Derek Campbell holds nothing in his hands, not even a pen, as he walks door to door to pitch sales for his fledgling painting business.
Campbell, 22, of Arlington relies on the power of persuasion and youthful charm. He introduces himself, explains that he is a student at Bentley University in Waltham, and tells potential customers about the business he plans to start this summer.
Campbell is one of nearly 100 New England branch managers at Braintree-based Collegiate Entrepreneurs Inc., which describes itself as “the most widely used college painting service” in the Northeast. The company operates almost entirely with college students as managers of small painting ventures.
Like other students, Campbell was looking for real-world business experience when he signed on with Collegiate Entrepreneurs. He is working with the company, through a training program and his own wintertime sales calls, to start learning the ropes of entrepreneurship.
“Bentley teaches you in the classroom but it’s hard to actually translate that in to the real world,” said Campbell. “This gives you the hands-on experience and realization of, ‘Oh! So this is how you run a business.’ ”
Collegiate Entrepreneurs, founded in 2000, provides managers with $1 million in liability insurance, workers’ compensation coverage, and a host of marketing materials to help them get started. In return, the company receives a 34 percent cut of revenue.
The typical student-manager’s business grosses about $50,000 a year by painting about 25 houses, according to Collegiate Entrepreneurs. Those student-managers keep about 26 percent of their business revenues, the company said.
Collegiate is similar to the better-known College Pro Painters, a larger company with a national presence founded in 1971 that specializes in window cleaning as well as painting. College Pro said its student franchisees paint about 7,000 homes a year, while Collegiate said it paints about 2,150 homes a year.
Collegiate has branches throughout the Northeast and California and is opening an office in Maryland this year. The company has received nearly 300 manager applications for about 40 remaining positions, according to Eric Crews, the president and founder of Collegiate.
“The real shift right now is that a lot of different types of students are taking the initiative to learn to run their own business,” Crews said. “We’re seeing students in every major saying, ‘We want to run a business, and want the get the skills that go along with that.’ ”
Collegiate reaches out to students by sending e-mails, passing out fliers, working with college career centers, and speaking in classrooms. Campbell heard about the company from an e-mail sent to Bentley students by executive manager Robert LaBrie, who also went to the school and is a veteran of Collegiate’s program.
The company draws student-managers from more than 30 colleges in New England, but LaBrie said Bentley and the University of New Hampshire are two of their best sources for potential managers.
“We look for students who are hard-working and motivated, especially those people with a really no-quit attitude,” said LaBrie. “Painting may not be sexy, but these kids are learning what it takes to run a company.”
After an application process that included three interviews, LaBrie decided Campbell, who has worked as an event planner and disc jockey since his sophomore year of high school, fit the bill. Now Campbell is responsible for marketing his business, getting customers, finding and hiring a four-member crew, setting estimates, and landing jobs before the painting season begins. Come summer,he will also be in charge of buying supplies, paying his staff, and maintaining the budgets of his plan.
For now, Campbell is contacting prospects in a door-to-door marketing effort.
“When people would ring our doorbell, I know my dad would always yell from the other room, ‘We don’t want any!’ ” he said. “But what I’ve found now is there is nothing more effective than actually going to potential clients directly and making that personal connection.”
Campbell has also sent letters to his old friends and neighbors — “anyone I could think of with a house” — posted ads on Craigslist, and passed out countless fliers.
He hasn’t nailed down any jobs, but he’s not discouraged.
“I’m following up on some pretty solid leads, making sure we turn those into estimates to get some sales,” he said. “Painting might not be my passion, but starting a business is, so this is where I’m starting.”