Paint Stores offer contractors essential industry information and personalized service by a staff with reliable professional knowledge in order to help with customer questions about products and unique situations.
by Cindy Grawl
changing to meet the needs of customers, and what should you look for in a supplier?
What does a contractor look for when selecting a paint store supplier, and what are America’s top paint manufacturers doing to give him what he needs? It goes without saying that location and strategic placement of the paint store are the most important criterion for any contractor, because convenient access to goods saves time. Meanwhile, the accuracy and timeliness of the order are also major draws. In addition, the availability of a broad line of products and equipment, at adequate inventory levels, is also essential.
Paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore has recently done a study on the topic of what contractors need from a store. It has found that they like familiar products, in just the right mix, from a big inventory, all at the right location and available with quick service. More and more these days, says the company, it is wise to think of paint stores as part of the service industry rather than the product industry. No longer are they staffed by clerks who just wait for customers to drop in. Instead, store personnel are found in the field serving their customers.
An essential part of the service offered by stores is the industry information contractors can find there. Personalized service is given by a staff with reliable professional knowledge in order to help with their questions about products and unique situations, says Sherwin-Williams. The company has 135+-years experience in the paint and coatings industry that it can share with contractors. Its stores have staff on hand to deal specifically with contractor needs, and they are put through rigorous training programs so they can deliver excellent information to store customers. They are also kept up to date on new products and industry developments, and they have access to an in-house hotline staffed by technical experts when they themselves are unable to field the contractor’s question.
Nor is this level of education unusual. Kelly-Moore stores also offer training on a routine basis for all store and field sales personnel so they can make the right recommendations on coating systems, surface preparation, and applications techniques.
Porter Paints, too, knows that its stores need knowledgeable inside and outside sale specialists to handle service to the contractor effectively. Believing that the need for personal service can’t be underestimated, Porter offers in-depth training program for all stores sales personnel, with knowledge of paint and painting that are critical to provide the level of service contractors demand.
Pro Shows are one way that stores share their knowledge with contractors. Benjamin Moore says that stores are now echoing the in-house educational opportunities of the DIY stores by offering contractors education on topics from high-performance floors to curing mechanisms to changes in VOC regulations and how they affect the way the paint is applied. And contractors are loving it. At Porter Paints, contractors view Pro Shows as customer appreciation events, sales opportunities and learning experiences, while at Sherwin-Williams, such event provide contractors with the information so they can make better decisions about the products and equipment they use. Kelly-Moore contractor workshops during the year cover such topics as estimating, workers compensation, industrial coating technology, job safety, lead abatement and special-effects finishing, to cite just a few, while it also conducts around four yearly regional product trade shows.
According to Kelly-Moore, stores also attract contractors with value-added services such as professional color matching capabilities and professional color presentations. This manufacturer says that contractors do not choose a particular store so much as they do a particular paint company. It is all about relationships, it says, and with contractors relying on the store staff to give them sound information.
Porter Paints agrees, saying that customers want to patronize stores where they have loyal relationships with staff backed by personal service, such as speedy delivery, sound recommendations about products and applications, help with job problem solving, consistency and a broad product line.
It is all about trust, adds Benjamin Moore. Company research has found that contractors rely first and foremost on the print media to learn about products, and after that on their suppliers. A contractor, it has found, will change brand loyalty in many cases based on advice from a trusted dealer.
When it comes to product quality, says Benjamin Moore, there is a heated debate over price vs. quality these days. A company study shows that contractors claim to value quality and the right product no matter what they have to pay — until they get into the store. Then, they are faced by the realities of competition, sometimes against guys moonlighting in the uncontrolled painting industry who have no insurance or overhead to consider when setting their rates. At that point, the contractor may be tempted to skimp on quality.
But contractors also know, says Sherwin-Williams, that product quality helps insure that the job gets done quickly and easily — and lets them meet customer expectations.
Kelly-Moore adds that painting pros know that quality will ultimately save them money and allow them to achieve a better job. Today’s painting professional, it says, is concerned with selecting the products that will achieve the performance requirements stipulated by their customers and at a competitive price.
The key is knowing which jobs call for the higher end products. Premium paints are more likely used, says Porter Paints, by the custom home market, but stores can also deliver a full selection of more price-oriented professional products for the apartment housing and select commercial uses.
Part of the service mix offered by the modern paint store involved product delivery. Twenty years ago, according to Benjamin Moore, contractors had shops where they could keep supplies, but now they rely on the store to serve as their warehouse with just-in-time provision of goods. That early morning bottleneck can be overcome with more store staff, or by pick-ups at the end of one day so work can begin earlier the next. Also, says Benjamin Moore, an organized contractor will know far enough in advance what products will be needed in the next few days and be able to plan ahead to avoid such urgency.
But stores are doing even more to eliminate the early morning wait for product. Porter Paints, as a division of PPG Industries, Inc., can take orders via fax, phone and internet, using a PPG GetPaint.com internet ordering service with a special password to allow the contractor access. Products are staged and ready for pick-up in the morning, or vans can make deliveries to the site.
Sherwin-Williams also delivers to the jobsite, letting contractors fax orders or order online as well as phone them in.
Meanwhile, Kelly-Moore also encourages contractors to fax or call their orders in the day before, so the order is ready when they arrive, or it can be delivered to the job site. In major metropolitan areas in its marketplace, the manufacturer will deliver orders of over 200 gallons direct to the job site by 11 am if the order is faxed from a KM store by 2 pm the day before. The manufacturer is working on logistical issues that must be resolved before it can begin delivering orders processed via the Internet or e-commerce.
Indeed, the Internet is a vital part of customer service. Sherwin-Williams maintains a thorough web site on the Internet that contractors can refer to 24/7 for product information, advice about preparation and painting systems, and expert help, as well as MSDS forms and technical information.
But what are the paint stores doing in the face of today’s economic downturn? Quite a bit, and all of it geared to helping contractors succeed in their own businesses. Kelly-Moore’s stores are staffed with full-time accounts receivable clerks, so customers have help with monitoring their account activities. This popular service lets Kelly-Moore’s charge customers get special care, as they can actually talk to a live local person about issues that arise.
Sherwin-Williams supports contractors in landing new business by offering them better selling tools. For instance, its Painting Images program is a high-quality color visualization program that lets contractors help their customers make more confident decision about color selection, and collateral materials are available to help contractors win customers. Contractors can use the stores to reach customers and get referrals.
And while contractors know all about painting, they may lack experience with running a business, says Benjamin Moore. Therefore, it helps contractors with a video/CD ROM and workbook set called Presentation for Profit to gives them the marketing tools they need to present a more professional image, as well as advice on how to run a business. It will even let contractors access professional looking forms from local sources.
There are also tools that will help the contractor sell the job by educating the customer, says Benjamin Moore, including sales kits and problem-solvers such a fan decks. Because these are from manufacturers, They can be used to explain various painting problems to a prospect and reassure him, supporting what the contractor is telling his client about the need for a certain labor-intense preparation, for instance. Educating the customer about paint and prep may lose you the job, says Benjamin Moore, but it will make life harder for the guy who gets the job by raising customer expectations.
Education, whether of the paint store staff, contractor, or the customer, is the key to moving the paint store from a product depot to an essential resource for the successful painting contractor.