TRAVERSE CITY — Paul Roebke’s first customers saw his name and number written on one of the 5-by-7 index cards he passed around Traverse City when he started his painting business in 1984, a month before his high school graduation.
“I left my little homemade business cards with homes that looked like they needed paint jobs,” Roebke said. “I had literally one call.”
Real business cards are just one progression Roebke made in 30 years of owning his business Painting by Paul. He put himself through school, has six employees in the busy season, and painted countless area houses and businesses.
“It’s kind of neat to be a part of watching the city grow,” Roebke said. “You’re a part of changes. It’s interesting to do a job, and maybe the building gets torn down and you say ‘I remember back in the day when this was such and such.’”
Roebke said licensing has become stricter over time; he now needs a Maintenance and Alteration Contractor License for himself and the business. Most of the work has stayed consistent, other than a few new paint products on the market.
“Doing a house is still doing a house,” he said. “If you have to go 20 feet, you need a 20-foot extension ladder. It’s the same as it was 20 years ago.”
Roebke’s business philosophy has stayed the same, too.
“Always treat people with respect,” he said. “Yes sir, no sir. Yes ma’am, no ma’am. I was brought up that way. Stay classy. It’s timeless, it never goes out of style.”
The philosophy has paid off in customers who call him for all their painting jobs and who refer him to friends and neighbors.
Roebke attributes his success to his business education. He went to school thinking he’d eventually head to Wall Street, but found the painting business calling him back.
Roebke will celebrate his 30th high school graduation and 30th year in business this summer, and will be able to show his classmates real business cards.