Exterior Paint, Interior Paint, Quality Paint
When considering the selection of paint it is important to consider its function. Does it need to be scrubbable? What will it be exposed to in terms of heat and water? Is the end user looking for short-term satisfaction or long-term enjoyment of the product?
by Christianna McCausland
quality for a job you’re bidding, the question is not whether you can afford to use high-quality paint, but rather whether you can afford not to. Because higher-grade paint has better application properties, coverage and durability, the job you leave behind will be superior and the likelihood of repeat business from that customer will be higher. The improved application translates into lower labor costs, as well.
John Stauffer, technical director of the Paint Quality Institute, North America, explains that the difference between quality paint and lesser grades comes down to two primary factors: the number of prime pigments used and, with flat paints, the proportion of binder to pigment. High-quality products use higher levels of pigment that help preserve the color’s integrity over time. The premium paint’s higher level of binder improves the product’s resistance to elements such as dirt.
“Generally, the thing associated with higher quality is longer general life,” says Stauffer. “If you are looking at a residential repaint job where you are looking for long life and referral business, you would want a paint that would stand up longer.”
When considering the selection of paint it is important to consider its function. Does it need to be scrubbable? What will it be exposed to in terms of heat and water? Is the end user looking for short-term satisfaction or long-term enjoyment of the product? Often, paint selection is a function of price. Buying low-quality paint can bring immediate savings. But in terms of long-term profits, contractors may be selling themselves short. John Lahey, owner of Fine Paints of Europe, a Vermont company, imports high quality Schreuder paint from Holland and markets several premium lines for Martha Stewart. He explains that premium paints go on better and in fewer coats.
“The average paint job is 90 percent labor and 10 percent material. If he [contractor] used our paint, he’d double his paint bill but reduce his labor and the job would last longer,” says Lahey. “Do you want to paint your living room once and repaint it again four years later or 15 years later? This isn’t a wealthy person’s product; it’s a thinking person’s product.”
To use a high-end product without being priced out of the market requires a honed sense of balance between being a craftsperson and a businessperson. Whether painting a warehouse or a high-end home, the goal of the contractor should be to leave behind a job that guarantees more repeat and referral business.
Greg Schnurr, president and co-owner of the Austin-based commercial painting outfit of Schnurr, Inc., uses premium, VOC-friendly paint almost exclusively. “When you look at a job done with high quality paint versus low quality, there’s no comparison,” says Schnurr. “For me, if I want to give my client a job with good scrubability so the janitor doesn’t scrub all the paint off the wall and the paint holds its pigment and luster, then I’ll buy a paint that fits those needs, even if it’s a little more expensive.”
Diversified Interiors of El Paso, Texas, only uses top-of-the-line products by Sherwin Williams and Kwal for its commercial projects such as warehouses and schools. Paint estimator Rick Given agrees that it all comes down to the labor-to-material ratio. From Given’s experience, the savings in paint is not worth the loss in business. “We have found over the years that there really isn’t any value to using a second or third level paint,” he says. “Your callbacks, your problems touching up, your coverages all significantly drop off.”
It is widely agreed that when the end users understand the benefits of quality paint they are more interested in premium products. Stauffer encourages contractors not to be reticent about discussing the long-range value of quality paint with the end-user. Most manufacturers and the Paint Quality Institute have point-of-purchase materials to educate consumers and also offer sell-sheets and other materials to assist contractors in making a good presentation for premium products.
According to Jeff Spillane, senior marketing manager at Benjamin Moore, paint is nothing but a bunch of cans to the average consumer and until they open it and learn from experience, they never understand the value of a premium product. “A painting contractor does have the power to influence people,” he says, a power he thinks is being under-utilized. “When you go into a project you have an obligation to educate the customer to build a case around why you are going to charge what you charge.”
One area where paint quality has been forsaken is in new residential development. “In general, home buyers are usually disappointed in the quality of paint used in new homes,” says Stauffer. “Paint is usually at the end of the project and there’s a certain budget amount that’s traditionally pared-down, and basically the painter is told to paint it and here’s what we’ll pay you.”
Spillane agrees. “What kills me is not the guy putting up the tract homes, but the guy that is putting up a 50-home premium development selling for $500,000 apiece, with a marble fireplace and hardwood floors — but he wants the house painted for $1, 300,” he says. “They’re being painted with garbage and that’s a sin.” Custom building gives contractors an opportunity to negotiate for improved paint quality and Stauffer recommends painters work with builders to offer high-quality paint and paint color choices as an upgrade item to the homebuyer.
There are times when it may be appropriate to use a lower quality product due to budget constraints or the nature of a project. And there are times when a project calls for a ‘blow-and-go’ application. But for a vast majority of projects, there is a high quality paint fit for the job. Spillane notes that even on frequent repaint jobs, such as high-turnover apartments, Benjamin Moore’s research has shown that high quality paint may be less expensive for the property owner. “Repainting with higher-quality paint means you use less paint; it hides better, so you don’t use as much paint. Less paint means there’s less labor involved,” Spillane explains. It is the responsibility of the contractor to educate the landlord on the benefit of saving on labor costs and to make a case for premium paint.
The interest in premium paint is evident across the diverse field of painting. Lahey’s Fine European Paints has grown 20 percent each year for the last fifteen years. MAB Paints, a regional paint company with 145 stores in the northeast, Midwest and Florida, recently launched its Eclipse product line that uses a special resin technology to create a paint that goes on like a multi-coat system. “The customer gets a class A job and you save time and energy,” says MAB marketing director George Przybylski.
“Good paint contractors who are good businessmen can enhance their reputation by offering a high-quality paint,” says Lahey. “We could all wear cardboard shoes but we’d replace them every week. It’s much less expensive to buy high-quality paint and get two or three times more use from it.”