Building a Business from the Ground Up

EO Colorado member Matt Shoup was nine years old when he went into business for himself mowing lawns and shoveling snow. The lesson he learned then has stayed with him: Work hard for what you want – back then a $200 boombox. Twenty years later, he owns a $2 million painting business that transforms homes inside and out.

A New Jersey native, Shoup moved to Colorado as a young boy, but that East Coast swagger continues to serve him well as owner of M & E Painting.

“People have told me if I had stayed in New Jersey, I would have been a great salesman, but I would be selling other things …” He did not elaborate on what those “other things” might be.

Selling does come naturally to Shoup. He double-majored in Spanish and human development and family studies at Colorado State University, where he met his wife-to-be Emily (the “E” in M & E) and where he accepted an internship designed to teach students how to paint houses.

 “That helped kick-start my passion for entrepreneurship,” he said.

Although he is in the painting business, Shoup has never seen the top of a ladder, even as a college student. It’s his job to bring in the jobs for his painting crews. He made $100,000 doing this while at CSU. When he graduated, not a dime of that money was in the bank. But he did have a nice condo and a $30,000 car. Penniless after college, he got into the mortgage business and didn’t like what he saw.

“I got fired in March 2005. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Shoup said.

Or in other words, it was time to do something he knew, and knew well: selling and house painting. He started M & E Painting with $100 in the bank.

“The only reason I didn’t open it with less is I had to open the account with $100,” he said.

His goal was to make M & E a million-dollar company, a milestone he reached in 2007 with sales of $1.2 million. Two years later he branched out into northwestern Denver where revenues grew 50 percent in one year. This year he expanded to Colorado Springs, a move that negatively affected the company’s bottom line. As a result, Shoup is pulling up stakes before the red ink dries.

Surviving rough-and-tumble economy

The rough-and-tumble economy, however, has not played havoc on revenue, Shoup said. While many contractors cut prices to get jobs, M & E didn’t – and won’t – budge on pricing.

“We want to show everybody that during the hard times we will sustain ourselves and still be around,” he said.

Shoup concedes customers are taking longer to decide to paint their homes, and some have postponed the job. The silver lining? So many painters are out of work as a result of the recession that Shoup said he has been able to hire the cream of the crop.

Case in point: Sean Davies, a decorative artist who specializes in faux painting, murals and the like, who moved to Northern Colorado from Florida and now works for M & E. Shoup noted, by the way, that requests for decorative finishes are beginning to pick up again – a positive sign that the worst of the economy may be over.

M & E employs a dozen full-time staff and up to 50 during warm weather months, including painters and sign shakers, many of whom have attracted media attention on their own. Tim Farnsworth, who dances with his sign on 100th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard in Denver, now has 8,000 Facebook fans and is part of a new M & E marketing campaign to be rolled out next year.

Earlier this year, ColoradoBiz magazine featured M & E as one Colorado’s Companies to Watch, a program sponsored by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and then named Shoup one of the state’s Top 25 most influential young professionals.

Shoup’s success has not gone unnoticed by other entrepreneurs. It’s not unusual to get calls from “random business owners” wanting to take him out to lunch or dinner to discuss his marketing strategies. He unabashedly admits he has a “natural knack to grow businesses.”

In addition to business consulting, Shoup’s side businesses include RiRy, a startup company with partner David Sward based on a pioneering new device for the painting industry. The company name is derived from the first two letters of the names of Shoup’s and Sward’s sons, Riley and Ryan, respectively. The duo are pursuing a patent, manufacturer and distribution channels and expect the product to be in stores in the next three or four years.

Fair and honest

Sward and Shoup have known each other since both were employed by the same college painting business. Sward joined M & E when his own company in Denver folded.

“Matt’s the best to work for and with,” Sward said. “He’s as fair and honest as anybody. We’re honest with each other and he never lets money get in the way.”

Sward came up with the new painting product and showed it to Shoup. “He just loved it. He showed it to some people in the painting industry, like Sherwin-Williams, who said it’s the best invention they’ve seen in 23 years,” he said. They are keeping it under wraps from the general public for now, however.

M & E Painting also gives back to the community by doing what they do best: paint houses. Free house paint makeovers are offered annually to families in need. It began in 2007 when a customer’s husband died from a heart attack. Shoup returned the widow’s deposit and told her his company would paint her house free of charge.

Another recipient of M & E’s largesse was Jay and Carri Luttrell of Loveland, whose house was painted in 2009 as a result of a letter Jay wrote about his son, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. With multiple trips to a Denver hospital and escalating medical bills, the Luttrells did not have the time or money to paint their 2,300-square-foot home. And it needed it badly.

“It was such a gift, such a blessing,” Jay Luttrell said of the work M & E did.

This year, M & E painted three houses with donated time and materials.

Written by Luanne Kadlub, and originally published in the North Colorado Business Report.

Categories: general


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