The Painting Life: Carlos Peña Beats the Odds

In each issue of Pintor Pro magazine, senior editor Jorge Arboleda goes behind the scenes with successful painting company owners for our series, The Painting Life. This time: Carlos Peña of San Jose Services in San Jose, California.

“It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

This quote has been attributed to the celebrated baseball player Yogi Berra, but it applies perfectly to the world of painting contractors.

In the summer of 2019, Carlos Peña and his brother made the decision to move on from being crew workers to start their own painting business. That was the beginning of San Jose Services, serving the Bay Area of San Francisco, California. Little did they know that COVID-19 would break out a few months later, bringing with it the sanitary measures that impacted business activities across the country. What had begun with high expectations faced its first difficulties. But today, overcoming all odds, Peña’s small company not only went ahead, but is better than ever.

Peña tells us he was originally encouraged to form his own company because he had to work long hours to make enough money to support his family. Seeing him come home exhausted, his wife helped him make the decision to obtain the permits, licenses and insurance required in the city of San José to create his company.

A talent for painting

Carlos comes from a family of painters, so the work came naturally to him.

“Since I was 12 years old, my uncles would take me to the construction sites in the mornings and I was always very interested in painting, the details, the art,” he says. “From the first moment I started with my uncles, they told me that I could be good at painting. It runs in the family.”

As an adult, Peña started working on a construction crew in San Francisco, where he did a wide variety of jobs. Noticing
that he had a special knack for painting, a supervisor one day asked him to paint a house exterior.

“When I finished, he told me that I was good for that. This encouraged me and I started painting more and more on construction sites.”

Knocking on doors

San Jose Services has gone through several stages in a short time, Peña says.

“To get my first clients I started by knocking on doors,” he says. “I would go to the management offices of the apartments carrying letters of introduction with my name and contact information. I went all over the Bay Area where I live. I started offering cleaning services, painting services and carpet cleaning.”

In those days, Peña followed the standard advice of many business coaches by hedging his bets by continuing to work on the construction crew during the day, and offering his freelance services during his off hours.

“Sometimes I’d get new jobs and sometimes I wouldn’t,” he says. “And so on until I found a property contracting company that employed me, then another, and so I kept moving up through referrals.”

Peña, who just turned 34, says starting his own company was a good move.

“Since I started working on my own, things are going well for me,” he says. San Jose Services employs three painters and does mostly residential work, along with occasional commercial jobs such as the Tulip Kids Academy in Sunnyvale, California – the school pictured in the photos in this article – which he painted exclusively with Sherwin-Williams products.

But jobs like this are not his bread and butter.

“What keeps me busy is working in apartments, many of them dedicated to rentals,” he says. “I offer full service for these properties: repainting, remodeling, changing colors, painting kitchen cabinets, drawers, doors. When the tenants leave the apartments, I come in and paint and also do carpet cleaning.”

He has received offers, he says, to become the exclusive painter for certain contractors, but he prefers to stay independent at the helm of his own business.

“I like having different types of jobs, dealing with different people and different types of businesses, and having the freedom to work wherever I want,” he concludes.

This story was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Pintor Pro magazine. Story by Jorge Arboleda, Pintor Pro senior editor. Photography by Ebbe Roe. Read more stories about successful painting contractors in the Pintor Pro archive.