Eagle house painter Chris Berry is recognized all the time in Home Depot. Restaurant waiters know who he is. Once, he was riding the subway in London at midnight when a stranger said, “You’re the Idaho house painter.”
Fans know Berry from the YouTube how-to empire he operates with his wife, Lisa Berry, from the couple’s home in Eagle. Chris’ YouTube channel, Paint Life TV, has 162,000 subscribers and gets an average 50,000 views a day. His Instagram profile, the Idaho Painter, gets about 1.5 million views a week.
From their home, the two also manage corporate sponsorships; paid trips around the world for Chris to teach seminars and classes; and the family house-painting company, which has nine workers. A sprayer manufacturer flew the pair to Berlin in December to make how-to videos. They’re headed to Australia in August for Chris to teach at Dulux Australia Paint Academy.
“He’s the largest and most popular painting channel in the world,” said Lisa.
Chris’s YouTube career as an instructional impresario began in childhood, when he learned about construction while working with his builder father on construction sites. He went on to earn a degree in urban and regional planning from Cal Poly and studied computer networking at Boise State University. He then worked in the computer industry in Idaho and California for a while; served in the Navy; and spent about two years each at the Boise Police Department and Ada County Sheriff’s Office. Oh – and he’s also a bodybuilder and bicycle racer.
None of that felt quite right as a career, so in 2002, Chris started a painting business.
“I wanted to have a career and job where I controlled my own destiny, and I felt like if I started my home business, the efforts I put into it were what I was going to get back out of it,” he said. “If I worked hard I would be successful.”
As a fledgling house painter, Chris looked for books that would help him maximize his utility with equipment like paint sprayers. He couldn’t find any useful materials.
So he started teaching himself by trial and error. Then, around 2011, Chris decided to start making YouTube videos to share the knowledge he’d spent so much time acquiring. Those were the primitive early days of filming; at first, he would balance his video camera on rocks or a ladder and shot the video alone. His daughter, in junior high at the time, also shot a lot of the videos. He was shy at first.
“My first 400 videos I did, I was terrified to be on camera,” he said. He now has about 800 videos on YouTube.
The online promotional part was easier. He created his social media identity, Idaho Painter, thus named because he passionately loves Idaho. He chose YouTube for Paint Life TV because, at that time, Facebook “was a kid thing.” YouTube, he said, was mainly a place for cat videos at the time, but it was also the best available format for showing what he had learned.
“Coming from a computer networking background, it was very simple to me,” he said. “I knew it was important to have a whole package to market myself, including a webpage and a bid packet that was more than one page to hand to a customer.”
Not all of his teaching is technical; he also instructs painters on looking and acting professionally when bidding a job. He just started producing videos in Spanish (created by an Idaho Painter employee who is fluent), and his live once-a-week show, co-hosted by Lisa, is watched regularly by an average of 2,000 people per show, he said. On the show, the two answer callers’ questions from around the world.
The Idaho Painter regularly receives products in the mail from companies seeking sponsorships, and if they are products Chris uses and supports, he features them on his media platforms. He said he rejects about 95 percent of them. A video of Chris using a spray extension tool that was mailed to him unasked by a company called Hyde was watched by more than 1.1 million people on Instagram in June.
The couple sells some products on Idaho Painter’s website, and Chris is paid for his teaching and keynote speeches. He makes $8,000 to $9,000 per month on YouTube advertising and is paid by companies to endorse products such as paint and painting equipment. He’s also paid by Amazon when people click on the affiliate links in his videos. The pair are building a structure next to their house where they will hold classes for painters.
Meanwhile, Chris still paints with his crew. When I met with him, he was wearing white painter’s pants. He estimates he still spends about 20 percent of his working life painting houses.
“People are coming to me from all over the world and want me to give them advice and test products and review tools,” he said. “In order to do that, I have to paint.”
The Idaho Painter has been criticized by his peers in the trade who think turning DIY-ers into competitors will threaten their livelihoods. But Chris said there’s plenty of work to go around.
“It’s unbelievable how many jobs we have to turn down,” he said. And nowadays, there’s nothing you can’t learn on YouTube.
YouTube analytics show Paint Life TV gets the most clicks in New York, Tehran and Toronto. His two most enduringly popular videos: “10 steps to painting a room fast” and “How to roll walls fast.” Another popular theme is cutting in edges, such as ceilings.
Faith is a big part of the couple’s life, and woven into the YouTube videos are Bible verses. Chris is covered in Bible-themed and family-themed tattoos. He’s soft-spoken, articulate, a gifted explainer, and he’s passionate about building a community of painters where people help each other and where it’s safe to ask questions.
“You should take pride in being a painter,” he said. “It’s a reputable trade, and I get hundreds of email a day from people who said I made them feel good about what they do.”
Anne Wallace Allen is editor of the Idaho Business Review.