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Mathew Rice, left, and his father Ken Rice, of Payless Painting, on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010, show the metallic copper ceiling at a home they painted for an Alamo, Calif., client. Mathew is the third generation Rioe to be involved in the family business, based in Pleasant Hill. (Cindi Christie/Staff)

If the most mundane thing in life is to watch paint dry, then one would think Erik, Ken, and Mathew Rice are bored to tears.

All three family members first picked up paint brushes in their preteens, and now together they are owners of Payless Painting in Pleasant Hill.

The business was first started in 1961 by Thomas Rice who was a former painter of bridges in Boston and commercial buildings in San Francisco. In 1978, Ken, who had a business major from UC Berkeley, took over the operation from his father. And this year, it will be passed to the third generation as Erik and Mathew will be taking over as owners.

"The only way you can do something like this for so long is if it's truly a labor of love," Rice said.

The company serves clients mostly in the East Bay, focusing primarily on repaints. For years the company had seen a steady stream of revenue in the $500,000 a year range, until the wake of the Great Recession swept away more than half of that. In 2009, revenues slipped to about $200,000.

Mathew, 31, who now serves as president, returned from a four-year stint last year after working for the chamber of commerce in Santiago, Chile. He wanted to use his management skills to try and right the ship.

"We felt like the economy forced us to utilize more networking and online capabilities to built our new client base," he said. He designed a website, opened a Facebook account, and often spends time at chamber mixers getting his name out.


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Mathew says the company operates on a profit margin of less than 10 percent, so instead of offering discounts, sometimes Payless Painting will add value to deal instead. For example, it they paint an exterior, they might paint one room for free.

While half his time is spent in the home office at his father's house, about 15 to 20 hours a week is out in the field with roller and brush in hand. Both his father and brother are painting at least 40 hours a week. The painting aspect is so second nature to Mathew that he's constantly thinking about ways to improve the business to pass the time.

Greg Morgan, account manager for Kelly Moore at the Pleasant Hill store, says that seeing owners of paint companies, who previously worked just on the business side, doing the painting themselves is becoming more common.

"We are seeing people who haven't painted for 10 years starting to do it to survive," Morgan said.

To stand apart from the competition, Payless Painting tries to put a heavy emphasis on quality of work and customer service. Every time they send out a quote to a prospective client, they include a list of references people can call of jobs they did in the last few weeks.

The prices for a job varies depending on the size of the house. Most of their projects range in cost from $4,000 to more than $10,000. The job types are divided 50/50 between residential and commercial.

"I would trust them to paint my house in an instant," Morgan said. "They don't try to be the Armstrongs of painting, but they know exactly what they are and what they're trying to do."

To stay up on the evolving industry, the owners read trade magazines and occasionally attend shows to get updated on the latest techniques and technology.

"People think painting is just putting paint on the doors, but it's much more than that," Mathew said. "It's an ever-evolving industry."

For example, one of the more anticipated products becoming popular is heat reflective paint that helps to insulate the house.

Mathew, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in International Management at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo says he's seen many of his fellow graduates go onto make six-figure incomes.

For him, the opportunity to work with his family and build a business that allows him to be inventive is a worthy trade-off.

"I know we're not gonna be millionaires being paint contractors, but we can build a nice business that's important to this community," Mathew said. "Right now we're trying to lay down the proper frame work so this business will continue to do well for a long time."


Payless Painting
Location: Pleasant Hill
Employees: 6
Owners: Erik, Ken, and Mathew Rice
Website: www.paylesspainting.com
Phone: 925-935-1176