The battle of the brands

By Terry Herbert September 15, 2015 Painting & Decorating

Brand switching, new products and a dire labour shortage – painting & decorating is anything but dull. Terry Herbert reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download this story button at the bottom of this page.

To get some perspective on all the moves afoot in this category, think of the big box chains as Super 15 franchises and the paint and accessories suppliers as players. Player numbers don’t change significantly but some star players have switched franchises. Were they pushed? At the end of the day there doesn’t appear to be any malice – so what’s driving the change?

Looking in from outside the tent, pragmatist and local paint maker Hylton Jones, General Manager at Cotec, observes; “What’s happening is the realignment of brands between the chains. They’re driven from their US or Australasian agreements.

“Companies like us pay no heed to that. We let the big guys fight it out amongst themselves and we just carry on regardless.” 

 

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS?

When I asked about the exit of Dulux brands from Mitre 10, Dave Elliott, General Manager Marketing, was understandably circumspect: “I can’t tell you anything ahead of our announcement, which will happen very soon. But it’s pretty clear right now if you go into a Mitre 10 store you won’t find any Dulux paint.”

When I posed the same question to Darren Newland, Dulux’s National Retail Manager he was defiantly upbeat: “The chains are on the same trajectory as us, so we don’t have any issues with any of them.”

Still, it must be frustrating at some level when you know you’ve done nothing wrong, from a performance level, to warrant this exclusion. 

Not to be outdone and possibly letting the cat out, Lynley Twyman, Marketing Manager at Valspar NZ, describes the imminent launch of Valspar paints through the Mitre 10 chain as “a game changer for the whole DIY market”.

The final protagonist in this saga and skirting any controversy with a wry laugh and a standard response is Valerie Staley, Marketing Manager at Bunnings NZ: “Our strong line-up includes Dulux, PPG, British Paints and Cabot’s.” The order in which Staley listed the brands speaks volumes (pun intended).

 

WHAT’S NEW IN THE MARKET?

So where is the volume coming from? “If you can’t grow the market, grow your offering” seems to be the overarching strategy. Players big and small are all reporting new product developments which are about to be released.

Local paint manufacturer Maree Dalton, Director of, Five Star and Agrippa Paints, is very positive looking forward. “We’re releasing new paints and stains to meet new demands for DIY convenience of application. For example our new Aquamax allows for linseed oil in a water-based stain.”

Over in accessories, the new SKUs keep on coming. Apart from reporting the last 12 months as a “record year for retail and commercial sales”, Award Concepts’ Sales Manager, Darryl Patterson, is confident new product will continue to drive sales. “We’ve got a couple of new Wagner spray guns you can use straight out of the paint can. It makes it way easier for the DIY guy to spray.”

Graeme Pearce, Director at FW Cave, is just as positive; “We’ve had huge growth in our ladders and steady growth in accessories but that’s because we’ve increased our ranging.”

Putting modesty aside Paul Goodall, National Accounts Manager at Selleys, tells us: “In the sealants and adhesives game we pretty much own the DIY market. On the trade side we’ve got two new exciting products coming to market because of our links with Concrete Plus.”

 

A CHRONIC SHORTAGE OF PAINTERS

DIY is certainly fuelling that growth. Flushed with a new found sense of empowerment and armed with hours of watching reality shows like The Block and Our First Home or Mitre 10’s excellent Easy As how-to videos, the DIY painter is striding confidently up to paint department counters in ever increasing numbers.

But how is the trade faring? As with many other trade organisations, Brian Miller, CEO of the Master Painters, is fervent about the dire shortage of professional painters.

“There are paint contractors in Auckland that are desperate for staff. They can’t get New Zealanders so they’re wrestling with immigration policy. One contractor told me he’s turning tenders away because they’re at full capacity. They could double their business if they had appropriate personnel. And this is in a marketplace with high unemployment.

“The biggest challenge is the training culture. Consumers would be appalled at the lack of formal training in this free market. The BCITO is behind us. The education system needs to understand that if you own a small painting & decorating business you can make a very good living. Earn as you learn, no student loan and a full qualification without any debt that you can take anywhere in the world.”

 

WHAT’S “MADE IN NEW ZEALAND”?

So where in the world do our painting and decorating products come from and do consumers care anyway?

Unlike some other category aisles inside hardware chains that are stacked with shiny, plastic extruded SKUs sourced exclusively from Chinese or South East Asian factories, a lot of products in the paint department are still locally made. Eight of the suppliers I spoke to for this article all proudly continue to manufacture products here.

It’s testament to our Kiwi ingenuity that we can develop products that consumers and the world want. Cotec’s Hylton Jones says: “We’re finding niche markets we can specialise in. The technical expertise and ability in those large paint companies is starting to disappear out of New Zealand. We’ve taken on a Doctorate and a Masters graduate in Auckland. We’re now exporting to Australia, Thailand and Singapore. It’s all about specialty products for specialty applications.”

Paul O’Reilly, Sales Manager at Bostik, also sees local manufacture as a competitive edge. “We’ve been manufacturing in New Zealand for well over 50 years. I think this gives us an advantage because our products are designed for our unique conditions and extreme weather fluctuations. We have four chemists nationwide so we’re able to do local R&D as well as local production.”

It should be noted that the big three paint makers all retain some manufacturing capability here. And if it’s written somewhere that success means importing paint, Resene’s Managing Director Nick Nightingale never got the memo. Resene employs over 500 staff and still manufactures the vast bulk of its paints in Auckland and Nightingale’s beloved Hutt area in Wellington.

A Colmar Brunton survey reported elsewhere that 88% of consumers wanted to buy from an environmentally or socially responsible business. Buyers of Kiwi-made products know they’ve been made to New Zealand standards and under fair and safe conditions. The same survey reported most buyers however were not prepared to pay more for the “kiwi in a triangle” logo.

Consumers are still voting with their wallets. That could change if more Kiwi CEO’s thought like Nightingale who was quoted in the Dominion Post saying; “I love that we make stuff. I could not imagine sending it offshore. It gets in your blood.”

 

HOW ARE INDEPENDENTS DOING?

Big box may own the volume market, but, judging by their enthusiasm you’d swear some of the independent paint & decorating retail owner/operators had paint coursing through their veins.

“It’s still buoyant for our type of stores,” waxes David Williams, owner of PaintSpot Hastings which is part of the Decorator Solutions Group. “DSG is a buying co-operative. We get all the benefits of rebates and volume discounts but we can buy from a vast array of sources.

“In my store it’s 50/50 trade and retail. Most stores are more trade. That’s the beauty of being independent. We can target who we want in our area. From a retail perspective, we’re fulfilling that old-fashioned service they don’t get at the big boxes and we’re giving them a better range of products. And because we’re in a buying group our prices are just as competitive.

“Our paint is mostly Cotec which is made here. We’re also pulling through smaller New Zealand manufacturers as well, because their products are made for the local market. I’m predicting good growth for the next year and not just me but the group because we’re tapping into untouched niche markets.”

 

THE YEAR AHEAD

Excitement and positivity for the year ahead is percolating through the whole category. Of the many merchants, suppliers and indeed painters I spoke with, all bar one (Cotec, for the record), predicted positive if not stellar growth for the year ahead.

Richard Percy from Paint Aids summed up the “exterior” summer and “interior” winter seasons best by simply describing the year as “a game of two halves”.

Like the rest of his interview, Percy’s response to growth was erudite and considered: “Yes I’m predicting growth but it’s sensible, sustainable, profitable growth rather than chasing market share. For paint accessories [chasing market share] is a rush to the bottom in terms of quality and proliferation of parallel importing.

“We try and have the best value proposition for our retailers so they can maximise their margins. For example we worked with Resene and helped them develop a specific set of sleeves for specific paints. If you picked up a paint brush at Mitre 10 there’d be a 90% chance it would be one of ours.”

Back to Dulux and Darren Newland, who reports that the Dulux brands are doing “very, very well”, and predicts, “strong growth for the whole sector. Auckland and Christchurch are driving that growth, but at Dulux we’re pleased that there’s also growth in the regions that wasn’t there a year ago.

“The renovation market, in fact the whole market, is very strong. Looking across the sector it’s going to be strong, not just for the next 12 months but for the foreseeable future.”

 

THE FINAL COAT

Back with the mass market, as Lynley Twyman from Valspar describes it: “DIY consumers are getting ready to revive their outdoor rooms.”

To give you an idea of consumer demand in painting & decorating for the next 12 months we asked Jessica Madruga to run data sourced from the Roy Morgan NZ Survey, July 2014-June 2015. Here are the numbers:

  • 870,000 (24%) of people 14+ intend to paint walls, ceilings or window sills.
  • 728,000 (20%) of people 14+ intend to refurbish their home in some way (e.g. curtains, carpet, wallpaper).
  • 1,084,000 (30%) 14+ intend to do both of the above in the next 12 months.

As the world faces uncertain economic times for the year ahead, the local and global brands in the painting & decorating category are defiant beacons of brightly painted light.

With the Auckland housing market rolling on unabated, new commercial builds just taking off in Christchurch and new activity in the provinces, the trade can look forward to more work than it seems there are painters to handle it.

There may be a plethora of paint brands in the New Zealand market but what is certain is that there is plenty of work to go around. Who gets the lions share remains to be seen. As we look ahead to new releases it’s anyone’s guess. You could say it’s a blank canvas. 

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WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE AND ABROAD IN PAINT AND COATINGS?

  • Battle of the big boxes – Across the ditch, where the home improvement market is estimated at AU$45 billion, the “Battle of the Big Boxes” continues but according to pundits, in the Bunnings versus Masters fight, the Woolworths funded newcomer is pinned to the ropes. Which may be why, in a statement released to Melbourne’s The Age, Dulux Group Managing Director Patrick Houlihan said he is “very happy with the retail partners we have backed”. Dulux chose Bunnings over Masters as they seek to fend off American rivals PPG and Valspar.
  • Paint me green – In the US, bowing to increased EPA and consumer demands the major paint companies are releasing VOC free paints. Leading the charge, Benjamin Moore lives up to its “Green Promise” with its Natura range that boasts a “Zero VOC” formulation. Closer to home, green choices are also informing demand. Environmental Choice NZ General Manager Robin Taylor told us: “2015 has seen a resurgence of consumer interest in sustainability and they’re demanding credentials. The EC tick used to be a competitive advantage, but now it’s more common paint companies are thinking, ‘unless I’ve got it, I don’t get into the playground’.”
  • Paint by numbers – Global demand for paints and coatings is forecast to rise to 45.6 million metric tons. That’s worth a whopping $249 billion, by year end 2015, according to a new study from US-based market research firm The Freedonia Group. Freedonia reports the Asia/Pacific region will remain the leading consumer of paint and coatings through 2015. Above average advances are also forecast for North America, while paint and coatings demand in Western Europe will see a similar recovery. The best opportunities are expected in the Africa/Mideast region, where paint demand per capita is the lowest in the world.

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