We talk to Greg Harkness, who is owner of Harkness Painting & Decorating Ltd
What’s your background?
At school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I left thinking I would become a joiner. After some dead end jobs in factories, in 2009 an opportunity came up to train as an apprentice painter and decorator at Bell Group.
I thrived there, and after I’d served my four years, I quickly progressed within the company. Bell Group is good like that, they always look to within when promoting, so I became Contracts Supervisor soon after I finished my apprenticeship.
In 2015, I was getting itchy feet, and although I could have remained at Bell Group, I had a burning desire to start my own business. I left, with only one confirmed booking (painting my friend’s lounge), and things grew from there. I was on my own for the first year, mainly doing domestic jobs, but always looking to expand. Seven years on, we have 11 painters on the books.
What’s your speciality?
In the area where we operate – Dumfries and Galloway – we have to be able to do everything. There are so many painters that can paint, but not hang wallpaper, or hang wallpaper, but not spray. We have all those skills covered, but one thing we have gained a reputation for is spraying. We trained up a lot of the team, and now we have a name for ourselves in that field especially. I would say we are also exceptional at wallpapering.
We have some older guys on the team, and they are very open about sharing their skills, and lately we have been doing a lot of stippling, rag rolling and gold leaf, which seems to be making a comeback.
When did you join the SDF?
I joined not long after I set up Harkness Painting & Decorating in 2017. The badge of accreditation showed that I had the skills required to receive the backing of a professional trade body. I also believe that Scottish painters and decorators are as good as you will find anywhere, so I chose SDF as way of displaying that belief.
What’s the best thing about the Federation?
I just think the support is second to none. Neil and Lorraine are always on the end of the phone if you need help with anything. It’s like an extension of the business, and for the membership fee, the returns are massive.
How has the Federation changed?
I definitely think that there are more training courses on offer. Plus, during the pandemic, the Federation was very proactive, sending out emails with up-to-date information on working practices before you had even thought about asking for them.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?
I would say that our biggest challenge in the business has been recruiting good staff. We have very high standards, and there seems to me to be a skills gap at the moment. I consider us very lucky to have first class tradespeople choosing to work here. We hear that some time-served decorators have left the trade for one reason or another, to work in another industry, or that there are no young people looking to become painters and decorators. This is a big problem for us. We need to present the right people for the jobs we do, so the standard needs to be high. We have two apprentices working for us at the moment, one in first year and the other just about to go into third year. It’s important to bring new talent in. We all have to start somewhere.
What’s been your favourite job?
Without a doubt it has to be Moffat House, which the company won an award for at the recent Scottish Painting and Decorating Awards. The historic house was completely refurbished from top to bottom, bringing the hotel back to life, and is now open for business. The team was on site for approximately 13 months on and off, and I am delighted with how everything turned out. We were able to display
a wide range of high end finishes here.
What would be your dream job?
I do love working on historic buildings, so I guess a grand Scottish castle would be a real challenge for us. We paint such a variety of projects but the team love stepping up to the bigger challenges. There would be so many quirks and potential hurdles to overcome in a historic building it would really keep us on our toes.
What are your long-term plans for the business?
I’d love to see the business double in size, but ‘slow and steady’ is a motto that I stick to, and I wouldn’t like to compromise the quality of our output just to be a bigger company. We need to get the right people in to maintain our high standards, so if it takes 10 years to get there, then that’s fine.
What about your personal life?
I am married to Shona, my wife of five years, although we’ve been together for 14. We have two daughters, Emmie who is three and Lillie who is one. We live in Lockerbie, not far from Annan, where I grew up.
I will always remember one piece of advice that a Bell Group Director gave me. It was to always make time to step away from the business – even if it was just for one day a week – it is important to have a hobby, or a break from work. This ensures high output and always coming back fresh.
We bought a caravan during lockdown, something I never thought about before. It meant that we could get away on the spur of the moment and enjoy the outdoors. We focus on what the children want to do – enjoying walks and wildlife.