Chattanooga's Tim Payne Painting uses drones to grow its power washing business

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Tim and Shannen Payne pose with a drone used in their business. Tim and Shannen Payne of Tim Payne Painting talked with the Times Free Press about their innovative methods, at Waterhouse Public Relations, on October 21, 2022.

As a second-generation painter, Tim Payne grew up with a paintbrush in his hand and learned the business of painting and cleaning homes at an early age in his father's business.

Payne earned his degree in economics and business from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and decided to start his own business in 1990. The business has grown through good times and bad times over the past three decades, but after the housing collapse in the 2008-2009 recession Payne shifted away from most new home painting toward painting and building washing for commercial, government and existing homes.

In the future, Payne sees his business quite literally looking up by employing new drone technologies for power washing now and ultimately paining of taller buildings.

"We learned valuable lessons, like most businesses did, from the 2008 housing bubble and have strategically changed our business model over the years, leading to solid growth," Payne said in an interview. "While many businesses never recovered from that crisis, we were able to recover and focus on growing our commercial painting and washing services for a whole new range of clients."

After the Great Recession of 2008, Payne shifted to work more with public sector institutions such as universities, hospitals and the military. Payne's wife Shannan, who previously worked in procurement for state government, joined the business in 2018 as director of development and has helped sales grow by 248% since joining the company.

"We've always tried to focus on providing quality customer service to add value to a property while looking for ways to work better and smarter," Payne said during a recent interview.

So when Payne saw his first drone a few years ago, he began to calculate how he might begin to use the small aircraft to aid in power washing of buildings, especially those with more than two stories where the traditional ladder and manual spraying is difficult.

The company began using its first drone last December for pressure washing multi-story buildings and has since added two more of the drones, which are made by Lucid Drone Technologies.

"It's greener, safer and more cost effective and it allows us to do the job quicker and get in areas that standard ways can't," Payne said. "I think this is going to be a significant part of our future, once it takes off -- no pun intended."

The typical drone cost about $30,000 each and requires an FAA-certified pilot to operate one of the miniature aircraft in a commercial setting. For now, the drones are hooked to a water hose and are used for power washing of buildings. But over time, Payne envisions drones also being used for painting.

"A lot of the jobs that a drone can get to are just so difficult to do them by standard means," he said. "The drone opens up a whole new area of projects."

Payne's drone washers frequently draw a crowd of spectators so employees have to keep visitors away from the building as it is pressure washed by the flying drones.

The innovation that led them to the drone comes naturally to Payne, who said he has tried to bring a more business-like approach to the painting and cleaning business. Payne has also developed a program now used by his business to show customers the exact percentage toward job completion at any given time.

In Tennessee, Tim Payne is a state-certified prime contractor that can work directly with building owners instead of as a sub-contractor. The company was also an early user of BuyBoard, a purchasing cooperative created by the National School Boards Association to streamline the buying process for public schools, municipalities and other governmental entities. Within the BuyBoard network, they are the only certified contractor for all finishes in Tennessee.

Tim Payne Painting has grown to more than 100 full- and part-time employees during its traditionally busy summer months. Led by husband-and-wife team Tim and Shannan Payne, the company provides power washing and painting for a variety of government, university and hospital buildings.

Shannon Payne, who serves as director of business development, said the company's drone technology and focus on better, faster and more cost-efficient painting and cleaning has led to a number of major ongoing service contracts with a variety of building landlords and the company is looking to add more business. The new drone pressure washing service is the only of its kind so far in Tennessee.

"While our core business is commercial painting, our focus is on constantly evolving within the industry, which led us to incorporate drone washing," Shannan Payne said in an interview. "Not only is the drone 25% more cost effective than conventional pressure washing, but we are able to handle delicate, historic buildings without damaging exterior features."

From its headquarters on East Brainerd Road in Chattanooga, Tim Payne Painting has expanded its service area over the years to include Knoxville, Nashville and surrounding areas. Current clients range from Cherokee County, Georgia to Knoxville and Nashville.

Tim Payne credits his wife for helping the business to grow.

"Not only is Shannan an excellent leader within our company, but she is a great salesperson, connects easily with clients and provides excellent counsel," Tim Payne said in a statement about his business. "She is always in my corner, and I owe her a great deal of appreciation for her contributions to our business."

Their customers include facilities maintenance managers in education, government, healthcare, commercial real estate and more. Payne painters work to complete large-scale painting projects such as university residence halls within the few weeks available during summer and winter breaks.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @DFlessner1.