The Paint Store Experience. Big Boxes. Independent Stores. Manufacturer Stores.
It doesn’t matter if you’re painting a powder room or all 100 floors of a high-rise, no job gets started before the paint and supplies are purchased. And while most paint stores—brand manufacturers, independents, and big boxes—carry the basics, many pros prefer to give their business to just one type. Here’s a look at some of the reasons why:
A number of manufacturers, including PPG Paints, Rodda Paint, Sherwin-Williams, Dunn-Edwards Paints, and Kelly Moore Paints, operate their own stores across the U.S.; a few even have locations abroad.
According to Jeff Winter, VP of marketing for Sherwin-Williams, the advantage of company-owned stores is that, “We not only manufacture the product, but it’s sold and serviced by Sherwin-Williams employees both inside and outside the store. This gives us complete quality control over the customer experience from start to finish.”
Similarly, PPG stores are staffed by company employees who have a strong understanding of the full range of products. In 2015, all 600 PPG stores were rebranded to enhance the in-store customer experience and, according to senior marketing manager for PPG Paint stores Tracy Pease, “In 2017, PPG Paints stores will host a series of monthly in-store product demonstrations and events around new-product launches and core product lines. The trainings will include corresponding monthly special promotions tied to the featured product.”
THE POSITIVES OF INDEPENDENT PAINT STORES
According to LeAnn Day, executive director of the Paint & Decorating Retailers Association, “Where independents really stand out from big-box stores is in the knowledge and expertise they hold and the turnkey solutions they offer.”
She notes that many independent stores are staffed by people whose families have been in the business for generations and really understand the challenges facing pros. “They’re not only going to be able to steer you toward the correct coating for a particular substrate on your job, they’re also going to have a solid understanding of the best type of applicator, primer or sealant to use on the project. And, they’ll have it in stock; often before it’s available anywhere else.”
Day adds that paint-store inventories are solely focused around helping pros get the job done right. “You’re not going to find second-tier tapes or coatings on their shelves. They recognize that your time is money and that using the right tools is key to making sure your time isn’t wasted trying to undo the damage or problem that a lesser-grade product created.”
It’s well known that both The Home Depot and Lowe’s have invested heavily in the pro market. Both companies offer discount programs that cover products and sundries. They also tout their expansive, beyond-paint product offerings; free jobsite delivery, credit services, pro desks, and extended hours. And, both have instituted service programs targeted specifically at professionals.
The Home Depot’s efforts are aimed at helping pros better manage projects. “Most professionals are in business because they’re great at their trade; however, many lack the time or man power to stay organized,” says Jud Walford, The Home Depot pro paint merchant.
The company’s new Pro Paint 2.0 system promises to help on that front by inventorying colors by project for five years. In addition, using the customer portal called Pro Xtra, all purchases can be exported into formats that accommodate most accounting software, and can be tracked for up to two years—which can save time when it comes to repaints.
Lowe’s, too, is sensitive to the beyond-the-product needs of the professional.
According to company spokesman Matt Michaels, “All of our store locations have a ‘ProServices’ team dedicated to helping contractors grow their businesses and achieve their long-term goals, while also saving them time and money. Our ProServices associates can even meet pro painters at their job sites, offices or facilities to help with their business needs.”
WHERE PROS GO
We talked with five pros across the country about where their shopping loyalty lies and why. Here’s what they had to say:
Matt Jansen, Matt the Painter: Sherwin-Williams
For Matt Jansen, owner of Matt the Painter in Billings, MT, his choice to shop principally at a local Sherwin-Williams, as well as an independent store, is a matter of convenience and confidence. “For me, the ease of doing business with Sherwin-Williams is a big plus,” he says. “We can get in and out really fast with our charge account. Plus, when they see us come in, they treat us like a priority because of the volume we buy. We don’t stand around waiting and wasting time.”
Jansen also appreciates the expertise of the store staff as well as the local Sherwin-Williams reps. “My confidence in the advice I get from them is much higher than it would be in a big-box setting. They’re able to get to the bottom of technical questions about different products and issues. They also have a broad selection of coatings that go well beyond basic primers and architectural coatings.”
Another bonus of working with Sherwin-Williams is the fact that Jansen’s local rep often refers him for potential work. He adds, “My rep has a good sense of my company’s strengths and, when he hears someone has a project that’s a fit, he’ll add our name to the mix.”
The one service Jansen turns to the local independent store for is color consulting. “The thing I love about The Paint Center is that they have a color-consult designer who, for a nominal fee, will come out on site and make color recommendations,” he says. “This frees me up to focus on the work I do well, and gives customers confidence about their color selections.”
Marilyn Russell, Decor Craft Inc.: PPG Paints
Marilyn Russell and her husband started their first commercial painting company in Houston, TX in 1974 and immediately began a relationship with the local PPG Paints store. While lots of things in their business have changed since then, their loyalty to PPG has not.
“We love working with PPG for many reasons, but mostly for the family like relationships we have with our PPG sales representatives,” says Russell. “They know our job numbers and the paint we’re using on buildings better than we do, and are always willing to visit job sites to spec appropriate products and understand what we’re trying to accomplish. They always go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure we’re serviced. We work as one big family, and PPG truly goes the extra mile for us.”
John Russell, Diversified Painting Contractors, LLC: Independent Paint Store
A long-standing relationship is one of the primary reasons John Russell of Diversified Painting in Belleville, NJ chooses to work with Ricciardi Brothers.
“I’ve been doing business with them for 25 years and the service is outstanding,” he says. “I’ll call them while on my way to the store and, by the time I get there, what I need will be sitting on the counter.
I’m also a big fan of Benjamin Moore paints. The quality is there and it’s consistent,” he says. Plus, he can tap his local rep when he has a coatings question. “We do commercial painting and sometimes run into projects that require industrial coatings. I can call the store and my rep will reach out in a few hours, or even come to the job site, to make a recommendation. That saves me a lot of time and headaches,” he says.
Like most pros, time is a big concern for Russell. “It’s the primary reason I don’t shop big boxes. The quality of the coatings has improved in recent years but the buying experience is just not efficient. I go in and there’s one guy mixing paint with five people in front of me. Then I’ve got to go and wait in a different line to checkout. I simply can’t take an hour every time I need to buy a gallon of paint.”
Mandi Trapka, Pretty Handy Mandy: The Home Depot
For Mandi Trapka of Pretty Handy Mandy in Indian Rocks Beach, FL, the decision is largely driven by product choice.
“I get laughed at a lot by other pros but I’m telling you, for product quality and color options, Behr and The Home Depot is the way to go,” she says.
Trapka likes the fact that all the Behr paints she uses have the primer built in. “I don’t have to jump to a higher-grade, more-expensive paint-and-primer product, as I have to do with other lines. Same for low- or zero-VOC. I’m not paying extra to get that feature.”
Trapka also likes that The Home Depot has 18 colorants, while other paint stores only offer 12 to 14. “They have the formulas for every brand and every color, and can reproduce them in the paint that I want.”
On the service side, Trapka admits that she likes the fact that she, “feels like a celebrity” when she walks in the store. “They all know my name and they treat me great.”
While she doesn’t always take advantage of The Home Depot’s free delivery, she said it was a huge time-saver on a seven-house project that required 300 gallons. “It showed up on time, the order was correct, and we were able to get started right away.”
Trapka adds that while she sometimes has to hit other paint stores to get better-quality applicators, The Home Depot has many of the supplies needed for repairs that come with some of the jobs.
Jeff Sadler, ATD Painting: Lowe’s
Jeff Sadler’s relationship with the Fort Worth Lowe’s began five years ago when the store reached out to offer him some special pricing.
“The number was such that I thought I could be happy with so I decided to give it a try,” says Sadler. “Five years later, I’m still going there for two reasons. First, their pricing is such that I no longer have to use contractor-grade products to get the pricing I need. At paint stores, there was no way I could afford top-grade stuff but here, it’s all I buy. Not only does it make my jobs go faster, it’s something I’ve been able to sell as a differentiator to my customers—and charge a bit more for it.”
The second reason Sadler stays with Lowe’s is service. “Once they got used to me and understood my needs, I got better service than I did from any other paint store or big box,” he says. “I’m able to call orders in ahead, special order products including elastomerics and industrial-grade oils. Plus, my Valspar rep is as knowledgeable and helpful as any rep I’ve ever worked with in the past.”
Sadler also enjoys a strong relationship with the Lowe’s store team. “I have an annual meeting with the store manager and the paint manager. Plus, I have the store manager’s direct line to call if there is ever a problem. I’ve only called once and it was fixed immediately.”
Writer Debra Gelbart contributed to this article.