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Colourful Past, Bright Future

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PHOTO SOURCE: PRODUCTION WORLD

The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald has stood like a silent sentinel over the North Saskatchewan River Valley since 1915 and is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. This year it boasts a top-down renovation with refreshed guest rooms, ballrooms and common areas. One of the companies involved in this major update is Pro Co Painting – and the woman behind Pro Co Painting is a tenacious entrepreneur with an ambition that empowered her to turn a student job into a thriving career. That woman is Keiko McPherson and today, she is happy to run the business alongside Joelene Zakaluzny. 

 

It all started in 2008 when McPherson gained employment with Student Works Painting while earning a Bachelor of Commerce degree in entrepreneurship and small business at the University of Alberta. By 2013 she has risen through the ranks as both general manager and franchise owner. During that time she also swept up numerous awards including Rookie of the Year (2008), Marketing Award (2008), Producer of the Year (2009), Franchisee of the Year (2009), and District Manager of the Year (2014). 

 

“I was a weird kid. I was entrepreneurial since the age of 11,” laughs McPherson. “I had always wanted to run a business, so joining and then franchising with Student Works Painting was a great opportunity. Once I graduated, I was thinking of leaving the painting industry but I still wanted to be within the business sphere. I noticed that Student Works Painting did not have a commercial division in Alberta. So, I opened that and ran it for six years. 

 

Her commercial division, which was separately branded and of which she was garnering her own leads, was a huge success. Things got to the point where it was enough to spin out of the parent brand. 

 

“Since then Pro Co Painting has been operational for 11 years under various titles,” says McPherson. 

 

Zakaluzny and McPherson first crossed paths in 2015. At that time, McPherson was Zakaluzny’s Student Works district manager. By the end of 2017, as McPherson sought new ventures, she saw an opportunity to bolster her business with Zakaluzny’s proven expertise. The synergy between their visions was undeniable. Zakaluzny moved to Edmonton in 2017 and the two women proceeded to run the Edmonton Pro Co Painting branch together. 

 

Another milestone came in 2020, when the business expanded into Saskatchewan. That location is expertly run by Kylie Gavelin. This marked a shift to set Pro Co Painting up as a franchised company, giving the option to expand in this way should the company choose to do so. 

 

“Pro Co Painting does high-end work with above-average customer services for commercial clients,” explains McPherson. “We do a lot of work for multinationals like Costco, the Edmonton Public School Board, The Edmonton Catholic School Board, Cineplex Odeon, IKEA, The Brick, Enoch Recreational Centre at Enoch Cree Nation and Earls restaurants. 

 

We create employment with an original crew of 10, but with subcontractors of up to 50 painters in Edmonton alone.” 

 

“Our growth,” she continues, “is due to our relentless focus on quality. Our core values demand that we deliver the best work while treating everyone – clients, team, subcontractors – well. We care. We passionately care about the work we do and the people we do it with. Everyone gets treated equally and our prices are fair. We communicate daily with our clients, deliver updates and ensure our administration is expertly run to avoid complications, delays or other frustrations on the job.” 

 

McPherson credits executive administrator Matthew Cao, who joined the team in 2020, for the smoothness of the back-end administration. 

 

“He is the best!” she praises. “He is incredibly efficient.” 

 

While Pro Co Painting enjoys working for a variety of clients, Kal Tire holds a special memory for McPherson.  

 

“I cold called them,” she recounts. “About 11 years ago I found out they were rebranding, so I went to all of the locations they had in Edmonton to do some recon. Then I put together a proposal and sent it to their head office. And they were like, ‘Who are you?’” 

 

She laughs, “We had highlighted their entire rebrand and they could not believe we knew so much about their branding.” 

 

The gutsy move was respected by Kal Tire and since then, Pro Co Painting has completed more than 350 projects for them across Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

 

“I just love working with them,” McPherson adds. “They are really great; so very kind. They are one of the best companies for how they treat Pro Co Painting and how they treat their own staff and customers.” 

 

How did booking the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald come about? 

 

“It’s my dream job,” smiles McPherson. 

 

Being a long-term Edmontonian, McPherson has dreamed about painting the iconic hotel since she started her business. 

 

“I make an annual vision board with a list of projects I want to complete. This year I put Fairmont MacDonald on my list. And they called me. ME! The company with the Fairmont contract called me! It was everything you can imagine wishing for… times 500.” 

 

The painting project is a comprehensive renovation of the prestigious hotel, encompassing a complete overhaul from the ground up. This ambitious endeavor involves gutting the entire hotel to make way for new carpets, new furniture, updated plumbing and a revamp of all the rooms, including the grand 3,500 square feet Empire Ballroom along with the Wedgwood, Edmonton, Cavanaugh, Parlour, Jasper and Drawing rooms, all bathrooms, all common areas and all guest rooms. With a total of 163 rooms and five corridor hallways to transform, this project is expansive in scope and ambition. 

 

The complexity of the renovation requires a diverse array of specialized crews, each contributing their expertise to different aspects of the job. 

 

“As one of the only local contractors on the project, I’ve found myself not only overseeing the painting but also helping with the coordinating of other trades to ensure a seamless renovation process,” says McPherson. “There have been other special touches as well that we are incorporating. The meticulous attention to detail required, such as hand-painting plaster images on the ceiling in gold and restoring a chandelier by hand, underscores the project’s significance and the high level of craftsmanship involved. It’s a project that I could never have envisioned taking on, yet it has become a defining moment in my career. 

 

“The impact of this project extends beyond the company and me as an individual because it touches the heart of the community. Revitalizing such an iconic building in Edmonton not only contributes to the city’s architectural heritage but also enhances its cultural landscape. It’s a source of pride for everyone involved. I have actually spent more time on this job site than I have spent on all my projects in the past three years.” 

 

McPherson is happy to note that despite the tight timelines and large scope of the project, the Fairmont job has been great in all aspects and the client has been wonderful to her, the team and everyone involved. 

 

As with every business there are ups and downs, challenges and rewards. For McPherson, one of those rewards is something that she, fortunately, does not have to struggle with – unlike so many other businesses at the moment. 

 

“In the past we did have trouble recruiting,” she shares, “but now we are so very blessed to have a full team of the right people. They are focused on doing quality work and we all enjoy the satisfaction it gives our clients. Having this team in place allows me to focus on company growth.” 

 

Of course, there is the age-old question – as a woman in business, in the trades no less, has McPherson encountered additional challenges? 

 

She laughs as she tackles the questions head on. 

 

“Is being young, female and a minority a challenge in business? Some may think so, but I see it as an opportunity. I know myself. I know my team. We are great at what we do and we have never failed a job. I’ve been painting since I was 17. I find that if you stand your ground and act like an equal, you get treated like an equal.” 

 

As she reflects on her remarkable journey so far, she muses, “I truly love everything about Edmonton. I remain here because of the people. They are so supportive and people here are doing incredible things. The Alberta advantage right now is technology. There are many cool new startups, innovation in renewables and just a lot of innovation happening. Look at Kuby Energy, for example. I’ve known the owner, Jake, forever. He was once talking about an idea for a solar company and now it is a reality. He’s been a great friend and mentor. Edmonton and Alberta are where people are supportive because everyone wants to succeed.” 

 

McPherson says a very big thank you to her clients, team and community, including bookkeeper Carla Gate, Ben Stemen with St Arnaud Pinsent Steman Charter Professional Accounts, Saskatchewan location’s Kylie Gavelin and Derek Weisbeck from Scotia McLeod. She also thanks her team including long-term employees Mason Morley and Denny Proulx and all of the subtrades. 

 

“Looking forward I want our clients and potential clients to know that Pro Co Painting is your best option because we care so very much. We care about the quality of the work we do and I am not willing to sacrifice quality for growth,” McPherson concludes. “Our future involves continuing this trajectory and ensuring the highest quality of work with the best possible customer service for our current clients and the ones we look forward to meeting as we continue to expand.” 

 

Learn more at procopainting.ca and on Instagram (@procopainting). 

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