Paint’s new year-round appeal

In the summertime, when the weather is fine, it’s not difficult to court consumers into painting their interiors. Windows and doors can be opened wide, and with more time off to do projects, homeowners can relax and pick out the right colors, the right primers, the right patterns, stencils, brushes and pans at their leisure.

At least, that’s the perception. But retailers can still have strong cold weather sales in the paint and sundries department by shirking the “off-season” stereotype, maintaining marketing materials and highlighting those products that just work better in winter.

“The industry has changed a bit, because it used to be a lot more seasonal than it is now,” explained Alistair Linton, director of retail development for Benjamin Moore. “December used to be a very quiet month for us, but with painting contractors trying to keep in business year-round, we don’t see a tremendous difference [between the seasons].”

Barbara Hershfelt, senior product manager for Masterchem, which sells its line of “KILZ Casual Colors” in Wal-Mart stores, agreed the season has changed in recent years.

“Our business is slightly seasonal, but the pro business is pretty consistent,” she said. “Of course, in the case of a lot of primer and paint, much of it is used indoors. You can certainly tackle indoor projects in the winter.”

Since pros provide steady business throughout the year, Hershfelt noted that retailers she works with keep pro-friendly products prominently displayed throughout the year.

At the Janovic Plaza paint store in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park area, high-end tastes prevail year-round. But still, some of the simplest products make the biggest sales in the winter months—an example is Sheetrock’s all-purpose joint compound, stacked neatly in a high-traffic area of the store, noted store manager Oniel Green.

Displaying products prominently, whether they’re for pros or consumers, can make all the difference no matter the weather. Many customers, especially those who are planning big paint projects, start the color hunt in time to be prepared by the spring “in-season.”

“We’ve seen some research that shows consumers are looking to make decisions about their summer home projects in January or February,” Hershfelt said.

To capitalize on the market for “planners,” displays should be kept up throughout the winter months to attract would-be big spenders come spring, Hershfelt recommended.

“Especially early on in the season, people are into the holidays, and they’re inside a lot,” Linton said. “They’re thinking about their living space and how they can make some changes to create a different environment.”

For customers who have decided they are going to go forward with a paint project in the winter, retailers can better appeal to them by highlighting products that are quick-drying and low-odor—meaning less time with the windows open and living with fumes indoors.

According to Mike Goldstein, senior brand manager for ICI’s Glidden paint division, certain labeling can help lead customers directly to products that could be ideal for wintertime projects. For example, he said Glidden’s Ever-last paint—a very low-odor, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) product—is featured exclusively at Home Depot under the retailer’s “Eco Options” label.

“It’s in an area where customers can see right away that it’s under the Eco Options program,” he said. “It is something that can seriously help cut down on the wait time.”

Hershfelt said KILZ highlights its primers in the retail setting, which help to make paint go on faster—in one coat rather than several. At Benjamin Moore, the Aura line of paint promotes its low-odor qualities prominently.

“It’s low odor, it’s very easy to use,” explained Eileen McComb, a Benjamin Moore spokeswoman. “Of course, we always recommend you should have good ventilation, but this is a quick dry product and sets up very quickly.”

At the Janovic Plaza store in Gramercy, several new features are coming to help greet customers at the door with comprehensive paint selection advice. New touch screen displays are being installed to help customers browse colors while taking into consideration their room size, lighting, furnishings and other factors.

Benjamin Moore has launched a whole new marketing strategy, called “Color Stations,” at two large, high-end malls in Paramus, N.J., and Pleasanton, Calif. The purpose is to reach out to consumers, particularly female paint purchasers, when they are in a setting where “they already are making their decisions about fashion and cosmetics—there’s a corollary there for what goes into their homes,” Linton said.

He added the stations also help reach consumers who are doing holiday shopping or making late summer purchases. “It’s a good way for consumers to see our brand, especially during back-to-school shopping,” Linton said.

Another major feature of the Janovic store is the prominent display of wallpaper products. Green said the high-end market for wallpaper remains strong in New York City. That market goes all year-round as well, he said, and wallpaper typically can be installed with less mess and odor than in a paint project.

The Janovic store stocks a well-lit “library” of hundreds of wallpaper books. The library includes a central viewing area with a table and potted plants.

Wallpaper might not catch on in all parts of the country, but judging from the wallpaper offerings at the Janovic store—“Completely Kids,” Tween Scene, “Snuggles for Baby”—it’s clear that kids projects feature prominently in all seasons.

Kids projects have a dual appeal during the late fall and winter—kids are home from school on holidays, and many paints for children’s rooms are very low odor. BioShield Paint recently launched a line of “Kinder Paints,” featuring no VOCs and a selection of light, nursery-friendly colors. The company Milk Paint offers no-VOC powdered paint in a variety of primary colors.

Driven by innovation and marketing, the peaks and valleys of DIY paint sales are beginning to even out.

“It’s the equivalent of what you see in the clothing industry—you’re starting to see [paint retailers] start to get going on putting those products out extremely early,” said McComb. “You see them putting out products in endcaps, and come mid-January, those products are on the shelves and ready to go.”