Ron Franklin, Ron Franklin Painting & Decorating, Sacramento, California
Ron Franklin is always looking for ways to make his work more efficient and seeking to outpace other painters by painting smarter, faster and better.
By Bob Graham
a Sacramento, Calif.-based painter, looks like a football player with his 6-foot-9 frame and paints using the mind of an athlete. He is always looking for ways to make his work more efficient and seeking to outpace other painters by painting smarter, faster and better.
"I approach my work the same way I approached football and basketball when I was in college. I want to do my best and I look for ways to improve on that," explains Franklin, 48, owner of Ron Franklin Painting and Decorating, a small operation in the Sacramento area.
Franklin's career in painting should come as no surprise, even though he studied physical education and science at Boise State University. When he finished college, he approached an uncle, Ed Skalisky, who operated Skalisky Decorators, a union shop in Sacramento that employed between 60 and 70 painters. Franklin wanted his uncle to give him a lead on a general contractor who might employ him as an apprentice so he could learn that business.
Seeing his nephew's large frame, Skalisky suggested he try painting. "He said, 'I think you could be an excellent painter,'" Franklin recalls. Franklin's older brother, Greg, 49, was a third-year apprentice painter at the time, and six of his mother's nine brothers were working painters.
Franklin decided to go to work for his uncle, painting on commercial, residential and industrial jobs for seven years. He learned a great deal about painting from many of the crew bosses, most of whom had endured World War II and believed that their success in the war came from doing the best they could no matter what the challenge. Franklin now had reinforcement for a philosophy he had learned while playing sports.
"That type of shop is great for learning the trade because you have to do some of everything," Franklin recalls. Among the jobs he recalls are painting sewer treatment plants and military bases. He also worked in high-end residential developments, where the complexity of the painting work would require a crew for as much as six months.
Eager to learn and anxious to keep a steady income, he also learned to hang commercial wallcoverings from Gary Thomas of Star Wallcovering and Bert Dudgeon and residential wallcovering from Robert Kellogg. An art that many painters might consider someone else's job, Franklin now feels he has learned to be a skilled wallcoverer. He finds his ability to perform this task has meant additional income at times when painting work might not be available.
Franklin enjoyed the variety and experiences of these early years, but then he decided to work with his brother. Greg and he operated a painting business for three years, and it was Greg who encouraged him to go off on his own. Franklin took his advice about nine years ago, and has never looked back. "Painting has definitely provided for the needs of my family, and that's very important to me," says Franklin, father to three sons and one daughter.
The sons, two of which are college-age, often spend time helping their father out on jobs. "It's an opportunity for me to teach my sons about work ethics. I didn't have my own business my sons might not find jobs that teach them the things I try to teach them when we're painting together."
He counsels his sons to use a minimal amount of effort to derive the best result -- his mantra whenever he works. "Guys do the same thing thousands of times but don't always think about how to do it better," explains Franklin. "I try to keep my mind on what I'm doing, hoping to find something to make my job quicker or require less effort."
Franklin's desire to improve his work led to more than a decade of designing an articulating joint for extension poles. Franklin got the idea for a multi-positioned roller as he became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of a traditional roller -- how it hurt his back and neck muscles to be constantly bending and how it limited his ability to get close enough to ceilings and floors to trim his touchup time. Franklin, with more than 25 years of experience, found that he, like most painters, was limited when he put a roller on a pole.
"I just couldn't get to all the angles I needed and it frustrated me," says Franklin. Where most painters might have tolerated the inconvenience, Franklin sought a solution. After working with a couple of prototypes, testing them at job sites, identifying weaknesses and working to improve his concept, Franklin invented a design for what is now the Franklin Bender. He obtained a patent about eight years ago, and is now starting to produce it.
The Franklin Bender does exactly that: It bends. Using a push button system, the Bender allows its user to choose from 14 angles, all by pushing a button.
The result is a painter who meets Franklin's mantra -- better results with less effort. A professional painter can use Franklin's tool to reach low places without bending over, unusual angles on roofs, walls and floors with less effort, and higher places with greater flexibility -- and no ladder.
It was this concern that started Franklin thinking about a solution. In Sacramento, working on track housing, he found that an increasing number of homes had high vaulted or cathedral type ceilings. Without using a ladder to get to the ceiling, he could not properly paint it. This limitation cost him time and money at a time when he was required, like most residential painters, to complete at least two houses a day.
"Even with my height I couldn't position my roller close to the acoustic ceilings so I started experimenting with a pivot tool on the end of a long pole. By getting the roller closer to the edges I was able to minimize the time I spent 'cutting in' with a brush," says Franklin. His 14-position addition to a pole has limitless possibilities on a job site, Franklin says. "When I don't use my Franklin Bender and I use the standard methods, I feel deprived. Even bending a traditional frame is a poor alternative."
Franklin recently founded Franklin Tool Systems, Inc. to sell his creation which is being manufactured for him by a local machine shop.
Franklin expects his new technology to take professional painters to a new level, one where they can accomplish more work in less time, thus lessening the likelihood of injury and increasing the ability to do more work.
Of the people Franklin has shown his invention to, the reaction has been entirely positive. Ralph Polka, a former crew boss of Franklin's, told him he would have saved his back a lot of pain and anguish if the invention had been available sooner.
Franklin will retrofit the attachment to most of the frequently used extension poles. He plans to advertise his product in magazines, but at the same time, he will also sell his invention by holding one-on-one meetings with painters.
"I'll talk with guys about how this works, what it can do for them, and to let them try it. It'll sell itself once they try it," says Franklin.
The tool epitomizes his view on work: put your mind and body completely into your work and constantly search for ways to make it better.
Throughout his career Franklin has repeatedly been reminded of how important it is to properly manage a job. "You have to know how to watch a job to make sure there aren't any problems," he says, noting that keeping open lines of communication and proper planning with other trades is essential."
The proper coordination of functions on any painting site involving various trades can make or break a schedule, says Franklin. He suggests that the painter who can properly plan and execute his work is often the painter who gets more work. Franklin credits his ability to properly manage jobs, in part, to having the right tools.
As Franklin becomes more of a seasoned veteran in the trade, his desire to do more work and to do it better fuels his desire to develop other helpful tools for painters. Because of the competitive environment for inventions, Franklin says he will not disclose more than that several other "tools" are in early development.
"I'm constantly looking at a task and saying to myself, how can I do this faster or better.' And that's what led to the Franklin Bender and the other ideas I have in mind. I want to make it easier for myself and others who are painting."