With a paintbrush in one hand and a spirit level in the other, Kerrie Keeling has found her place in an industry dominated by men.
Her company A Woman’s Touch consists almost entirely of women. Plumbers, painters, electricians – they’re all there, but the difference is, they won’t go for a 2-hour tea break then trudge paint through your hallway on their return.
“My staff have a woman’s eye for detail,” Keeling explains. “They’ll clean up after themselves everyday, even if that takes longer. Your house shouldn’t have to look like a building site for two weeks.”
Keeling’s clients range from women reluctant to let messy workmen in the homes, to DIY-shy men unwilling to admit to another man their inability to fix a tap.
The business, which has doubled its turnover year-on-year since launching in 2003, currently boasts annual revenues of £600,000.
Keeling had always harboured a desire to be her own boss but initially the lure of a comfy salary and solid career path in the City proved too strong.
After seven years working for investment banks, and with a recent promotion under her belt, she decided the time was right to step off the corporate ladder.
“I was getting frustrated with all the backstabbing,” she explains. “I hated the culture and it was so exhausting trying to fit in.”
Her frustration with corporate life coincided with some home renovations she was having done. “The guys that did it left such a mess and bullied me into paying more than they’d quoted.”
Keeling wanted decorators that arrived on time, were polite, tidied up – basically treated the place like their own home. It became obvious the solution was to set up her own decorating company, offering the level of customer service she expected.
Two weeks later, she handed in her resignation. While working her month’s notice Keeling phoned around the competition posing as a potential client to find out what they offered.
Armed with a bonus and reluctant to take on debt, she refused to fund the business through borrowing.
Keeling’s only start-up costs were registering the company name and setting up a website – all for under £1,000. She now admits it would have grown much faster if she’d borrowed enough to employ others from the outset, however.
For the first three months, it was just her, a car and her dad’s toolkit, working seven days a week, evenings and weekends – and the only experience she’d had was decorating her own home.
Her first contracts came from her network of city acquaintances and Keeling is a firm believer in word-of-mouth promotion rather than advertising.
It was three months before Keeling employed a professional decorator but the company now boasts a 26-strong army of tradeswomen, despite only recently having moved the business out of her home into an office.
Keeling rarely picks up a paintbrush these days. Her focus rests with expanding the business, and she’s hoping to take it national through a series of branches and franchises.
“I hadn’t grasped just how much work would be involved when I started,” says Keeling. “But I’m actually quite glad because I may not have done it otherwise!”