DeLandite Miranda Miller was building a career in an industry she loves when COVID-19 pulled the rug out from under the small business she worked for.
So, in April 2020, Miller decided to found a business of her own, and Fade to Black Painting and Refinishing was born.
Miller formed a limited-liability corporation immediately, pulled from her retirement savings to buy equipment, and started trying to figure out what else she needed to launch a business.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Miller said. “I Googled it, and asked friends.”
Insurance, taxes, licenses, employees, marketing.
“I just kind of fumbled my way through it,” Miller said.
A year later, Fade to Black is a success, and Miller manages to keep a staff of five, including herself, busy. And paid.
“In the first year, I could pay myself. I think that’s a success,” she said. “Now I have to grow it, and put that money back in my 401(k).”
She chose what scenic painters call “straight painting,” working on houses and living rooms, instead of fiberglass elephants and décor items similar to DeLand’s holiday toy soldiers.
“I just knew that the housing industry was starting to pick up,” she said. “It just kind of dawned on me.”
Miller wanted to offer customers a one-stop shop, so Fade to Black can do any kind of painting — faux finishes, straight painting, cabinet makeovers and furniture refinishing, for example.
“If somebody came up to me and said, ‘I want a mural on my car,’ I have the resources to do that,” she said.
In her business, Miller said, the hardest thing is pricing her company’s work in a way that’s fair to the customer and fair to Fade to Black and its employees.
There are a lot of details to even a simple painting job, and her prices have to cover all the time it takes to manage those details, as well as the cost of equipment, and background expenses like accounting software, an office computer and insurance.
“I have to be sure I cover all that time when I’m not being paid to paint,” Miller said.
Her experience writing quotes and proposals for the firms she had worked for came in handy. One miscalculation on a job for Walt Disney World, she noted, could cost a company thousands of dollars.
The biggest frustration of being a small-business owner, she said, is competing with companies that don’t do it right, and, because of that, can lowball their prices.
Buying insurance, paying all the taxes owed, paying employees a living wage and using the right materials — even if those things drive up the cost — are the right things to do to make a stronger society, Miller said.
She occasionally misses the ease of working for someone else.
“There are definitely things I like about knowing there’s going to be a paycheck in my account every week,” she said. “Now that I have my own business, that’s all just up to me.”
The reward, Miller said, was proving to herself that she has the ability and drive to own a business.
“I needed to see for myself if I was capable of doing things,” she said. “It was finally time to see if I had it. … It’s definitely stressful, but at the same time, it’s extremely rewarding.”
When she founded her small business in 2020, Miranda Miller had plenty to go on.
Having worked in scenic painting for more than 20 years — including helping to create Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios — she knew all about paints and other finishes, durability, quality and customer service.
She had worked for a small business that got bought out by a large business, and worked for the large business. When two fellow employees left the big company to form a new small business of their own, she went to work for them and found a mentor in one of the co-owners, Colin Murphy.
Murphy, Miller said, was goofy and funny, and taught her that being professional didn’t necessarily mean being boring, straight-laced and traditional.
She had a front-row seat as the new small business grew from five or six employees to up to 100 during a busy time, and from a tiny shop to a 90,000-square-foot facility.
Murphy and his partner treated employees well, and that was an important lesson for Miller — one that influences how she runs her small business, Fade to Black Painting and Refinishing.
Over the years working for the small and large companies, Miller had been on the bottom rung, progressed to supervision, and moved into sales.
Miller had seen a lot. But she had never seen a global pandemic nearly wipe out an industry overnight.
In the scenic-painting and custom-fabrication industry, Miller and her co-workers built themed realities, scenery and settings for big corporate events and customers like Walt Disney World.
All of a sudden, corporate events evaporated and even giant Disney was dialing back.
“Jobs were canceled in mid-fabrication,” Miller said. “I’m a mother of three kids. I had to be proactive. I couldn’t just wait to be fired.”
She didn’t want to fight for unemployment benefits, either. Instead, she took the leap and started a small business.