By Peter Saunders
Carmelo Marsala struggled with authority since his adolescence, bouncing from job to job and knowing he wanted to start his own business one day. An early experience as a franchisee ended up motivating him to become a franchisor, as he founded Spray-Net to fill an unmet need in the residential exterior painting industry.
From college to pro
At the age of 19, while he was studying at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business in Montreal, Marsala came across an entry-level opportunity to invest in a business and became a local franchisee for College Pro, a house painting and window cleaning service provider headquartered in Toronto.
“I couldn’t see far ahead in my career at that point, but it was a great chance to start a business while I was still a student,” he explains. “I learned a lot through that experience, both from the franchisor’s training and from my on-site work. I ran that business for three seasons, each lasting from April to September.”
While he was handling traditional exterior paint jobs, some customers would also ask him to paint other areas—including aluminum and vinyl doors and window frames—to give them a fresh look, rather than having to replace them. He knew he had to refuse such requests, however, since the results would look too noticeably repainted, with a streaky-looking finish that would inevitably end up peeling.
“That’s when the light bulb turned on and I got an idea of how to fix this little-known problem,” he says.
With an understanding of how new siding, window frames and doors were painted in a factory, Marsala realized if he could find a way to reproduce the same factory-quality finish and durability on-site, then he would be able to meet those customers’ demands in a mutually satisfactory fashion, which could not be achieved with regular latex paint, a brush and a roller.
His further research and development (R&D) yielded industrial-strength, spray-applied paints and coatings and specialized techniques for not only siding, windows and doors, but also stucco and brick. With this toolkit, any home could be transformed and renewed in a cost-effective manner in just one day. And Marsala already had the on-the-job skills necessary to bring this new service to the same customer base with which he had become familiar.
Fit for franchising
The concept proved popular and Spray-Net was born. After three years, Marsala grew the business from three trucks to six and a staff of 30.
“It became unsustainable for me to oversee all of these people just by myself,” he says. “We had a unique concept and I knew I had to franchise it. My previous experience as a franchisee helped me create the framework to become a franchisor, but I also had to learn new processes, such as how to create an operations manual.”
After branding the business with a distinctive logo in 2013, Marsala sold his first two franchises in 2014 in Quebec City and Gatineau, Que. Both of their owners came from the trades, including flooring and painting. The following year, Spray-Net expanded outside the province, reaching Toronto.
The biggest growth spurt occurred in 2016, however, after Spray-Net was featured on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.
“Right before that appearance, we had sold five other territories,” Marsala says, “but afterwards, we got so many more requests from across the country. We expanded over the rest of that year to Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Halifax and Charlottetown.”