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True Colors Marks 25 Years


by Nat Frothingham

Montpelier’s True Colors Home Decorating is celebrating an event not every entrepreneurial newbie can expect to see: 25 years in business. Owner Bill McQuiggan took the occasion recently to tell The Bridge what those years have wrought.

A native of Rockland, Massachusetts, McQuiggan started in business “the old-fashioned way,” to use his words, when his father put the newly minted high-school graduate to work managing one of the elder McQuiggan’s convenience stores in Quincy, Massachusetts. He then got into the home decorating business with a Boston-area paint store chain, for which he managed several stores. With that experience on his resume, he moved up to Vermont and worked for Barre’s Rubel Home Decorating. “Ben Rubel taught me the meaning of living in Vermont,” McQuiggan writes on his website.

But McQuiggan wanted to go out on his own. He crafted a plan for a home decorating business and submitted it to an advisory board run by the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the federal Small Business Administration.  The idea was to share the plan with some expert businesspeople and then answer the toughest questions they could throw at him–and the idea worked. Founded in 1989, True Colors has now thrived for a quarter-century.

A lot has changed in the home decorating business over those years, and recycling is one new development in which McQuiggan himself has played a noteworthy role. For years and years, no one thought about recycling paint. You bought a gallon of paint. When you finished the job, you hammered the lid back on the can and put it on a shelf.  And maybe you forgot about it.

So, in 1991, McQuiggan told us, he teamed up with a local regional planner named Michael Bender and launched a latex paint recycling project. It was the first such project in the country, and it inevitably attracted media attention. That led to an interview with the New York Times and news articles in places as far away as Seattle.

What McQuiggan did was to take back latex paint from his customers. He then grouped and remixed the colors and sold the result at a large discount.

“We were ahead of the curve,” McQuiggan said about the project. Being able to buy recycled paint achieved two good objectives: the paint stayed out of the landfill and the recycled goods made houses beautiful instead of being discarded or sitting in a closet.

There have been other changes, too. Years ago, he said, people pretty much stuck with a conservative range of colors, but “today the fear of using colors has been removed.” People are using adventurous, even festive colors. That has perhaps tested his skills as a “mixologist,” but it’s also provided a lot of interest to a career many would dismiss as being dull as, well, watching paint dry.

McQuiggan refused to take all the credit for his enterprise’s success. He praised his very knowledgeable store manager, Kath Natzke. A graduate of the U.S. School of Paper Hanging in Rutland, Kath has been with True Colors for 13 years.

McQuiggan has carved out something of a niche for himself as a trusted window blind installer.  Some of his clients once lived in Montpelier but got transferred to other parts of Vermont. Others of his customers have moved within Montpelier. And he continues to get phone calls from people who live in other parts of the Northeast but have summer places here in Vermont. The common denominator for all these people is that they want McQuiggan to install their window blinds. This often means that he’s often on the road installing blinds far from Montpelier–sometimes as many as four out of five days a week.

True Colors will celebrate its anniversary with a big party at its River Street store on Saturday, September 13, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., with free balloons, popcorn, hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, chips–the works. The public is invited.