Becoming a paint destination

In an effort to attract more female customers, home improvement retailers have put substantial marketing dollars into their home decor departments—particularly paint. Home Depot and Lowe’s have both made a push in the category in recent years, offering in-store design centers, more designer paint brands, expanded color-matching services and more extensive color samples from brands such as Behr, Glidden, Ralph Lauren and Disney.

At the same time, independent hardware stores have been stepping up their paint programs, trying to earn a reputation in their communities as a destination for the category by offering not only a wide selection of product but the employee attention and expertise that goes along with it. (See related story on page 10.)

“If somebody comes in and knows what he wants and is standing there with a credit card, there’s not much difference between us and a Home Depot,” said Mark Lipton, owner of Tremont Paint—a 101-year-old company with two paint stores in the Bronx, N.Y. “The difference is if they don’t know. That’s where we can really shine.”

Tremont Paint, started by Lipton’s great grand father in 1907, continues to prosper even in difficult times for the home improvement industry because, Lipton says, he sticks to a plan that has worked for many years: having a well-trained staff of professionals whose goal is to exceed each customer’s expectations through pricing, presentation and customer experience.

“A woman came in yesterday and didn’t have her room measurements,” Lipton said. “I could see she was getting stressed, so one of our guys drove her over to her apartment and took the measurements. We took what was for her a stressful situation and solved the problem. She’s likely to come back and to tell her friends about the experience.”

Do it Best believes its stores should focus on training employees in the gamut of paint services and offers annual educational opportunities both at and outside the markets. The co-op sponsors educational clinics in conjunction with Sherwin-Williams, while Valspar holds its own training sessions for Do it Best associates.

“In our stores, we have dedicated help—people within the paint department who not only mix paint but can help a customer figure out what he might need to complete a project,” said Dick Wise, Do it Best’s merchandising manager for paint and sundries.

It’s also about having a wide selection of color, Wise said. If a store dedicates 36 feet of space to paint, at least 12 feet to 16 feet of that should be color racks, with only a limited number of the fastest selling colors being displayed on gondolas.

True Value also emphasizes the importance of color in today’s paint market. The co-op made paint the core program in its new Destination True Values tore design model, which includes a 28-foot color inspiration center aligning the house brands (Easy Care and Weather All) with national brands (preferred vendors Dutch Boy and Pratt & Lambert, as well as Sherwin-Williams, KPG and ICI.)

“Our Destination True Value model was realigned so we could carry higher quantities of paint and become a destination for more than just sundries items,” said Michelle Finnigan, global product merchant for paint. “And in creating a portfolio of national paint brands, we’re giving our members a choice.”

According to Pete Principe, department merchandise manager/paint for Ace Hardware, paint is one area where the independent hardware store can deliver the whole project and compete head-to-head with the boxes.

“Where the hardware store can shine is with trained associates who can answer questions related to color, sheen, applicators and surface preparation,” he said. “It’s important to help guide the customer through the process, and a hardware store is better positioned than a big box to answer these questions and close a sale.”