Valerie Traore knows people have a hard time working with contractors.

A Woman’s Brush, her small contracting company that specializes in deck staining and cabinet painting, is determined to give the industry a better reputation.

Traore, 62, was born, raised, educated and began her career in Baltimore. She spent 30 years working on issues of hunger, women’s empowerment and community development. When she decided it was time for something new, she tapped her childhood passion for home improvement.

About ‘In Good Company’

This is the second in a series of casual conversations with Maryland small-business owners. If you or someone you know wants to participate, send an email to reporter Bria Overs:

She returned to Maryland in 2018, after 12 years working in southern New Jersey, to set up her home and business in Howard County’s Columbia.

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Traore is focused on her mission of being on time, on budget and above expectations — but she also wants to give more women and older people an opportunity to get their hands a little dirty. In some ways, it’s a continuation of her professional work of empowering people and her community.

“I wanted to bring back the professionalism and the integrity of the home improvement industry,” she said.

The Baltimore Banner: What was the inspiration behind starting your own business?

Val Traore: I grew up watching this old PBS show called “This Old House,” and I was always fascinated by the workmanship of these carpenters, plumbers and builders — people in the trades industry. I always used to say to myself that when I grow up and retire, I’m going to open a construction company and work on historic homes.

That was a passion that I had as a young person watching “This Old House.” Like most young folks, you put that aside for a minute and go with your reality. So, I went into the nonprofit sector.

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When I decided to take that break, I went back to that childhood memory and decided that now was the time for me to try my hand at home improvement.

The foundation that A Woman’s Brush is built on is quality workmanship and legendary customer service.

Val Traore, owner of A Woman’s Brush, displays some of the primer she uses on projects. She specializes in deck staining and cabinet painting. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

What does a day at A Woman’s Brush look like?

Right now, we’re a small company, so I wear many hats — including the marketing and all of the intake. I’m the first voice they hear on the phone.

It looks like me answering those inquiries for people who want free estimates for their projects. I then schedule that, I go out to that customer, meet them, and get them comfortable knowing I am the owner, and I oversee all of the projects that we do.

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I’m on-site with them, learning who they are and their vision for the project. I then put together a proposal for them, and we discuss it. Hopefully, it fits within their budget, and I try to seal the deal to begin production on that work.

That’s a lot to do in one day. Is there any one aspect that you particularly enjoy?

I really like being with the customers and understanding their vision. Getting them excited about the project gets me excited about wanting to do it.

I will say, around 70% of my customers are women that are between the ages of 50 and 65, and that comes with a different type of relationship. I end up meeting a lot of new friends in this process. That’s the thing that gets me up every day. Knowing that I’m going to meet a potential new friend in addition to a customer.

What’s something you wish people knew about your business or the home improvement industry?

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Low cost does not always equal quality. And I think that’s what’s important for people who are shopping for home improvement services. Ensure the professionals you work with are licensed in the state of Maryland and that they have the proper insurance so that if anything goes wrong, you have some recourse.

The advice I would say to anyone is to look for quality first, then negotiate a price.

Carmen Maxwell (left) discusses paint options for a potential project with Val Traore, owner of A Woman’s Brush, a small contracting company in Columbia. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

When you think about the future, what’s next for you and A Woman’s Brush?

I’m looking to bring more women into the trades industry. To that end, we’re going to be kicking off A Woman’s Brush Painting Academy this fall. This is where we’re going to teach women how to do custom cabinet painting and custom deck staining.

The trades industry doesn’t get enough attention, but it’s a very viable vocation. It has low barriers to entry, the training for it is not long, and the earning potential is excellent. So, we want to appeal to women who may have been stay-at-home moms, may not have acquired any professional skills they can market, and to women who are retired but looking for an encore act.

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You’re located in Howard County right now. What’s the appeal of doing business there?

What I find pleasant about Howard County is that it has all of these different pockets and the clientele that we’re looking for. And their project value falls within the range that we do projects in.

Because we deal with a large homeowner population, being in Howard County works well for us.

The reception has been wonderful from the community at large. I’ve been impressed by all of the incentive programs the county offers for new businesses.