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'Problem with authority’ fuels founder of house-painting franchise

Carmelo Marsala is the founder of Spray-Net Inc.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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Carmelo Marsala could never stay in a job for longer than two weeks – "I have a problem with authority," he says – and so at age 19 he figured he had better start working for himself.

He was a student of finance at Concordia University in his home city of Montreal, and when the Student Painters franchise caught his attention, he decided to sign on. But not as a painter, mind you.

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"I have never had a passion for painting," Mr. Marsala says. "It was more a passion for running my own business that made me sign on."

Soon he was running the Montreal franchise, hiring other students to paint home exteriors during their summer breaks. He learned a lot about painting techniques, including what could be done better.

"We painted everything except vinyl and aluminum windows, which were painted inside a factory, and they always looked so perfect, as if not painted at all. I wanted the same flawless finish," says Mr. Marsala, who is now 28. "But I knew I couldn't take a house to the factory, so I looked to see how I could bring the factory to the house."

And so Spray-Net Inc. was born in 2009. The company specializes in spray-applied paint on PVC and aluminum surfaces. Doors, windows and siding are rejuvenated during a one-day application on residential exteriors.

Spray-Net has 15 franchises in Quebec, three in Ontario and one in Halifax. All franchise owners receive training, though Mr. Marsala says he didn't reinvent the wheel. "We just took a different spin on the painting industry by formulating our own proprietary products."

Carmelo Marsala, right, watches his brother, Jack Marsala, at a work site. Spray-Net specializes in spray-applied paint on PVC and aluminum surfaces on residential exteriors. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail) For The Globe and Mail Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail

Carmelo Marsala, right, watches his brother, Jack Marsala, at a work site. Spray-Net specializes in spray-applied paint on PVC and aluminum surfaces on residential exteriors. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)  See more pictures of Spray-Net at work here.

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Today he's on a roll. The company, which employs about 50 employees at its headquarters and five corporately owned franchises, was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2014 and the winner of the Air Miles Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the 2015 Small Business Achievement Awards recently presented in Quebec.

He would like to establish 20 new franchises this year, with the goal of painting 2,500 houses total, which would more than double the number painted last year.

Jack Marsala paints the siding of a home in Candiac, Que. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail) For The Globe and Mail Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail

Jack Marsala paints the siding of a home in Candiac, Que. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

But he needs to find the right people at the home office. It's a different sort of human resources search than he has done in the past.

"Before, I was looking for people with the right attitude and a willingness to learn something new," Mr. Marsala clarifies. "But now I am wanting to engage in a rigorous partner selection process to find people with more management experience as opposed to technical expertise."

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The Challenge: How can Spray-Net find the right people to run the company, support its franchisees and help the company grow?


Gregory Dixon, president of Sylvan Learning Centres, a franchise business, Toronto

Mr. Marsala should continue to work diligently on determining the core values and beliefs of his business, and be confident in responding to the question, "Why does Spray-Net believe in customer service excellence?"

Mr. Marsala's ability to develop a clear and enticing vision is a necessary first step. He should celebrate successes, create a recognition program and offer comprehensive support, training and quality assurance reports.

He should also create a franchise application website. Provide a clear reason why someone should pursue the option of owning a Spray-Net franchise. He should also appeal to the social and emotional interests of potential partners through their desire to realize the entrepreneurship dream and build capital. After responding to the question "why," provide testimonials (video and written), and lead them through the steps on buying a franchise, list prospective locales, and create a professional and user-friendly application form.

Advertise in marketing venues where people who fit your profile frequent, offering "a franchise with low startup costs and huge potential for growth." Try using a board sign outside of a client you have recently serviced. Advertise in the desired city's chamber of commerce newsletter.

Ben Baldwin, founder of ClearFit, an online platform that pairs workers with employers, Toronto

All successful hires share two elements: a) the right experience/résumé and b) the right personality/culture fit. It's a very useful exercise to create two columns under each job name and first write all the attributes required for success. Then – and this is the most important step – do it again for all the attributes that are NOT required for success in that job.

Why? Executive and other senior job candidates often have impressive backgrounds that may be completely irrelevant at predictive job performance. It's hard to not be romanced by MBAs and Fortune 500 brands on résumés, but they may blur what's important, and Mr. Marsala may end up overpaying for his hire. Worse, he may make the wrong senior hire – a bad fit. Personality/culture fit is the most predictive element for any person-job match.

Haley Grewal, franchisee for Big Smoke Burger, Vancouver

Although it is time consuming, finding the right management team is more important for the health of Spray-Net than achieving 20 new franchise stores. A strong head office projects confidence to franchisees. They feel the franchisor has a vested interest in the business and cares for its health and viability.

The franchise system reduces risk through centralized functions. Mr. Marsala needs a team that is ready to support the franchisee with training, financial advice, operations support and marketing. These standard roles need to be filled: director of training, vice-president of operations, vice-president of finance, and director of marketing. To help facilitate the growth of a franchise, a vice-president of business development may be necessary to allow the president to focus on brand positioning and strategy.

If Mr. Marsala is looking to find franchisees who are much like himself, motivated and driven, then he has to approach things differently from what I said above. The motivation for joining a successful franchise would here depend on the goals of the potential investor. Some franchisees view the partnership as a way to create a job. Others see it as a way to be self-employed with the flexibility to grow with the franchisor from one location to multiple. To appeal to management-level partners, the head office must allow flexibility for that partner to utilize his/her skills in a new region. What works in one region may not work in another.

Mike Sherwood, executive recruitment consultant for food service, Lock Search Group, Toronto

Mr. Marsala needs to find folks who are like him, with his same entrepreneurial, goal-oriented, driven-to-succeed business mentality. So the question is: What pond do you fish in to find those folks? What other companies have a similar model, with similar growth plans and trajectory, and similar management structure?

This doesn't have to be in the area of home reno/improvement but can take in other verticals where there is a franchisee with a corporate entity taking a cut. Once he has determined who these companies are it boils down to the usual recruitment challenge of headhunting and vetting for the right fit. He needs to entice them with the right comp package, which should be heavily weighted on team performance and achieving/overachieving goals.

After looking at his aggressive expansion plans, it appears that if he wants to attract folks from the likes of Tim Hortons or other successful franchises he needs to hire true partners as executives. In order to do that he will have to offer a very attractive LTI (long term incentive, based on growth) package or skin in the game in the manner of either equity or "phantom" shares based on results.


More Web presence

Create a franchise application website that appeals to potential partners. Provide testimonials, video and written.

Look for a good fit

It's easy to be romanced by impressive résumés, but they may blur what's important.

Set up incentive plans

When hiring executives, set up compensation packages that reward team performance and goal achievement.

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Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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