Fredy Vigil came to H.J. Holtz & Son 10 years ago at the suggestion of his friend Juan Villanueva. Both are still with the company.
“He told me there was a lot of work here, and everyone was treated well,” Vigil says.
Vigil already had plenty of experience; he had been working as a painter for nearly 10 years when he switched employers. He says the most compelling reason offered by Villanueva was the assurance that at H.J. Holtz & Son, he wouldn’t face random days off without pay because of erratic work load. Instead, he would be guaranteed steady work.
Once he joined the Holtz & Son team, Vigil spent a few years learning the Holtz method, then became a foreman, leading project teams. He enjoys that role, he says, because he can run the job using his approach, which includes plenty of communication.
“At the end of the work day, I let everyone know what we’re going to do the next day,” he says. “That way, they know what to expect.”
Vigil has also enjoyed the chance to develop his painting skills. He is now one of the Holtz painting team members with extensive experience in working with the Fine Paints of Europe (FPE) product line. When painting with FPE coatings, the environment has to be carefully controlled – to prevent dust and other particulates from marring the surface – and the application has to be deliberate and precise.
“I liked the challenge of learning something new,” Vigil says of working with FPE, adding that he enjoys talking with people about that paint line. “We have to educate customers about what’s needed.”
When he’s not in a customer’s home, Vigil can often be found in the spray booth, an enclosed space where furniture and other objects are painted in a climate-controlled environment. “I really like being in the booth, because when I finish, I can see the good quality of the paint job,” he says. “And it’s nice to be on my own sometimes.”
Vigil also appreciates the family atmosphere of the company, noting that he was able to get to know current president Rick Holtz’s parents and sister when they were working with the company. “That makes me want to stay,” he says.
Happy 10th anniversary, Fredy!
Painting foreman George Baker is a man of few words and steady demeanor. But a soft smile creases his face when he’s asked what he likes about painting.
“I like to look at my work [when I’ve finished a job] and say, ‘I’ve done that,’” he says. “You can see the results.”
When Baker joined the Holtz team in May 2008, he already had painting experience, including working at the Norfolk shipyard. A friend suggested he apply to H.J. Holtz & Son. When he did, he found a similar ethos.
“At the shipyard, inspectors checked everything,” he says. “They wanted a neat job, a clean job, the right way to do a job. That’s what it’s like here. We want everything to be perfect.”
Roughly a decade ago, Baker was asked to step into a foreman’s role, filling a temporary need.
“At the time, they were short-handed, so I said I’ll go ahead and serve as foreman for a while,” he says. “I’m still doing it,” he adds, smiling wryly.
The foreman role brings added responsibilities: maintaining a project’s schedule, managing unexpected situations, and communicating with the client and office staff. “You have to keep it all running,” he says.
In addition to finding satisfaction in a job well done, Baker enjoys the camaraderie found at H.J. Holtz & Son. “It’s a pretty nice atmosphere … with a variety of people,” he says. “Everybody does different things, and you can learn from everyone.”
Baker fondly remembers working with Dick and Geny Holtz, current company president Rick Holtz’s parents. “I could communicate well with them,” Baker says. “Rick is a pretty good owner; I like the company.”
Congratulations, George, on your 15-year anniversary!
James Draine and Shane Legano haven’t seen it all. But they’ve seen plenty.
The pair, who often work together hanging wallpaper and other coverings for H.J. Holtz & Son, are both celebrating their 20th anniversaries with the firm this spring. Shane joined the company in April 2003 and trained for 18 months before he hung wallpaper on his own. James was hired for occasional carpentry work in 2002 and became a full-time crew member less than a month later, in May.
Do they feel the passage of time?
“Sometimes yes, and sometimes no,” Shane says, adding that he now notices his distance from the ground when he’s atop ladders and scaffolding. “I’d do that when I was younger and not even think about it.”
The expanse of years doesn’t present itself “until you start to reminisce,” James says. “Then you really start thinking, ‘That was 20 years ago.’ The whole company has developed; it was nothing compared to what it is now.”
When James joined H.J. Holtz & Son, the company’s building on West Moore Street in Scott’s Addition was so rudimentary that he started by creating in-house work spaces. “There was one rinky-dink office in the back,” he says. “Because I came from framing houses, my first assignment was to build a secretary’s office.”
From there, James moved into the painting division, beginning with exterior prep work. As his skills developed, he moved on to exterior painting, then interior painting. Once he felt confident in his painting skills, he shifted to wallpaper and faux finishes, training under Shane and Dannon Featherston, another longtime team member.
“I’m always like, ‘Okay, what’s next?’” James says, adding that he has no ambitions to move into management, the only company division where he’s never worked. “I will never, ever, ever go into an office,” he says. “I don’t like dealing with other people’s headaches.”
Following a car accident more than five years ago, Shane worked in the front office as he recovered. When he was able to return to in-home projects, he divided his time between office tasks and in-house projects. “That didn’t work,” he says. “Being in the field is stressful, but the office is different. I’m happy to be out in the field.”
Both appreciate the opportunities they have had to learn their craft through practice and continuing education, which the company encourages and pays for. Shane says that conventions expose them to the latest techniques while comparing notes with other paper hangers who do the same kind of work.
And they appreciate how the company values employees. “There are a lot of paint companies who let their guys go in the winter,” James says. “That doesn’t happen here.”
Shane adds: “I’ve never missed work because of a slow time. Even during COVID, we stayed busy. We did crazy stuff [to stay safe and protect clients], but we kept working.”
Company President Rick Holtz also helps in times of personal crisis, they say. Shane lost his son Skyler to cancer in the fall of 2020. He was given paid personal time, both before and after his son’s death, to be home with family. “Not many people would do that,” he says. “Rick came to see me often; we’d just sit on the front porch.”
James says that employees know that if they need help, all they need to do is go into Holtz’s office. “You could walk in there whether you’ve been here a week or three years,” he says. “We’re extremely blessed to be here.”
H.J. Holtz & Son paper hangers Shane Legano and James Draine went to the annual Wallcovering Installers Association convention in September knowing they would come away with helpful information.
“I asked questions for jobs I knew were coming up,” James says. “We usually know in advance when we have a big, specialty job coming. That [convention] is a good place to ask questions, because there are a lot of people there who are doing the same kind of work we do.”
Both Shane and James have attended multiple WIA conventions, but this is the first in-person gathering since 2019, due to pandemic disruptions. The two agree that meeting in person adds to the experience.
“You’re getting input from all these different wallcovering hangers from all over, their tips and techniques,” Shane says. “We’re learning from each other. No matter how long you’ve been doing this, you’re always learning. There’s always something new.”
James adds: “When you work in such a small industry, you don’t meet a whole lot of people who know what you do, especially the high-end wallpaper work that we do. There are probably 15,000 plumbers in Richmond, but maybe 10 high-end residential [wallcovering] installers. At the convention, there are 150 people who all do the same thing: hang wallpaper. It’s a wealth of knowledge.”
This year’s convention was slightly different from past gatherings, which typically offered multiple sessions in a single time block. This year, sessions were held one at a time, so participants didn’t have to make decisions about which to attend. Another benefit of the new schedule was flexibility: James and Shane could skip sessions geared to business-owners and instead spend time with their colleagues.
“The secondary chat – just talking with people in the hallways – is really important,” James says. “You can have conversations about something you heard in a class, where someone else says, ‘I did that a different way,’ and you can talk about what you’ve done. You can figure out different ways to handle different situations.”
The first day of the convention was devoted to best practices. In addition to the instruction, each participant was given a three-inch, three-ring binder divided into sections for every aspect of hanging wall coverings, from liners to adhesive to matching patterns to QR codes for future reference. “It’s everything you would ever need,” Shane says. “That binder, hands-down, is my favorite thing I got from the convention,” James says.
Another highlight of the meeting was a video tour of the headquarters of Adelphi Paper Hangings, a New York company that reproduces historic wallcoverings using the same methods and materials as in the 18th and 19th centuries. Because the Holtz & Son team has worked with Adelphi papers in the past, in Colonial Williamsburg and private residences, it was especially meaningful to see the company’s process, James says.
“They take a big roll of paper and cut it down into 3’-by-3’ sheets, which is the size that was used years ago, because they didn’t have big paper rolls,” James says. The tour showed how designs were created, from brushing the background on the paper to making the paints that are then used in the screen printing process. “It was really cool to see how they made those types of historical papers,” Shane adds.
Shane and James agree that their conference attendance makes them better at what they do. “Every year is different, so there’s something new to learn every time,” Shane says. “We’ve picked up so many tips and tricks [over the years]; because of what I see there, I’m willing to try it here. Rick [Holtz, company president] lets us go and takes care of everything, which is great. It has really opened doors for us.”
For José Cocar, it’s satisfaction – not the devil – that’s in the details.
Cocar, who celebrated his 10th anniversary with H.J. Holtz & Son in July, came to the company with 12 years of experience, yet still went through the training process the firm uses for all new hires.
“I learned the system,” he says via a translator. “But I also make improvements, so I can do some things my way.”
Cocar primarily works on kitchen cabinet projects, where he follows company procedure for disassembling, cleaning, prepping, priming and painting. He is known in the company for taking good care to protect nearby surfaces – appliances, floors, countertops and backsplashes – as work is underway. He says the attention to detail he uses isn’t always noticed, but it’s always important.
“Other [painters] don’t always do the right thing, [and will] take advantage of people who don’t pay attention,” he says. “I want to make sure everything is good.”
Cocar says he strives to bring a positive attitude to work every day, setting aside non-work-related concerns before his day begins.
“I try to be relaxed and calm,” he says. “I try to leave [other] pressures outside, so I can focus on [what I’m doing].”
Cocar came to H.J. Holtz & Son at the suggestion of a friend, who was working for the company at the time. That friend has since left to start his own painting business and invited Cocar to come along. Cocar declined.
“I feel comfortable here; I want to stay where I feel comfortable,” Cocar says. “I’ve worked at other companies before, but never one like this. This is the best company to work for. Rick [Holtz, company president] treats us like family here.”
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
That was the approach James Wright took when his first application to H.J. Holtz & Son was turned down.
Wright began his career working with a general contractor, but left that position to focus on painting. By the time he approached Holtz & Son, he had four years of painting experience under his belt. Following the initial “no,” Wright bided his time.
After six months, he submitted a new application – and was hired. In May 2022, Wright marks his 10th anniversary with the firm.
“Before I came here, when I was with other painting companies, other people always said Holtz was the best company to work for,” Wright says. “I figured, if I get on there, I’m going to make it last as long as possible.”
Wright says H.J. Holtz & Son’s good reputation among working painters is related to the firm’s bevy of employee benefits, including paid vacation time, which many painting companies don’t offer. Additionally, Holtz & Son offers the chance to broaden your skills, Wright says, noting that he’s now a relatively new member of the paper-hanging division.
“After eight years, I was getting a little bored with painting,” he says. “I asked if I could try out the wallpaper.”
Because he had seen other employees move within the company, Wright says, he felt confident in making the switch. “James Draine, Shane Legano and Dannon Featherston all helped me,” he says. “I like the artistic freedom [involved in wallpaper projects], and [hanging wallpaper] is not as hard as people make it out to be.”
But he’s still learning, he adds.
“I’m working on my third year in wallpaper,” he says. “There’s a lot of different situations … so many different situations. I know if I need help, [the team] would be there with me.”
Happy anniversary, James!