVID first came out, we thought it was going to be the next depression because who’s going to let anyone into their house? We had that fear factor thinking that everyone’s going to lose their job and thinking no one’s going to have money to spend on home renovations. But it actually turned out to be not so bad. The first three weeks or so, people didn’t want to have estimates. Everyone was too afraid to really see someone else in person. After the initial fear died down, a lot of people wanted to get home projects done. It was like, “Hey, I’ve been working in my home office and guess what? I hate the bad lines. I really dislike that color.” Then people who couldn’t travel on vacation anymore suddenly had $5,000 they were willing to spend on the exterior of their houses. In Denver, you generally need to paint the exterior of your house every eight years because of the impact of the weather here. We found that painting was top of mind for people, but they didn’t have the money or time set aside. Business started to pick up after those initial few weeks of fear.
The biggest thing we’ve made sure to spend time on are precautions. When COVID hit, we kind of said to ourselves, “Okay, what do we need to do to be safe, to be safe for ourselves, our employees, our customers.” So there are the obvious things like masks and social distancing. If we can do an exterior estimate without having to engage with the customer in person, but just maybe have a phone call with them as we’re arriving at the property, we were opting into that. They could be inside on the phone; we can be outside. We would try to minimize contact as much as possible. What we also did—which we’d always talked about but COVID kind of was the catalyst to do so—is we launched a virtual estimate page on our website. Now you can go to our website, you can upload photos, you can tell us about your project, and then we can go and do the estimate without ever coming into your house.
It’s easiest with people who have recently bought or sold a home because there are lots of really good photos online. When individuals take photos, it’s sometimes harder to get the whole picture, but when we get the photos, some people are really good at sending dimensions. We can get 95% of the way there. We provide them with a price and rarely do we even have to change it once we’re onsite.
The estimators are all wearing masks. Our crews are wearing masks. Our team is just trying to do everything to keep themselves and everyone else safe. We sadly don’t meet as a team in person right now because it’s just too much of a business risk to bring everybody in one place at one time. We do have virtual calls with the team though. We actually even hired an office manager completely virtually. I trained her virtually, and we never met in person before we hired her—it’s a whole new world!
What type of community service work is Helix involved with?
As a small, family-owned business, it was important to not just be running our business but also to be giving back. Pretty early on, we started looking for projects where we could partner with larger companies like Sherman Williams or Benjamin Moore to have them contribute paint and we would supply the labor. But we found that it was hard to kind of get the word out there of what was even available, but through some Facebook Groups, we were able to find people who needed help. And one that we’re particularly proud of was helping a downtown shelter and soup kitchen—so if anyone has a project that they need, please reach out to us because we would love to help.
I love when we find a request floating around in the community that’s like, “We need someone to come in, but we need a really reasonable price because we’re a nonprofit.” Sometimes we’ll partner with Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore, and they’ll provide the paint, and we’ll provide the labor. It’s great because we get to see the community that we’re helping. A lot of times, people from the community will help pitch in some labor as well. And it feels good for us.
Not long ago there was this homeless shelter downtown that I kept thinking about, how they must be doing because they provide meals to everybody. But now you can’t have large gatherings. So how are they providing those meals? And I think they are trying to do brown-bag stuff, but they also had a shelter. So we painted their shelter.
The hardest thing for us actually is finding those people who realize that we can provide our services for free. And so if anyone knows a nonprofit that needs some work done, please feel free to reach out to us. We love getting involved in the community and giving back because the community has given us so much.
What advice do you have for other business owners?
It’s really important to have someone that you can bounce ideas off of. Not everybody wants to have a partner in business, which is totally fine, but you do need to have somebody you can talk to. Our first year in business, a large portion was spent with Brandon and I just spitting out ideas and trying to figure things out. Just hearing another opinion or even saying something out loud, as opposed to typing it up as an idea, makes a huge difference.
We even try to poke holes in each other’s ideas—we’d both say neither one of us could have done it without the other one. Even though I mentioned that we’re really similar, we’re able to provide another voice and thought on each topic. It’s hard to do, but if you can find somebody you trust, it’s always helpful to have a mentor as a small business owner.
Another piece of advice would be to not forget why you started your business and what you’re trying to do—it’s hard to remember that in the stress of a pandemic. You don’t have to be perfect. Everyday business doesn’t have to be perfect either. We had grand visions of where Helix Painting was supposed to be right now, and it’s not quite there, but we know we can get there. Maybe it’s going to take us down a longer path than intended, but as long as we are creating sustainable solutions and growth, we’re going in the right direction.
Just remember why you did it all, and keep going back to that whenever you’re trying to deal with a difficult decision. What’s your mission statement? What are your business values? Values will help with making the hard and easy decisions because you can always reflect on them and think to yourself, “Is this serving our company’s mission?”
How has Yelp been a part of your growth as a company?
Yelp has been a really great channel for us. We get about 10% of our total company leads from Yelp. That includes client referrals and other advertising sources. Yelp has been great because customers can request information from us on their own time, within their own schedules. They could be up at 10 p.m. looking to get a quote or to set up an estimate, and they don’t have to wait until we’re there at 8 a.m. the next morning. We now know they’re interested when they’re actually interested. They send us information, we get in touch with them by using Yelp’s messaging platform, and then we eventually meet in person. Yelp has a great scheduling feature that we can also use with customers.
What I also find really helpful about Yelp is that you can highlight specific things about your company, like being family owned. When COVID hit, Yelp also let us highlight that we did virtual estimates. I think that’s something people value, especially locally. We love how those elements give us different ways to shout out what we do.
On top of that, since people on the platform know your reviews are really trustworthy, it helps when people go and look for a painter—they know that they can trust what they’re seeing in the reviews.
Learn more about Helix Painting and watch the team work its magic in episode two of our home improvement series “In the Basement with Abby.”
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