California Paints, Andover, Massachusetts
California Paints became one of the pioneers in acrylic latex coatings, working with the new acrylic emulsion binders.
by Bruce Hackett
from about 2,000 to about 400 over the past 50 years, the ability to provide quality products and excellent service is more critical than ever. For California Paints, a division of California Products Corp., that’s a good thing, for the company has a well-deserved reputation among its customers for offering both.
“We have a very basic philosophy of doing business,” says Dave Lohr, president of trade sales for California Paints. “We never compromise on quality. Equally important, we try to be flexible and conform to what our customers want, and we provide personal service by treating them like a partner instead of an account number. By following these two crucial goals, we’ve been very successful.”
California Paints is a privately held company based in Andover, Mass., with predicted sales revenues of $55 million in 2005, a 10 percent growth over last year. Lohr says he expects 2006 to continue that growth rate, thanks to a loyal and growing customer base throughout New England and the Northeast, with new penetration into the Midwest and Southeast.
A newcomer to the industry might well wonder why a Massachusetts-based company is called California Paints. “We do get people sometimes who think we’re in California,” acknowledges Andy Valeriani, marketing communications manager, “but it doesn’t pose a problem. It’s actually a unique story, kind of a conversation starter.”
California Paints originated in 1926 as an offshoot of California Stucco Products of New England, based in Cambridge, Mass. The New England company, a franchisee of California Stucco Products of California, specialized in colored stuccos and interior plasters.
By the 1950s, company leaders at California Paint recognized that the oil-based paints that were prominent in that era were prone to fading and peeling, Valeriani says. California Paints became one of the pioneers in acrylic latex coatings, working with the new acrylic emulsion binders being produced at the time. “They had grown a pretty good business in the Northeast by then, and the name California was already recognized, and recognizable,” Valeriani says. “It was different, and a popular brand name, so to build on that success, they decided to keep the name, and became California Products Corp., selling California Paints.”
The company continued its growth in the 1970s and 1980s, acquiring several small regional coatings manufacturers such as Carmote Paint Co., Wilbur & Williams High Performance Coatings, Ox-Line Paint, and the Colorizer Paint Division of The Grow Group Inc. These acquisitions effectively doubled California Paints’ dealer base and annual sales revenues.
“We enjoyed significant growth in the New York and New Jersey regions, building on our acrylic latex technology capabilities,” says Valeriani. “We were known for our very high-quality interior and exterior latex house paints, and in 1972, we developed our first exterior latex stain. A comprehensive line of stain products called Storm Stain was introduced in 1979. It now competes favorably with many national stain lines.”
California Paints underscored its role as an industry pioneer in the early 1980s when, in collaboration with Colorgen Corp., it became one of the first paint manufacturers to make paint color computers available to its dealers. Additionally, California Paints is one of only a few manufacturers that offer Microban, an anti-microbial protection additive that prevents the growth of mold and mildew on paint surfaces.
The satisfied customers of California Paints are not the only audience to publicly praise the high quality of California Paints products. The company’s Fres-Coat Velvet Flat Exterior House Paint has recently been rated No. 1 in its category by a consumer reporting magazine.
“We try to be in the forefront wherever we can,” Valeriani says. “For instance, we recently came out with our four-ounce sample jars, available in 288 colors, and an attractive in-store presence for them. People like being able to test out a color on their walls at home without having to buy a whole quart. We’re one of the few regional companies to offer this option.”
Five years ago, the company saw perhaps its biggest change ever. After operating for three-quarters of a century from several buildings in and around the Cambridge area of Boston, California Paints moved into a brand-new, 180,000-square-foot production facility in Andover, Mass. “We believe it to be one of the most state-of-the-art paint production facilities in the world,” observes Valeriani. “We’ve brought our warehousing, distribution, production and corporate officers all under one roof, and we’re located right at the crossroads of railroads and interstate highways, so it’s much more efficient now.”
With its new facility, California Paints has quadrupled its manufacturing capability, which “allows us to lead the industry in quality and new product development,” Valeriani says. Indeed, California Products Corp. also has a Recreational Surface Division, which sells acrylic latex surface coating systems for tennis courts and running tracks. It provided the tennis courts to the U.S. Open as well as the courts at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
California Paints products are distributed solely through independent dealers because the company feels independent dealers are the most knowledgeable, customer-oriented purveyors of paints. “When it comes to paint, quality matters, and independent dealers know this,” he says. Sales are typically split “about 50-50 between contractor sales and direct-to-consumer sales. We market actively to both segments. Our contractors tell us that about half of their jobs are residential and half are commercial, and our direct-to-consumer sales are, of course, all residential.”
California Paints can point with pride to many high-profile applications of its products in the New England public arena. The Newport, R.I., Restoration Foundation has made California Paints its supplier of choice for several projects now completed or underway. Perhaps most notably, whenever baseball fans watch a home run ball sail over the “Green Monster” wall in Boston’s Fenway Park, “they’re looking at a coating of a California Paints product,” says Valeriani.
Looking down the road, Lohr sees several trends that will affect his company and his industry. For example, he foresees the eventual disappearance of oil-based paints for consumers. “Clearly, latex coatings are the way of the future, especially as the latest round of VOC (volatile organic compound) changes take place this year.”
Industry consolidation will continue as well, Lohr says. “There used to be thousands of paint manufacturers, but now there are less than 400 as the big nationals continue to acquire smaller regionals. We believe in the maxim, ‘Only the strong survive.’ There’s a place and a need for strong, well-run regional paint manufacturers who, by providing superior quality and unparalleled service, should be able to not only survive but compete aggressively. We believe that’s our future.”
You can learn more about California Paints and its products by visiting the California Paints Web site.