Meet Lakeside’s President and Founder: Joe Pangburn

Monday, October 14, 2019

What is your full name?

Joseph Warren Pangburn.

Where were you born?

Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Do you remember the first time you held a paintbrush? 

I do. I was a little boy. I think I was 12 years old. 

What were you painting? 

Joe grows quiet and his eyes well up. I told this story to my staff recently. I painted the stairwell that led to the basement of our family home. 

Did your siblings help? 

No, just me and my dad. He taught me how to paint. I had always wanted to help him paint, but it was messy, and hard, and he was kind of a perfectionist. So, I would just watch and help. Then, when we moved into the house on the lake, I told him I wanted to help paint the kitchen and he said, “How about I give you your own job? You can paint the stairwell to the basement”. 

The stairwell to the basement was a small room with plaster ceiling and plaster walls. First, he showed me how to prepare a space for painting. I had to clean everything, and put down drop cloths. We didn’t have any scaffolding, so I had to walk out on a plank. Then he said, “Okay, you’re ready. This is your room and I’ll be over in the kitchen”. He showed me the basics, and I painted that room. When I was finished, I came out [into the kitchen] covered in paint, but I finished…all by myself. 

Do you remember which color you used? 

No. I think it was a white. We were trying to brighten things up. He was painting the kitchen yellow. After that, I helped him paint the outside of the house because it needed a lot of work. My sister and I helped my parents fix it up. But, it was mostly me and my dad. I was his helper. 

This leads me to my next question. What were you like as a child? 

I was always looking for a job. I shoveled snow for neighbors. I mowed lawns for neighbors. Eventually, I ended up painting houses for neighbors. At age 12 and 13, my dad and I worked together to paint neighbor’s houses, and we would use that money to go fishing. That was our fun money! Then, it got to the point where the neighbors would just hire me because my dad would be working. 

When you were little, what did aspire to be?

Didn’t really have any aspirations. At one time I wanted to be a pilot. Later, I wanted to operate heavy equipment. I was going to join the Army [and do that], but they wouldn’t promise me I would be stationed in Alaska, and that I would run heavy equipment. They said it was possible, but they couldn’t promise, so I wouldn’t sign the papers. 

Did you paint all through high school? 

Yeah. Oh, yeah. My first job was for Harley Night. One day, my dad and I drove by one of Harley’s job sites, and my dad said, “You should go work for that guy when you get your license.” Harley had a good-looking outfit. The first year I had my license I worked in the stables at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva. When I turned 17, I went to Harley and told him I would like to work for him. Pete Kesselhon—who later became my partner—asked if he could come with me. Over the next few summers, Pete and I painted for Harley. 

What was it like to work at the Playboy Stables? 

Oh, that was fun. We would take the horses out on trail rides, keep the stables clean, clean up after the horses. Eventually, my buddy Andy and I bailed hay. Pumpkin, who I worked for—I think his real name was Hirschel—was a cool guy. He loved horses. I think he had like 90 horses. He was a horse trader, but he also ran the stables at the Playboy Club. 

Did Hugh Hefner ever come? 

Yes, he flew his jet in. The stables were right next to the airport, so I saw his jet come in and I watched him walk off of it. I saw the jet more than once, but I’m not sure he was always on it. The Bunny Stable was on the other side of the airport. If you were going to be a Bunny, you had to stay on the premises. It was a cool place to work. It was a cool summer. 

What is an interesting fact about painting that most people don’t know? 

It’s not called painting by OSHA—it’s called waterproofing. It’s meant to protect the wood. The primary reason to paint something is to protect it against the elements. You paint things on the outside to protect them from decay and oxidization. You paint steel to keep it from rusting. It just so happens that you can pick the color for that protection, and make it look pretty.

Why did they put lead in paint?

From what I can remember, it makes paint more flexible and last longer. It was white lead, so [it] gave paint color. It took a long time to develop an alternative that would make paint last. They tried latex paints, oil paints, and alkyds, but none of them could stand up to sunlight like lead paint. Now, there are some great acrylic resins and some new technology ceramics. 

You started out as a residential painter, but now your company works mainly in the industrial sector. Can you tell me a little bit about that evolution? 

I started out as a residential painter, and we would also paint the outside of businesses. Slowly we moved into new construction. We started with new homes, and then I went after general contractors. They are a bit more selective about who they want to paint their jobs. But, I talked them into letting me bid on their projects, so we were working on bigger buildings like grocery stores, apartment buildings, and shopping centers. In the beginning, my market was primarily new construction, and I started to ignore house painting because there are so many competitors. 

Eventually, I joined a consulting agency and they showed me the profit margins I was working under were tight. I met painters from other states that were making more money painting residentially than I was painting commercially. I went back to residential and focused on “re-paint”. Instead of working for a general contractor whose main focus is price and keeping costs down, I decided to go after repainting where the focus is quality, service, and reliability. It’s not a price-driven market. 

That lead me to industrial. I was looking for big factories, manufacturing facilities, foundries, and oil refineries—any place where the requirements are stringent as to who can come in and paint. They pay more because they want reliable service. 

We have always done epoxy floors, but I ignored them for a long time because I was focused on painting. I would subcontract my floors out for many years, but then I started doing it on my own again. That lead to polishing concrete, which is now our strongest growing market. 

Does polishing concrete fall into the residential category? 

Not very often. It’s expensive, but there are a few clients. For us, it’s mainly industrial. Polished concrete is in any “big-box” store like Home Depot or Walmart, but those contracts are big and competitive. We don’t go after them. We want smaller clients. 

When did you start polishing floors? 

Chuckles I started doing floor coating when I was 20 years old. I worked for a company that manufactured epoxy in Milwaukee. That was my first taste of epoxy flooring. 

Is that why we went to the Florida Keys when DJ and I were little? 

In the Keys, I was looking into pool coatings. I’m always looking for new ways to expand my market and new ways to separate myself from the competition, because the competition with painters is vast. There are firemen that paint when they’re not on-call, there are teachers that paint during summer break. It’s a flooded market. Supply and demand drives the price down. 

I’m competing with people who don’t have insurance, don’t have payroll, don’t know what a safety program is, don’t take care of the waste they produce. Many of them don't knows where their waste goes, but I know where mine goes. It goes through the systems that are in place and I pay for it to be disposed of properly. I pay more for the disposal of a gallon of thinner than the thinner itself. Now, my competition can have a better price if they don’t take these things into consideration. 

Is there room to explain that to a client? 

A bit defeated I’ve tried. I’ve tried. Homeowners often don’t care. 

But you promote [that] on your website? 

Yes. Industrial people care—they have to. They need somebody that is competent and conscientious. There are strict safety programs that have to be complied with in order to work in any large, industrial facility. I had a very good safety program, but now I have to subscribe to their safety programs as well. I have to pay to enter their systems and meet their requirements. It’s tough, but it helps me separate myself from my competitors. 

Most painters don’t polish floors. I polish floors and paint. I am a one-stop shop for my clients. 

My father not only taught me how to paint, he laid the foundation for how I built my business. He taught me to be honest, forthright, and steadfast. He taught me how to gain respect and keep it. I built my company on these principles, and it’s served me well. 

Do you outsource construction work?

There are some factories—because I’m already in their system—that ask me to subcontract floor tiling or carpet laying. I generally stick to things like carpentry. I tend to not subcontract electrical, although in some residential projects I will make a recommendation. That’s a licensed trade, so I don’t follow it as much. I can handle a subcontract, but I’m not a general contractor. 

Are you privy to any new trends in floor coating, painting, and wallpaper?  

There is new technology all of the time. One of the things I have been exploring recently is the new technology for sealing terrazzo, VCT ceiling, and marble. There are a variety of sealants. We tried one that was a reactive coating and it hardened with UV light. We tested the market on that and it didn’t perform as planned. 

Since then, I’ve found a couple of new products. One is a urethane product, the other is a proprietary product; I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s a great topical coating for polished concrete. It makes it less slippery. It also works on terrazzo, tile and marble. We are in the process of trying to establish ourselves in that market. It’s my new vision. Jerry, our head salesman, is going after that market. We are going after the terrazzo market, which is in a lot of schools and offices. Terrazzo is like stone, epoxy and cement mixed together, and then it’s finished with a polish. We have polishing capabilities and now we have a topical coating to give the floors a nice shine, but it’s less slippery than what we currently supply. 

Polished concrete is in the big box stores for two reasons. It saves money because it’s less expensive than maintaining tile or terrazzo, and it’s less slippery. Now, we have a coating. I call it a coating, but it’s a thin, thin micro film. It saves on trips and falls. So, yeah I’m going after that market. It’s like the pools: I went after the pools and I thought it was a great idea. I had a client who said he would pay for the training if I did it in all of his pools at his motel. So I did the training and I tried to break into that market. But, what I realized is that there are not many pools in Wisconsin. (laughs) Not enough to warrant the expenditures. But, now we are going to increase our footprint (no pun intended) in the flooring market by not just polishing floors, but by actually maintaining floors. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

I like being out in nature, riding my bike, fishing. As I get older, going for a walk is nice. We have a home in northern Wisconsin, and I love to just putz around there and be there with my wife, Kim, and our family. Recently, I’ve found myself really enjoying working on my house in Palmyra. I get home from work and I look forward to tending the garden and other lawn chores. I use to think that was work, but now I enjoy it. I don’t mind mowing the lawn or trimming the trees. I look forward to making my things look nice. Going back to what got me into painting, I like to make things look nice. I’m a visual person. I’m a very creative person. I was always artistic. 

You can draw really well. 

Right. I was one of the better artists in my class. 

Do you ever sit down and draw now? 

I don’t. Maybe when I get older. I should, but I don’t find the time for it. Hopefully when I retire. I know I can still do it. I doodle. I know I can still do it. 

Where do you see the company in ten years? 

I have a plan for the company. I’m trying to build a team that can run the company without me because I care about the people who work for there. (Joe is moved to tears at this point) Some of them are family. I don’t know why I get so emotional when I think about it, but I do. I’m trying to build a company that works without me, and it’s working. I have a good system. I have good people in place. 

I have Jerry, who is my brother-in-law, and he’s the main guy who runs the place when I’m not there. Our vision is to take it to the next level as Kim—who’s been working there for many years, ever since she raised you and your brother—and I move out of it. In order to make that step, we hired an Human Resources person, Meagan—she helps us hire people, but she has also helps us improve our systems. 

I have two operational managers that manage what Jerry and I sell. They take the sale and turn it into the customer’s vision. There’s Sandy, our bookkeeper, who has been with us for almost 40 years. She used to be “the everything”, and she use to do it all. We were smaller, but between she and I, we ran it for many years. She is handing tasks over.

In ten years, the plan is to have a team that can run things without me, and we’re getting there. Right now, I’m on vacation and my phone is not blowing up. I’ve had to respond to a couple of clients, but that’s it. My team has the ability to take care of things on their own. They don’t need me much anymore. That’s what I want. 

Is that satisfying? 

Oh, yeah. I guess that’s why I get so emotional about it. I have people who have been there a long time. Patrick has been there for over 20 years. Jerry has been there for over 20 years. Paul started with me straight out of high school. Sandy has been with me since the beginning. I’m grateful for them, and for their dedication. I care about them. I care that the company continues, and all of my employees have a job in the future beyond me being there. I guess I get emotional when I think about it being the end of the story. (starts crying again)

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