Student Brushes Up On His Business Skills


Shawn Harris is a 21-year-old Northern Arizona University student with a double major in finance and philosophy, a minor in astronomy, and no real employment history.

So, naturally, this Payson lad will be putting his eclectic education and lack of job experience to work this summer by ... managing his own house-painting company?

That's right.

You see, Harris has been selected as a branch manager for Student Works Painting -- a growing national company that employs only college students, allowing them to earn tuition money, business administration credits and even scholarships by painting houses.

At first, Harris admits, it didn't look like much of an opportunity.

"I saw a flier that said, 'Want to make some money doing summer internships?'" he said. "I went to a meeting, and when I found out what it was, I thought, 'Painting? Gimme a break.'"

During a second interview, though, Harris started to warm up to the idea. And during the third interview -- with the company's vice president -- he was hired on the spot.

That alone was quite a feat.

"Student Works Painting is actually one of the hardest internships to get into," Harris said. "In Arizona, they went through 400 people to find 30 hires."

Once an intern is officially signed up as a budding entrepreneur, Harris said, Student Works does "most of the paperwork, the accounting, the taxes and all that stuff." Harris needs to focus on more important things, such as how one hires and fires employees, builds a client base, and -- lest we forget -- paints a house.

"Quite honestly I wasn't a painter before this. Not at all. But they put me through an extensive training program to show me how to paint, how to handle the management end of the business, how to manage time, and how to explain to customers all the benefits of letting us paint their home."

Among those benefits: The company guarantees its work for two full years, boasts a 95-percent customer satisfaction rating, and branch operations like Harris' each carry $3 million in liability insurance.

Although Harris won't start painting his first house until his school year ends this week, he's been busy lining up customers to keep himself and his three self-hired employees busy until the fall.

So far, he's discovered that his most valuable sales tool is a good pair of shoes.

"I've been doing a lot of walking around neighborhoods, knocking on doors, doing it the hard

way," he said. "I don't have a lot of customers lined up yet, but I've got a nice tan going now."

The cost to paint the exterior of an average three bedroom, two bath home usually runs around $1,800, Harris said. Depending on the customer's needs, of course, the final tally could be higher or lower.

When the customer hands Harris a check, he sends it to Student Works' head office in Santa Ana, Calif., which takes its cut and sends back what's left. Harris keeps the leftovers after he pays his underlings.

So far, Harris is enjoying being a boss. Of course, three of his four employees -- fellow college students Mark Bennett, Eric Stevens and Chet Doring -- also happen to be close friends.

"I only hire people I like," Harris said. "If I don't like somebody -- if they have 100 years of painting experience, but I don't trust them -- there's no way I'm going to hire them."

Harris' stretch as a Payson business owner will last only until the start of his first class in the fall. "It's too much to handle both," he said. "I've been trying to do both for the past couple of weeks, finishing the school year and lining up clients, and it's freaking me out."

But the most important thing Harris has learned thus far is that, when he graduates next year, he wants to start his own business.

"That's my goal," he said. "And I really feel like Student Works Painting is priming me to succeed in whatever business I go into. This isn't for people who want to learn how to be painters. It's mainly to teach you how to run a business. Many people who have graduated from this internship are very, very wealthy now.

"I want to be one of those guys."

For more information, page Harris at 472-0261.

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