The Old College Try

The genius and success of College Pro Painters lies in its use of natural resources. Not from the earth, but in its people. The company taps into youth, energy, ambition, and self-motivation by empowering college students to start up and run their very own residential exterior painting franchise. Rodney Larmand, current president and one-time student franchise owner, sits down with us to discuss what keeps College Pro Painters thriving and what the future holds.

Rodney Larmand got his start with College Pro Painters just like everyone—as a college student wanting real-world work experience.
Rodney Larmand got his start with College Pro Painters just like everyone—as a college student wanting real-world work experience.

You have worked in a lot of different capacities for College Pro Painters. Take us back to how it all started.
I started with College Pro back in 1990. I was a business student interested in commerce and actually graduated with a commerce degree in management economics and finance. I looked at my peers in this program and I wanted an edge—I wanted real-world work experience. At College Pro Painters, you get to run your own business, and I thought that would be a good fit for my degree. I’ve been with it ever since in a number of roles, starting as a franchise manager and today as president.

What do you enjoy the most about your current role? Or maybe which role has been the most rewarding?
Every role is different and unique. I really enjoyed the franchises manager role, working with students and running your own business. It’s the first time a lot of these individuals have had that much control over their own success. We paint houses, yes, but what College Pro really does is develop future entrepreneurs.

How is it working with students as opposed to employing working-world professionals with more experience, as other franchises typically do? What is the advantage of working with students?
Well, they have a lot of energy, and they’re also very open to learning. Many are already leaders or have taken on leadership roles among their peers; they have the natural ability to take charge. But they’re always open to learning the business, and there is a lot to learn—the painting side, but also sales and customer service, how to hire other employees and lead and manage teams, how to develop a business plan and a financial plan, and then manage it.

Since most of your franchisees haven’t been painters or business managers before, how do you evaluate who will be successful?
Within our process, the general managers assign new franchises, and they are on campus and will take prospective franchisees through three to four interviews. They we try to determine if the person is the right fit, and the candidate is trying to evaluate if this is a good fit for him or her as well. There’s also an online assessment that they go through to see if they have the right sort of characteristics and attributes that will make for a successful business owner.

Rodney Larmand’s tips for operating a franchise with greenhorn college students

•    Be willing to learn.
•    Enjoy being in leadership positions.
•    Be able to see, evaluate, and mentor talent.

Talk about the franchise system and how College Pro Painters utilizes that business model.
With the franchise system, the advantage is that there’s already a program and a support structure in place. But you still need a person who can go and execute the business. With College Pro, it’s a fairly low entry into the marketplace. We specialize in exterior residential, which is fairly easy to train. You don’t have to be an expert, and one can become a good painter fairly quickly. So with the franchise system, the advantage is you have the training program and the general manager there to coach you. In our program, there is about 100 hours’ worth of training plus the ongoing support.

What goals do you have for College Pro Painters moving forward?
There are two things that we always try to achieve: We are always trying to grow in productivity. We want to see people growing their business 10–15 percent every year, at a minimum. Delivering a positive costumer experience is also a priority. We have a large focus on developing a good brand experience for our consumers, and we want them to recommend us. We also want people to have a good experience, even if they ultimately don’t decide to use our services.

Speaking of that competitive marketplace, do you even encounter resistance or skepticism from consumers about using college-student painters over more-seasoned professionals?
Sometimes that’s the initial concern, but really that concern is resolved once we’re talking with the prospective client and throughout the estimate process. It’s a reason we specialize in exterior residential—more seasoned painters usually focus on interior work and commercial work. Plus, if we’re working with them on an estimate, they know who we are—and frankly that’s a competitive advantage, more often than not.