Shades of resilience
Rolling with the punches, a seasoned painting contractor takes an entrepreneurial journey in pandemic times
Photo: Jessica Witka of Jessica’s Painting
LIKE EVERY ENTREPRENEUR who launched a business early in 2020, Jessica Witka was blissfully unaware that her new venture, Jessica’s Painting, would be broadsided by the pandemic.
Witka’s saving grace was that trades and the construction industry were allowed to complete work already in progress.
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“I’d been painting for more than 14 years, so I had built a good rolodex of contractors and that’s what kept me going,” she says. “After I completed my jobs, I did some new construction work and kept myself busy.”
Over the past two years, Witka has been able to work with residential clients as restrictions ebbed, building her client base through referrals and social media, and being helped along by acknowledgements such as winning the London Community Votes award program in both 2020 and 2021.
“Painting is completely different than any other trade. It’s very personal” ―Jessica Witka
Throughout the pandemic, she has also benefitted from a surging demand for both painting and wallpapering as people looked to brighten up the spaces where they were spending so much of their time.
“One of the local paint stores contacted me when they found out I install wallpaper,” she says. Once they started handing out her business cards, bookings increased to the point where she hired part-time assistants.
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“I’m looking for someone now who would like to do an apprenticeship,” she says, but adds that she will continue to show up and work herself at every job, as clients have told her that’s important to them. “Painting is completely different than any other trade. It’s very personal.”
Her focus for the coming year is to continue to cement her position in the market as a specialty paint and wall covering professional. In addition to wallpapering, she says, “I know how to do faux finishes, and I’m working with Doug Tarry Homes in St. Thomas on a specialty Venetian plaster project.”
A Red Seal-certified painter, Witka started her career working under the International Painters and Trades Union, primarily doing commercial and industrial painting. It was good experience working with different people, she recalls, “and you grow a thicker skin.”
She also worked for a residential painting company prior to going to work at Western University on a one-year contract. She had started dabbling in residential painting as a sideline in 2017, and when her contract with Western ended she decided it was time to work for herself, establishing Jessica’s Painting in February 2020.
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Witka committed early on to funnel part of her time, talents and profits back into the community, and has repainted the YOU Made it Café operated by Youth Opportunities Unlimited, shown up to help pack Christmas boxes at the London Food Bank and donated funds to both organizations.
“I feel that you need to help the community first,” she says, “and then the community will help you.” Kym Wolfe