Home' Ballarat Enterprise : Enterprise Edition 16 Contents "I'm a red man," said Col Wilkie, without
a moment's hesitation. Not that he was
talking politics or getting embarrassed.
Rather, Col was referring to the thing that has
literally coloured his life for almost 45 years -
For 21 of those years, he has operated Col
Wilkie's Paint Centre in Ballarat.
And since the mid-1990s, wife Annette has
worked side-by-side with him in the Dana Street
store. For the record, her favourite colour is
basalt - or dark grey for the uninitiated - but that
is about where their workplace disagreements
"We get on very well," Col said.
"We pretty much see eye-to-eye on most
And the couple said that was crucial to their
success as a business, as well as a matrimonial
"If you don't get on at home, you're not going to
get on at work," Col said.
"You've got to have a pretty good understanding
of one another, enjoy each other's company
and have similar interests."
Annette said "I guess you strive to make
yourselves a better partnership to make your
business healthier and stronger". In fact, there's
is a match made in paint.
Col and Annette met at Warrnambool's May
Races - an event sponsored by Dulux - in 1992.
Two years later, they were married and a few
years after that, Annette began in the store.
Though she did share her husband's background
- "I learnt a lot from Col's expertise" - she found
her niche with a shift in interior decoration
styles in recent years.
"Wallpaper has made a massive return,"
Of course there are few downsides to working
together. One of those is dealing with what
happens when one or both of you gets sick.
"When your self-employed and there's just the
two of us in the business, it always in the back
of your mind," Annette said.
Working together also means there is less time
to keep the household moving.
"We have to do that all over the weekend," she
Col began his career in paint in 1966, working
at Haymes Paint. A call up for National Service
put that on hold for a couple of years. He
later moved to SC Hobsons and then was a
trade representative for Dulux across Western
While he enjoyed the work, the years on the
road took their toll and he wanted to manage
"I had had enough," he said.
"I wanted to move back in-store. They didn't see
it that way (and) at the end of the day, I thought
I'd go my own way."
In 1989, Col opened his first store.
"If you're starting a business from the ground up
like I did, you've got to take a punt," he said.
"There's no guarantees you'll last even 12
months, let alone 21 years."
Col's first test arrived soon after the doors
opened, with the 1990s recession hitting the
retail sector hard.
More recently, there's been the impact of the
Global Financial Crisis. Even this year's severe
winter has been tricky, with painters putting off
outdoor work until better weather arrived.
"It's not worth starting a major weatherboard
home because it's one day here and one day
there," Col said.
"Most of the painters will say `We'll see you in
Being part of a franchise, in their case Paint
Right, also offered the Wilkies another level of
"If you've got issues, you can go to the board,"
"And we have regional meetings. You can talk
to other people in the industry.''
Col said the business had given them the
opportunity to meet a lot of people and help
them with their painting and decorating
In return, these customers had been very loyal,
returning for their next painting or decorating
"Every day is different and customer
requirements vary, so it is good to be able to
advise them in the old fashioned way: good
service [and] good results," Col said.
Story: Marcus Power
Picture: Daniel Hartley-Allen
Cover Story - Col Wilkie's Paint Centre
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