The idea of opening Marketplace Paints was born when Tom Uskup’s wife, Anne—an interior designer— started working on a new project. “I didn’t know anything about painting other than that we needed paint,” Uskup laughs.
He ventured to a store several miles away because his local paint store had recently closed, and Anne specifically wanted to use Benjamin Moore products for her project. “While I was there, I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t we have a paint store [in the area]?’”
Making the trip a few more times for additional products, Uskup saw his interest in the paint industry grow. “We already had an art-framing business and thought a paint business would be a nice add-on to that,” he says. And so, the Uskups ordered “everything you need to open a paint store” and determined the logistics of fitting it into the office space they had acquired. “Shelving, the point-of-sale system, inventory—everything was a Herculean task.”
They soon found their footing and now, nearly eight years later, own three Marketplace Paints locations in Aiken, North Augusta, and Greenwood, South Carolina, even opening their second store in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their relationship with ALLPRO first came about a few years ago, with Uskup calling it a game-changer for his company.
“Most of my knowledge has accelerated in the last two-and-a- half years, thanks to ALLPRO,” he says. “What I enjoy the most is all of the different members I’ve had the chance to meet over the years. Many of them have been in business a lot longer than me, and I’ve learned so much in the time that I’ve been doing this.” To that end, he also makes a point to stop in at retailers across the state and beyond to see how they’ve set up their spaces, and to discuss successes and challenges.
Benjamin Moore has also been integral to Marketplace Paints’ growth. “They’ve done well for us in terms of product availability,” says Uskup. “We started calling them, asking, ‘What do you have that you can ship today?’ and that was the difference for us in terms of getting what we wanted.”
Uskup also counts himself fortunate to have employed a solid team through the years. “As independent stores, we try to be a difference-maker. Everybody that we’ve been connected to has been a part of the family, and I’d go to bat for any of them.”
He says a collaborative, coaching-based approach to leadership
has resonated well with his team. “We’ve made it more of a flat organizational structure than hierarchical. Everyone is working toward the same goal. I tell some of the younger staff, ‘You may not be here forever. If you want to stay at Marketplace, that’s great—but from an advancement standpoint, if there are other opportunities with larger organizations, I’ll do what I can to help you out along the way.’”
As for the future, Uskup hopes to continue growing relationships with his existing customer base and become further entrenched in the community. “I’d like to grow to add one or two more locations.”
He offers this simple advice to anyone considering entering the industry: be passionate. “Any small business owner has the luxury of wearing so many hats—and there’s not one size or type of hat; you have to know how to do everything,” he says. “It’s rewarding and fun, but there are long hours and it can be a little lonely. That’s why I really enjoy ALLPRO—you can look into a fellow member’s eyes and know exactly what they’re thinking.”
O: EARLY RISER OR NIGHT OWL?
A: Night-owl wannabe. But in this business, I’m getting up earlier and earlier.
Q: WHEN YOU’RE NOT AT WORK, WHAT CAN WE FIND YOU DOING?
A: Straightening up my golf shot or spending time up in the mountains, hiking and fishing.
Q: IF WE CAME TO YOUR CITY, WE SHOULDN’T LEAVE WITHOUT DOING WHAT?
A: In Aiken, you should definitely check out a horse event like polo or the steeplechase.
Q: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PAINT COLOR AND WHY?
A: Hale Navy. It’s a truthful, bold color it’s very rich and makes an impact.
O: CRAZIEST PAINT SPILL YOU’VE HAD TO CLEAN UP?
A: In the very beginning of opening up the store, we set up all of the shelving and were stacking quarts with our Benjamin Moore rep when all of a sudden, the shelf collapsed. We lost about 84 quarts!