Meet Dulux Select Decorator Steph Howles sharing her industry experience on International Womens Day

Meet Dulux Select Decorator Steph Howles sharing her industry experience on International Womens Day.  

To mark International Women’s Day, we have reached out to one of our Dulux Select Decorators who have been assessed and carefully selected by us to learn more about her experience as a female at the top of her game in the painting and decorating industry.

Meet Steph Howles, a female decorator from Warwickshire. In an industry traditionally dominated by men, it is important to share the stories of inspirational females who are and paving the way for others to follow in their footsteps.

What’s your current role and how long have you been doing it?

I have been a decorator for over thirty years and run my own business, Showhomes, with my partner Rose Morris. We offer interior and exterior decorating, including painting, wallpapering and spraying.

What does your role entail? 

I primarily work on projects for residential customers so a typical day will see me painting a three bedroom house or wallpapering to create a standout feature. I’m hands on and complete all the decorating work myself, as well as quoting for new jobs, ordering supplies and invoicing. It means no two days are the same and this is something I relish. 

How did you get started in the industry?

My dad was a decorator and I have always wanted to follow in his footsteps. I found his job fascinating, particularly the use of colour and the way it can transform a space. 

Decorating was an unusual choice for a girl when I was at school and I remember the careers officer wasn’t convinced. They tried to encourage me to consider catering college instead but I couldn’t boil an egg!

I stuck to my guns and after leaving school worked doing a number of ‘odd jobs’. Finally someone I know asked me to help them decorate their new house as they couldn’t find a decorator at short notice and were desperate for help. After I completed their house they recommended me to the owners of the house they had moved out of and I’ve never looked back from there.

How has being a woman in a traditionally male dominated industry impacted your experience?

Overall, it’s been a positive experience and I’ve often I found it’s actually USP.

When I first started I did get some stick from other male decorators, who would often remark: “Oh the tea lady has arrived” when I joined them on a job. I never let this bother me and relished the challenge of changing their mind. It was always satisfying to gain their respect and prove that I was good at what I did.

Over the years, customers have also found it novel and I regularly used to hear: “Oh, a female decorator, that’s unusual.” However, that rarely happens now. Female customers have even said they felt more comfortable leaving a female decorator in their house or having a women working in their home when they were there.

I became a Dulux Select Decorator in 2003 and my network of other Select Decorators have always been very helpful and supportive. They have been happy to share their tips and knowledge whenever there was something I was unsure about.

How has the industry changed over the years?

The decorating industry has completely transformed over the last thirty years. Most notably, advances in products and technology have made decorators’ lives much easier.

Working with tools like sanders have made the process of preparing a surface much, much quicker. While quick drying products have meant we can achieve brilliant finishes in a much faster time.

The other big change is in personnel - it’s brilliant to see more and more women and young people coming into the decorating industry and this is something I hope only continues to increase.

How do you hope to see the industry develop in future?

In the South East we have a shortfall of 33,000 decorators and an ageing workforce. I don’t want to see those skills lost. I would like to see more young people take up decorating as a career rather than something they fall into.  Decorating is a fantastic profession that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s a very skilled task that can have a major impact on a building. The example I use is that you could invest £20,000 in a new kitchen but it would look terrible if the room isn’t decorated well.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I want to continue to grow the business but most importantly I want to give something back to the industry. I hope to be able to have more opportunity to speak to people considering a decorating career to inspire them to make the leap, particularly women.

What would be your top tips for women entering the industry now?

The one thing I would say to women entering the industry is safety is key. If you’re going alone to visit a customer you have never met before at the very least let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. I always try to take someone with me when I first go to quote for a job with a new customers.

My other advice is relevant to anyone joining the industry. 

Firstly, training is key. I can’t emphasise enough how important is to learn everything you can as you get started, the more you do this the more confidence you will get and the more professional you will appear to customers.

The Dulux Academy offers brilliant courses, giving you the opportunity to learn from experts in their field, as well as to meet others in the industry. I have found them invaluable and would recommend them to anyone starting out as a decorator. 

Secondly, you should also never be persuaded to do a bad job. Your reputation is key and if you damage it early on it can make growing your business very difficult.