by RONA MANN

Chuck Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Painting

This is a story about a very successful painting company, yet you won’t see the words “brush,” “latex,” “stain,” “drop cloth,” or “enamel” anywhere in these pages. But what you will see are words like “learning,” “belief,” “betterment,” “success,”  “communication,” “honesty,” and “accountability.”

Because this is a story about “the business of painting,” according to Chuck Fitzgerald, President of Fitzgerald Painting in Old Saybrook; and to Chuck, his business and his story have always been about the people before the paint.

“I meet so many interesting people,” Fitzgerald effuses, fairly lifting himself off the chair as he speaks. That’s something you recognize early on when meeting Chuck Fitzgerald…he’s the real deal, albeit a bit unusual in this day of blase`and indifferent attitudes. Chuck Fitzgerald doesn’t ever do anything halfway…he is constantly reinventing himself and his business and is not afraid to shout his enthusiasm from the rooftops…literally!

Chuck grew up in Old Saybrook, “just one mile away from my business.” Growing up on the water which he loved with a passion, “I was always more in the moment. I had a very adventurous childhood crabbing, boating, going up the river by myself at age 12. Fortunately I did not have helicopter parents, so I had lots of independence and relished it.”

Fitzgerald’s parents were real estate brokers. His father’s clipboard, photos, and signage from that now defunct business adorn the walls of the office at Fitzgerald Painting. In addition to buying and selling real estate, Chuck’s father managed and maintained rental properties; and that’s where his son’s love of painting began.“At age four I picked up my first brush and started working on my Dad’s homes. We’d paint for awhile, then go to Johnny Ad’s for lunch, then come back and work some more on the homes. I loved it. I still love the smell of fresh cut wood.”

After attending Southern New Hampshire University and painting during the summers,  Fitzgerald started in the business in earnest, working for another contractor for some 10 years. He then opened Fitzgerald Painting in January of 1987 and just celebrated his 30th business anniversary. “When I started out, it was just me. There were years when we had as many as 28 part time seasonal employees. Our crew is smaller now, but it’s the best crew we ever had…they love their jobs!”

Get used to it. Chuck Fitzgerald speaks in exclamation points. If he is guilty of anything, it is that he suffers from terminal enthusiasm, and that’s a very small crime indeed. “I get very excited about change, about the process of continually getting to know yourself because then you can be yourself. It’s the best gift of all. I believe in what I do every day. My favorite time of the week is Sunday night. My wife, Jane will tell you. So will our twins, Meghan and Carey. They’ll tell you I can hardly wait to get to sleep Sunday night, so that I can get up and go to work on Monday.”

Sound too good to be true? It is true. You don’t find men like Chuck Fitzgerald very often. His genuineness and contagious spirit have not only shaped his business, but propelled it into one of the most successful and enduring companies in southeastern Connecticut. Perhaps that’s why just weeks ago the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce named Fitzgerald Painting “Business of the Year,” an honor he takes to heart. “We do whatever it takes to be successful and keep customers happy at all costs all the time.”

But what about the occasional tough customer? Fitzgerald eschews the thought. “Customers are only tough when you don’t understand what they want. I always felt it was our job to know, so we always ask before starting any job: What do you want? What’s important to you? When would you like to do it? Is it important to you to have only a few men in your home at any one time, or do you not mind a full crew to get the job done quicker? Those are our core values, and we don’t ever sacrifice them.”

Apparently it has worked for Fitzgerald Painting and worked well. “No one’s ever taken me to court or not paid me in 30 years. We put a lot in writing so everyone knows what’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, and when it’s going to happen. I can always find a solution. It’s all about communication in this business.”

So passionate is Fitzgerald about this that he has designed a “report card,” given to every customer following the completion of the job. Chuck studies them carefully to see where improvement might be needed and what strong points need to be maintained. “Always, the customers highlight ‘communication’ on the report card. It’s our strength. I’m very easy to get hold of. I give them my phone, cell phone, e-mail. I text. Customers like our attitude and the way we do business.”

And if continuing education and being slightly unconventional breeds success, then Chuck Fitzgerald is its head cheerleader. “It’s not for me to be a star, but to create stars among my men So I give them the tools to make them the very best they can be. I bought each of my men a briefcase to carry their tools in. They each have a clipboard. Now, how many painters that you know show up on the job carrying a briefcase?” he laughs.

Fitzgerald’s core values are honesty, communication, quality, accountability, service, and efficiency; and that’s what he demands of his men. “If they don’t believe in that and don’t want to have fun, then I tell them to quit. A few years ago a couple did quit, and it  was the best thing that ever happened. Now I have guys who truly love their jobs, love coming to work like I do, and love having fun.”

It seems unusual that here is an employer who puts his employees first before the customer, but Fitzgerald has an easy explanation. “If I do that, and my guys are happy and secure, then they can take care of the customer the best way possible.”

Fitzgerald Painting takes care of customers from Stony Brook to Stonington, both residential and commercial jobs, showcasing their painting, carpentry, and window replacement skills. It takes just a glance at the website to see what this business is all about:  “Continuous and never-ending improvement” the home page reads.

And Chuck Fitzgerald smiles.

104 Ingham Hill Road, Old Saybrook  www.fitzgeraldpainting.com     (860) 388-4595

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