Featured Wallcovering Hanger, Shelly Wilkins, had spent only six months assisting other paperhangers when she had a realization: She could do this better — and she did. Shelly took full advantage of the 1980s Texas housing boom, became an entrepreneur, and freed herself of her retail management job that had been burning her out. She didn’t have any formal training, but she learned on the job — using her common sense to gain skills and build her business.
Her company, Walls Etc., allows Shelly to exercise her creativity and work at her own fast pace while also providing a good life for herself and her family. But it wasn’t until 15 years into her career — when she was already considered a master paperhanger — that she joined the Wallcovering Installers Association (WIA).
"One of the things I would have benefitted from was joining the WIA at a much younger age. The training that's available, the contacts you make, the networking — it's invaluable. I'd really like to see younger people join to get experience," she said.
A continuing education
Even now, 34 years into her career, Shelly still finds that her fellow WIA members have a lot to teach her.
"The WIA is the most educational thing I could be doing for myself," she said. "The biggest benefit to me is the networking. It gives me confidence."
These connections and the ability to network with fellow wallcovering professionals aids Shelly and other association members. At one point, Shelly was taking on a new job and reached out to WIA members for insight on the job. She found a fellow WIA member who had hung the wallcovering her client was taking down — so her connection allowed her to tap the knowledge of someone who had already done the exact same job before. A fellow member even built Shelly’s business website!
"Knowing that I can rely on the expertise of all these people that we network with—it allows me to take jobs that I would not be able to take; it allows me to make money that I wouldn't be able to make; it allows me to hang products that I would be leery of hanging," Shelly said. "I'll know what I’m going to deal with because someone else out there has dealt with it."
WIA benefits and the future
Shelly finds more than practical help from her fellow members. As a single mother working in a profession that is often spent in solitude, she originally joined simply for the social benefits. Ten years after moving to Maryland, she reached out to the WIA for moral support. Shelly found that — and so much more.
"They really give a confidence booster," she says. "I feel totally capable of any situation with this group."
Since joining the WIA...
Shelly has earned three craftsmanship awards — one in 2007 and two in 2016. She's fully devoted to the highest quality craftsmanship in the industry, but she worries about the future of the profession.
"I've been trying to find a young person to mentor," Shelly says.
But she's yet to find an apprentice who has the combination of intellect, creativity, and tolerance for the more physical aspects of the job along with a business-savvy mindset. She says there's good money to be made in the industry for young people willing to challenge themselves. And with the WIA at hand, they'd have the resources they'd need to thrive.
Shelly hopes someone will step up soon. With both hands busily applied to her craft, she's got her eyes on retirement. Shelly's looking forward to getting out from under ceilings and spending more time outdoors. She looks forward to camping, biking, hiking, kayaking, enjoying live music, and working in her garden.