Student painter sees opportunity in business and mentoring others
by Darren Lum
Rachel Churko has undeniable energy as she talks about the growth she experienced professionally and emotionally since she started leading her crew of painters for Rachel Churko Painting Services under the Student Works Painting banner three years ago.
Now, the 21-year-old Haliburton Highlands Secondary School graduate and Queen’s University student is celebrating more than $260,000 worth of painting and staining contracts fulfilled in spring and summer months.
She has been in the top 10 per cent of all the operators in the Student Works Painting company the past two years, earning her the company’s President’s Club status, which came with the reward of a seven-day trip to Mexico. Looking for more responsibilities and opportunities, she is enjoying her new role as mini-district manager for the company.
At the start of her work, she knew there would be a learning curve. She was ready for the long weeks of work. These expectations were made clear during the application process with the company, she said. She said that was appreciated because the challenges she endured weren’t a surprise. A mentor was available for once a week appointments, or more often. Her dad, local tradesman and company owner Steve Churko, was also there for advice.
Putting herself out there, looking for work, knocking on doors was a real challenge, particularly doing it in the dead of winter so she could line up enough work to keep her and her crew painting or staining during spring and into the summer.
“That gets really difficult, you know, when it’s snowing and it’s minus 30 [Celsius]. All of that,” she said. “And then transitioning to calling those customers, who are interested, scheduling estimates with them, giving prices and then following through with the project so it was very difficult. Lots of things to learn. Just a lot of stuff a young university student wouldn’t even think of.”
Challenges include setting customer expectations, training painters and keeping them motivated throughout the summer when high temperatures can be uncomfortable.
“After that at the end of my summer I just realized I really enjoyed leading other people and working for myself and really teaching others. I’ve always liked leadership. That’s always been a big thing for me,” she said.
As part of her efforts to become a district manager, she’s assumed the role as a mini-district manager, which means she will run her own business, heading up a crew locally, and help mentor and lead four operators (like how she started), who will supervise their crews in four different regions of Ontario.
If all goes as planned, she will become a district manager the following year when she will be responsible for leading 15 to 20 operators without having to run her own business. With that scenario, this year will be her last working in Haliburton, she said.
Earning the trust of others by being open to collaborate and to listen was a major contributor to her business success, she said. In her new role as a mini-district manager, she follows through with this by having hour-long weekly meetings with the operators talking about everything that they want to talk about.
“As much as I’m a mentor for them in terms of their business, I would love to be a mentor for them in terms of their lives and everything as well. It’s just gaining that trust from them and mutual respect and sharing things and just really getting to know them. And once you can do that you can have a better understanding of how their life affects their business and how their business affects their life, right? It’s all intertwined there’s no way you can separate everything.”
She said gaining confidence was crucial to her success despite not having business operation knowledge except for the rudimentary knowledge of her father’s private business.
“Going into it I had been around my dad and his shop and things like that, but I’d never worked for my dad or seen anything inside the business world so I didn’t know too much. The biggest thing was gaining that confidence to be able to call people up and schedule estimates with them and go to their house. Price jobs for them with confidence [knowing] you’re giving them the best price you can and it’s fair all the way around,” she said.
“Having that confidence to reach out to people I guess would be the biggest thing. Obviously, that grew over my first year when I really saw [from] beginning to end how things worked and then I just knew that I could do it. Obviously being one of the top operators in the company is a big boost, right, for knowing you can do what you’re saying you’re doing.”
Possessing confidence extends to making recruiting calls and adding potential crew members.
This coming season she needs crew members.
Churko is busy canvassing and recruiting towards this year’s $175,000 sales goal.
Churko has one semester left to finish her biology degree at Queen’s. As a result of her business experience, she has re-evaluated her career aspirations calling business a passion.
“I really like the idea of being in charge of my own success and being in charge of how my life plans out and so I definitely want to kind of continue in that direction and just, you know, knowing everything kind of happens for me or with me is because of me and working towards getting that, being the best that it can be,” she said.
She has considered conservation biology, particularly after a trip with Queen’s University to Hong Kong last year. The trip allowed her to learn about dolphin and whale research, but it also provided her insight into how science and business can be combined.
During her studies, she learned about consultancy companies, which used their scientific knowledge and expertise to ensure proper practices were adhered to for projects that may have adverse affect on the environment.
“I think that would be really cool to kind of be [involved with] that aspect of ... the business side, giving advice, but also the biology side, analyzing, ‘Can we do this without harming oceanic species, environment’ and things like that,” she said.
That said, she’s not 100 per cent certain. Her hope is to return to the place she loves.
“I will definitely [see] Haliburton as my home and I will always come back to visit or live, or whatever,” she said.
Her services include indoor, outdoor painting projects, and staining decks in Haliburton County and area. Contact her at her email firstname.lastname@example.org or 705-455-7400 for information or for an estimate.