Spotlight on Business: T.L. Hart

At T.L. Hart, the company’s core values frame everything they do. Take love for example. Rarely heard of in business circles, business success — as founder and President Terry Hart sees it — lies in treating others the way you want to be treated.

“I take my cues from the Bible and try to put them into practice,” Hart says. “Love is practical; you need not be ‘religious’ to serve people in a way you’d like to be served.”

Admittedly a work in progress, Hart believes that to be the best in its field the company must be unified in serving its customers with excellence.

Founded in 1985 as the cumulative effort of King’s Club, a Christian CEO group practicing strategic planning, Hart undertook to build the business of painting, focusing on Lansing’s commercial market. In its 33rd year, the firm has served thousands of customers on projects large and small, in various sectors and from coast to coast.

“It all began in 1974 when my wife and I had our first child,” Hart says. “Barbara had quit her job and I was working at Sparrow Hospital, not earning enough to support our family. At the time, someone told me I could do better painting, so I left my job and started doing homes in the St. Johns area. After 10 years of wearing all the hats, I wanted to quit. That’s when the King’s Club called. Subsequently, I caught a vision for the business.”

With a focus on commercial painting, the company performs work in the industrial and residential arenas.

“T. L. Hart is unique in that we’re capable of painting a home on one side of town and a factory on the other, ” Hart says. “ We also perform construction services — things like small build-outs, alterations and repairs for our commercial and industrial clients. They benefit from having one company to call when they need multiple things done.”

Additionally, the company does industrial cleaning. “It’s not something we market, but we do a lot of this work for a local manufacturer.”

Hart values every opportunity to serve, but believes the best likelihood for growth is in the commercial and industrial markets.

“With the commercial customer you have the potential of ongoing business — up to 85 percent of our work is repeat; with the residential customer, you might repaint their house every 10-15 years,” Hart says. “At the same time, I have 42 years of residential clients I’m grateful for. We also get new homeowners calling regularly, too. Honestly, I value every opportunity.”

Located on West Grand River Highway in Grand Ledge, Hart frowns on just making sales, and shuns traditional sales tactics common to the industry. Rather, he believes in the development of long-term relationships as the company’s best bet for a sustained future. Given Hart’s passion is serving people, many key clients are those Hart has worked with for years.

“There’s no better formula for success than taking care of people,” Hart says. “I truly care about our customers and I strive to impart that into our team.”

That’s why the firm does everything it can to please people — what Hart calls “The Extra Mile Principle.” That is, going above and beyond what’s expected.
“It’s a principle I regularly teach,” he says; “the better we get at this the better we’ll be.”

The company is not the cheapest in town, but works hard to compete in what Hart refers to as a ‘crazy’ industry. With painters being largely unregulated, Hart runs into low-cost and largely illegal competitors on the one hand, and higher-priced union contactors on the other.

“There is virtually nothing standing in the way of anyone becoming a painting contractor,” he said. “So, there is this constant price-pressure applied by every new kid on the block.”

In contrast, Hart built his business from the ground up, applying principles and practices learned from involvement with The Painting and Decorating Contractors of America. To this day, he uses paid consultants and group memberships to keep his skills honed. When people buy from T.L. Hart, they can be assured they are purchasing services from a legitimate business that will provide them not only with a quality product and service, but one that will stand behind its work long-term.

Of course, what makes T.L. Hart is its people. Unlike many competitors, Harts treat his tradespeople as bonafide employees, paying above average wages and with benefits like health and dental insurance, a simple IRA (matching employee contributions), and profit sharing. With regular staff meetings, employees receive training in safety, customer service and trade skills. The company seeks to operate fully above board, complying with all local, state and federal laws, including licensing and lead-safe practices.

“I believe our customers appreciate the integrity and reliability they get from us,” said Hart. “My vision for T.L. Hart, Inc. is to be mid-Michigan’s best provider of painting and related services; that when people think of a painting company, they think of us.”

For more information about T.L. Hart, Inc., visit tlhart.com or call (517) 627-4600.

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