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Painting the town

Charlie Williams was a Juneau-based painting contractor with a successful business.

That is until the only full-service paint supply store closed. That left him with a dilemma.

“I had no place to buy paint anymore,” said Williams. “I thought, ‘Let’s see about opening a paint store.’ ”

That was almost 20 years ago, and Valley Paint Center is flourishing. Now, in a town of 30,000, Valley Paint keeps an inventory that would suit a town of 2 million. Williams said because there are so few paint stores in town, he stocks about every type of paint imaginable.

“That way, people don’t have to wait between seven days and three weeks to get the products they need,” said Williams. “We are able to do a large sales volume that way.”

But that wasn’t always the case. Valley Paint had to make it through an economic depression and an account receivable nightmare to get where it is today.

Valley Paint Center opened in 1986, amid a downturn in the economy and massive layoffs throughout the state.

“When it was all said and done, about 10,000 people from this area people were out of work,” he said. “It was a rough way to get started.”

Williams said getting through that time was tough, suffering large losses his first two years. But even when the economy started to pick up, Williams’ challenges were not behind him.

In the late 1990s, Williams was having a hard time keeping up with many of his invoices. His outstanding account receivables continued to grow, but the money was not coming in fast enough for him to adequately keep up with business expenses.

At one point Williams had more than $75,000 in outstanding invoices.

“I was trying to provide the service that my customers needed, and still trying to manage all those invoices,” he said. “It was tough doing it all.”

That is when Williams decided to try Business Manager®, a cash management tool offered by First National Bank Alaska. Through Business Manager, the bank buys Valley Paint’s account receivables, issues invoices to customers and receives the money from those invoices.

“Immediately, it started working,” said Williams. “Our outstanding receivables dropped substantially.”

Williams said one of the best parts of the service is that it frees him up to spend more time one-on-one with his customers.

“Every minute I’m not working on accounting is another minute I can be spending with a customer,” Williams said.

First National Vice President Louise Bourcier said Business Manager is a perfect solution for Valley Paint because it takes the burden of tracking account receivables off Williams’ shoulders.

“For a small business like his, time can mean everything,” said Bourcier.

And Williams said using time more efficiently is becoming increasingly important, as he prepares for competition from a forthcoming big-box hardware store.

Staying in the know about the latest in paint products and providing that expertise to his customers is what Williams said will help him stay a step ahead of his competition.

“We’ll have competitive prices, a large selection, but most importantly we have people who know paint,” he said. “I don’t need to be worrying about invoices and account receivables. My primary concern is giving my customers what they want and need.”

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