Painting a picture of products, pressures and popularity

 

_K9T8999According to CEOs, retailers and marketers, the paint category is constantly changing and adapting. This is particularly true in 2016, with significant moves toward sustainability, new trends and the closure of Masters fast approaching.

The retail environment

According to Kathleen Toohey, store manager of PaintRight in Southbank, the paint retail environment remains steady and competitive.

“It varies store to store and between demographics; however, the market is quite strong considering that Masters is about to go. That has taken a lot of pressure off Bunnings, but being around in the first place put a lot of pressure on – it made people realise that there were actually other options available,” she said.

The Masters closure has sparked concern amongst many retailers, but overall, Ms Toohey doesn’t believe it will have a negative impact on the paint category.

“To a point, it is a bit scary. There’s another paint brand that is now out on the market, but as far as retail goes, I think it has benefited us because it has forced the Masters customers to go elsewhere and we are getting a look in from them. That’s great because the reason they are Masters’ customers is because they didn’t want to go to Bunnings in the first place,” she said.

Haymes has experienced rare growth in the retail sector over the past few years, which Ms Toohey puts down to hard work, a great product and good customer service in stores such as PaintRight. With many paint companies experiencing a decrease in business, she said that Haymes hopes to continue moving from strength to strength, but warns that paint brands and stores will not see this happening if they sit around and wait.

Although the Haymes flagship store at PaintRight in Southbank is only partly retail, with a showroom attached, Ms Toohey sees potential for growth in the retail environment and intends to act.

“I certainly work quite hard in the local area to get our store name out there and make sure we are a recognised brand. It is all about continuing relationships and customer service, which is why people keep coming back over and over again,” she said.

Inspirations Paint CEO, Robert Guy, also believes that the closure of Masters will open up opportunities, and while there is uncertainty in the market about what the closure could mean for the paint sector, it will create an opportunity for local paint businesses to refocus and provide an alternative to customers. While this opportunity is positive, it doesn’t come without its challenges, he said.

“Our retail focus for the coming year is on doing what we do best, which is providing genuine and personal service and paint project advice to our customers. Although trade customers have been and always continue to be a key focus, we have a history of managing these relationships really well and continue to do so. How we translate this same level of service into the retail space is a challenge, but we do this in a number of ways to ensure that all our customers receive the high level of service we pride ourselves on,” Mr Guy said.

Preparing for ‘paint season’

When is the right time to start preparing for ‘paint season’? It seems that the most popular time for both DIYers and professionals to paint is throughout spring, though retailers recommend to be prepared for busy periods throughout the year, particularly with changes in temperature.

For PaintRight, spring is particularly big for wood care oils and stains, because weather is usually permitting for coating and painting decks.

“You’ve got September through to about Christmas for this, and then when summer ends you’ve got a couple of busy months before winter sets in. Generally your exterior painting is done in warmer months and interior stuff is done in the cooler months. Other than that, it is pretty consistent throughout the year, but it can vary depending on developments,” Ms Toohey said.

With so many products on the market, training staff to ensure that a breadth of product knowledge is available to customers is one of the most important aspects of preparation for busy periods. Ms Toohey said that it is one of the biggest things PaintRight focuses on, year ‘round.

“We have to train our staff, make sure we are always up to date with our new products, promotions, launches, colour trends and everything. We make sure all our stores and stockists are involved with this, so that they have access to the knowledge we have, as well as access to staffing tools. With the amount of questions we get from retailers, as well as trades on all the different products  – you need to know what you’re talking about or people are not going to buy from you. We have got people who specialise in various ranges and if there is a question we don’t know the answer to, we know we can call on them,” she said.

For Inspirations Paint, product knowledge is key to providing the level of customer service it prides itself on.

“We need to know we are prescribing products that will satisfy customer’s project needs and this impacts both stockholding and product training. Our staff receive a combination of formal off-site and in-store training as well as ongoing on the job training. We provide in-house staff training videos to ensure they have the expert knowledge they need about new products, and staff also have the opportunity to get their hands dirty and use products in the in-store project workshop; allowing them to see first-hand colour and texture as well as experience the quality of both paint and accessory products,” Mr Guy said.

Inspirations Paint also experiences busy periods over spring, autumn and summer, with business dropping off during the colder months – though this varies depending on location.

“There are variations nationally, with North Queensland experiencing fantastic weather conditions throughout the year and of course, winter is pretty cruel in Tassie, with summer providing a more conducive painting environment,” Mr Guy said.

 

Market trends and demonstrations

While there are a range of cost efficient paints and accessories on the market, retailers agree that customers still opt for quality over cost efficiency, with environmental sustainability also on the buyer’s mind. Not only is this the case for professional tradespeople, but also for the DIY buyer.

For the PaintRight store at Southbank, it is all about the best possible outcome for the customer, which means selling high quality paints to customers across the board.

In store, automatic mixing machines have become increasingly popular, not only in large multi-purpose stores but also in small specialty paint shops. According to Ms Toohey, it is all about consistency.

“We have a manual tint machine and an automatic one. We always tend to go with the automatic one because everything is wired up and ready to go and there’s consistency with the colour that way. Before I moved to the Southbank store a couple of years ago, I was at a store that only had manual machines but these days most stores would use automatic,” she said.

While consistency is key, she also believes that selling customers the best quality product available is mutually beneficial.

“We do try and push our ultra-premium products with DIYers, just because it is a better product with a better finish and it will last longer for them. Like most companies, we have a ‘good, better, best’ system, so all of our ranges are very good, but the trades tend to go with the ‘better and best’. Honestly, they use a bit of everything – it depends on the project they’re doing,” Ms Toohey said.

Paint retailers split customers into two market categories – the ‘do it yourself’ (DIY), and the ‘do it for me’ (DIFM) markets.

While the DIFM market has been strong over the past 12 months, retailers said that there continues to be a huge market for DIYers. According to paint retailers, the big box stores are particularly strong in the DIY category, and location also has an impact on homeowners’ likeliness to take on painting projects themselves.

“It depends on the demographic and the area you are working in. I would say in the store I previously worked in, there would have been a 50/50 mix of ‘do it for me’ and ‘do it yourself’. At Southbank it is more of a ‘do it for me’ market. I have seen more of a trend towards that; however, other areas are likely to be 50/50 still,” Ms Toohey shared.

Colour trends for paint continue to be influenced by fashion and interior styling, according to Ms Toohey, and also continues to be the most varying trend year to year.

“We see things change on a very regular basis, and paint needs to go with that. The beige and neutrals were very popular for a long time, and now we’re seeing a lot of people buying greys and charcoal. We see what’s predicted, and we also see what’s current in terms of what’s picked out and what our trades use and what our architects specify,” she said.

In order to stay on top of these ever-changing trends, Haymes recently developed a colour library as a guide to this season’s most popular colours. The PaintRight store in Southbank has sought to capture current market trends in its displays to capture customer’s attention. These are also sent out and used by stockists and other PaintRight stores, as well as architectures and designers.

As the flagship store for Haymes, the Southbank store’s showroom is full of inspiration and promotions. According to Ms Toohey, paint displays are a crucial element of helping customers to consider how current trends will work in a space.

“We have the colour displays there, as well as wallpaper and designer finishes so people can get a bit of inspiration when they come in. We have some large displays we’ve done with colour boards so people can see how the colours work together, and we have displays of the new colour library. We use props and items so people can see how well these colours can work,” she said.

Mr Guy said that Inspirations Paint also offers services to demonstrate current trends, ensuring that customers understand how colours will work within their space or their customer’s.

“In-store, our project workshop is an environment set up to help customers further explore and decide on colour and products with our in-store experts. Stores can even paint a customer’s colours onto large brush-out boards so they can take them home and get a sense of the colour under their own lighting conditions and with their own decor before they commit to painting the whole room,” Mr Guy said.

For customers still struggling with colour, Inspirations Paint has a national service available where qualified interior decorators and designers can help choose colours in a customer’s home. According to Mr Guy, this is a valuable way for both retail and trade customers to understand and apply current market trends.

 

It seems to Mr Guy that customers are looking for product solutions that make their life easier, and in his experience, this means less selection and high quality products at the right price. This has recently become a focus point for the company.

“We have seen an increase in specialty finishes from the manufacturers over the past few years as the trend for upcycling has created new opportunities for small DIY projects. In particular, our stores have experienced strong increases in Porter’s Paint specialty products. Textured products and finishes represent over 15 per cent of our business, and this segment continues to grow,” he said.

Increased use of technology is also playing a part in paint customers’ behaviour, inspiring customers to take on bigger projects and become more involved in the DIY scene.

“In regards to trends in customer behaviour, the volume of Google searches for project inspiration and painting advice has been consistently increasing over the past five years, so there’s an upward trend in online activity as part of the paint project cycle,” Mr Guy said.

For this reason, Inspirations Paint is focusing heavily on its digital presence.

“Our digital presence is a continued focus in the year ahead; using helpful paint project video content and articles to satisfy customers’ needs in this area and direct them into stores for further project support. We know our customers want to see large images and actual paint colours used when searching for inspiration and our website provides both of these as a tool online and in-store. We have also recently upgraded our site to provide even more synergy between the online and offline experience where customers can now view their recorded paint colours purchased in-store through their online account, which is a valuable post purchase tool for our loyal customers,” he said.

 

Changes and challenges

Australia has seen a variety of severe weather conditions throughout 2016, particularly with heavy rainfall and flooding across a number of states. While poor weather puts a strain on many industries, the paint sector particularly feels the pressure. According to Ms Toohey, warm weather can be equally as problematic.

“Weather has been a huge challenge, especially lately with the rain we’ve been having. It is lovely and it fills catchments but it certainly affects a lot of building sites and how much they can get done. Exterior work gets put on hold and then when it is 45 degrees the paint dries too quickly, so depending on where you are in the country, the weather plays a part in what you can do and when. As far as the store here, another big challenge for us is our surrounding competitors. We’ve got a really top quality product and we know that, so we don’t worry too much. We make sure we’re constantly improving in our product as well as our service,” Ms Toohey said.

Inspirations Paint also perceives competition to be the biggest challenge for paint stores, particularly when competing with big box hardware stores and warehouses. While this represents a challenge within the DIY market, Mr Guy believes that specialist paint stores still have their place.

“Our confidence and continued focus is on our service-led point of difference. We are paint specialists who provide great service and expert advice, we know paint inside and out and don’t have other distractions from our core business, so can provide genuine and personal service to meet our customers’ needs,” he said.

Industry changes have also presented challenges to the paint category, particularly with the Masters closure and continued selling/buying of paint brands. Sherwin-Williams, a US paint company, announced that it had acquired Valspar in March for $11.3 billion. The transaction is expected to accelerate Sherwin-Williams’ growth strategy by expanding in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with added capabilities in the packaging and coil segments. The companies expect to achieve $280 million of estimated annual synergies in sourcing, process and efficiency savings within just two years.

“They’re going to be a huge impact on the market in Australia when they get here. How that will go, we don’t know. We’ll have to see,” Ms Toohey commented.

Though it is perceived to be beneficial, Ms Toohey believes that the Masters closure will have an impact on all paint companies, with a brand of paint now looking to be stocked elsewhere.

“We’ll have to deal with that as it comes, and we won’t really know how that will go until it happens in a couple of months when they do close down,” she said.

Furthermore, an international move towards cheap imports creates challenges for accessory companies, as well as stores which stock quality products, some of which are manufactured here in Australia.

“Obviously there’s an international aspect with things coming in from China. There are pressures, but at the moment things are ok. We’ll deal with those things as we need to. We have to make sure the product and our service trump everything else,” Ms Toohey said.

 

Paint tools and accessories

An increased prevalence of DIY renovating shows in recent years, has fuelled good growth in DIY categories and has given consumers the confidence to take on bigger projects and be more adventurous with accessories, according to UNi-PRO national sales and marketing manager, Ashley Simpson.

“We have seen trends towards the use of smaller size rollers such as mini rollers amongst DIY painters; previously mini rollers have been a trusted tool of tradespeople and now DIY customers are seeing the benefits of using smaller rollers for specific tasks. They can have better control and achieve professional finishes painting around kitchen cupboards, windows and cabinets, rather than trying to use a traditional large cage roller for these smaller spaces,” Mr Simpson said.

With an increased market for job-specific tools, companies such as UNi-PRO are developing new products which will assist both DIYers and tradespeople to save time and effort throughout the painting process.

“We have a new 1 litre paint pourer that simply fits onto any standard 1 litre can, with a re-sealable cap that clips onto the spout once you’ve poured your paint. No spills, no waste and ready to store again without the need to replace the original tin on the paint can. We have a new mini roller bucket that has a flip out loading ramp to easily allow consumers to swap between mini rollers and paint brushes. We also have a handy three pack of liners available, specifically shaped to contour the design of the bucket. This means when it is time to clean up you can just wipe out the excess paint and dispose of the thin liner instead of needing to wash out the entire bucket,” Mr Simpson said.

Accessories are being manufactured for a range of purposes, with both single use and premium products proving to be popular. Mr Simpson said that this is because the DIY painting sector is the most accessible of the trades, with anyone able to take on a job and see great results with the right tools and advice.

“Painting their own home is a great way for customers to quickly and easily add value to their property. We have painting products that are suited to both DIYers and tradespeople, from more economical disposable applicators for single use DIY painters or tradespeople doing a quick touch up job, to premium quality tools that will offer time saving benefits for larger jobs and last for long periods of time with potentially hundreds of uses. An example of this is the sheepskin rollers. We cater to all segments of the market and find that what works well for one often leads to product improvements for other segments. Trade consumers are very important as they are using products every day of the week and really relying on quality products to get the job done efficiently and to a high level,” he said.

Though products are available for and purchased through retailers by both tradespeople and DIYers, Mr Simpson said that professionals have sought out specific features in their painting tools and accessories to ensure efficiency and accuracy.

“A few examples would include brushes and rollers that hold maximum paint with each load, so that they are getting the absolute best efficiency from that tool. This translates into getting work completed faster, allowing them to move onto their next job. In general with any tools that trades people use, they are looking for ways to do everyday painting tasks quicker, whether it be preparation products, like fillers or sanding tools, or paint application tools. They all need to perform to the highest level so painters can maximise their time. Durability and quality of product is also critical so the job is done correctly the first time and avoids any rework later on,” he said.

Products which are environmentally sustainable have also become popular amongst professionals, with many making conscious efforts to purchase sustainable products that will last and can be recycled.

 

Painting a sustainable future

With a global focus on sustainability across a range of industries over the past 10 years, the paint category is seeing this trend manifested not only in paint and accessories, but also in the disposal of paint and packaging.

Brushes made of biodegradable or recycled materials, such as Oldfields’ Eco Range and Monarch’s Bio Degradable Paint Brush Range, promise to have a minimal carbon footprint for the environmentally conscious tradesperson or DIYer, and use 100 per cent recycled and recyclable packaging.

According to its website, Dulux is developing new ways to reduce the environmental impact of both its products and activities, and continues to shift from solvent-based products to water-based alternatives. However, Dulux is not the only company seeking to minimise the impact of paint products on the environment, with Dulux Group, PPG Industries, Valspar, Haymes Paint and Resene funding a new program called Paintback® which offers professional and home painters with an easy option for disposing of unwanted paint and packaging correctly. Paintback® is the first unified national scheme developed and implemented by the industry, and expects to collect more than 45,000 tonnes of waste paint and packaging over the next five years, with packaging being recycled and solvent paint used to replace fossil fuels in energy generation. As part of the process, water is removed from the acrylic paint and recycled, which will significantly reduce landfill.

To fund the program, the companies involved, which produce over 90 per cent of all architectural and decorative paint in Australia, will add 15 cents per litre to the wholesale price of their products. Furthermore, Paintback® has ACCC regulatory approval to apply the waste levy and also has the support of Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, which have agreed to amend environmental regulations to allow trade painters to use the same scheme as DIYers.

In preparing a store or paint department for the approaching painting season, it should be considered that customers are more inspired, knowledgeable and sustainably-minded than ever – particularly in the DIY market. Preparing staff with training will also prepare customers for the projects ahead of them, not only benefiting sales but also those who are buying.