Meet Your Merchant | Colorful crew celebrates 40 years of quality work, customer relationships
Special to the Sun
Four young men, proud to call themselves ski bums and thrilled to live at Lake Tahoe, spent the summers of the 1970s listening to loud music and painting houses.
The small venture started by the men going door-to-door offering painting, lawn and general maintenance services. The poor economy of 1974 didn’t deter the men from starting their business and the recession of 2008 didn’t put them under either.
Forty years after its inception, Sierra Rainbow Printing and Decorating is still made up of hard working employees who love to play.
Owners Larry Scott, Russ Hanson and Walt Frese have their individual hobbies, though each admits to missing the days of the small paint jobs, when their hair was longer and the days were too.
“I miss the lack of having to deal with business,” Larry said. No longer do the men lift ladders and listen to music everyday, he said —“the bigger you are the more problems you have to deal with.”
Today Sierra Rainbow Painting and Decorating employs more than 20 people. Most have been with the company for 14 years, some as long as 38.
“It’s been a gradual increase in our number of employees,” Russ said. “Each growth spurt we’ve been able to handle.”
The men of Rainbow Painting and Decorating do have strict rules they believe have lead to their success. One that was practiced when the business first started out and strictly adhered to was called “the six-inch clause.”
“If there was six inches of snow we would go powder skiing and deal with business after the fact,” Larry said.
“And that is six inches at lake level,” Walt added. During the 1980s, Larry said, the men had plenty of days under the six inch clause but as “business kept growing and we kept maturing,” the work days turned into ski days were less and less.
Another rule to the men’s success is their lack of social activity with each other outside of work. Although friends at the office (Larry and Walt have known each other since attending middle school in Southern California), they pursue their own interests and feel OK to not partake in social engagements with each other.
The men differ in hobby and skill set, another strength to Sierra Rainbow.
“We don’t step into each others’ shoes unless it’s mandatory,” Russ said. “We work independently, but as a unit.”
Russ runs the books, Walt’s main task is working with employees and materials and Larry spends each day on the road, visiting job sites.
And after a day at work, Larry adds more miles on the wheels of his motorcycle. Larry rides into the mountains, where he can escape for a few hours and let off the steam of the day. This season Larry has ridden 4,500 miles.
Russ said his hobby is golfing. He tries to play three days a week and Walt is notorious for being out on the lake. Always hoping to be in the wind’s favor, the bearded man spends his summer afternoons on his sailboat where he said the crowds don’t matter, because out on the water nothing changes much.
Because so many Tahoe home owners keep lake homes in the family, passing them down to their children, Sierra Rainbow Painting and Decorating is now painting homes for the second- and third-generation of families they met four decades ago. Building and maintaining these lasting relationships with clients, Larry said, is crucial to staying open for so many years.
“You’re not going to be in business for 40 years if you don’t have repeat customers,” he said.
Most Tahoe visitors and residents have seen a lot of these men’s work without realizing it. One of the most rewarding and most challenging jobs was painting the remodel of Sunnyside Resort in 1985. The job has been one of the most memorable, Russ said, “because of the scale and the history of the place.”
“It was a huge step for us,” he said. “We had to do a double shift to make it happen, we worked late and double teamed it.”
Sunnyside Resort recognized the men’s hard work by naming a guest room in their honor.
In 40 years of work, Larry estimates Sierra Rainbow Painting and Decorating has completed 10,000 jobs and whole lot of paint.
“It’s unlimited,” he said. “I can’t even fathom how much paint — it’s countless.”
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.