Paint revenue tips from the top sellers

Aubuchon Hardware’s prototype store layout separates the homeowner’s decision area from the pro’s.

Paint may be a very emotional decision for consumers, but in the retail world, it’s a simple business plan: If you want to sell a lot of paint, dedicate enough space to it, assign a full-time, well-trained sales associate to the paint desk, and carry more than two lines of paint. One of those brands should cater to the pros. Find a way to keep the contractors separated from the homeowners, which is not all that difficult; professional painters don’t like to sit on sofas surrounded by tasseled pillows.

These are some of the tips successful paint retailers shared with Home Channel News in a recent series of telephone interviews.

One area where the experts do disagree is the location of the paint counter. Many believe it should be in the middle of the store, toward the front. Others keep it in the back so customers will have to pass other merchandise to get there. Country Ace Hardware in Granby, Colo., uses the back corner of the store, which has a special entrance for contractors. “They really don’t want to rub elbows with Mrs. Homeowner,” said owner Tom McConathy. An L-shaped counter at Country Ace puts enough distance between the pros and the ladies looking through the decorator books. The latter have their own area with a wood floor, soft armchairs, upgraded lighting and a play area for the kids. An interior designer comes in once a month and gives free advice on redecorating projects.

Women are the decision-makers for paint in the vast majority of households, and most of them don’t have an exact color in mind when they enter the store. “We buy into the notion that paint selection is a journey,” McConathy said. The people who work in the paint department act as their guides, so they must be experts who have confidence in what they’re talking about.

“We spend an enormous amount of time training our people,” McConathy said, referring to seminars given by Ace and Benjamin Moore, usually in Denver. During the warmer months, at least two sales associates are assigned to the paint desk full time. Even during the winter there is a dedicated salesperson in the paint department.

Greg Fuller uses the same paint strategy in his 30,000-sq.-ft. Hometown Hardware & Garden in Downey, Calif., as he used in the 175,000-sq.-ft. All American Home Center, where he served as CEO before it closed.

“We don’t sell gallons of paint; we sell color,” Fuller said. Many female consumers have an idea of what shade they want, but they need help settling on a color. “The idea is to supplement what they came in the door with. We engage the customer and make her comfortable with her choice.”

Fuller has another inside tip: Because women work well together on home decor projects, put a female employee at the paint counter. The head of his paint department is Martha Ramirez, and she worked at All American for 10 years.

Space constrictions have limited Home Hardware to two paint brands, Pratt & Lambert and Do it Best’s private-label paint. But top paint sellers advocate multiple brands, with at least two geared toward the professional painter. This is the strategy of Lakewood Hardware & Paint in Lakewood, Wash.

Lakewood Hardware has made itself a paint destination for both pros and consumers by carrying six lines of paint, some of them regional. “We get a lot of repeat customers,” said manager Skip Tyler. It sells Pratt & Lambert, Pittsburg Paints, Parker Paint, Devine Color and Coronado Paint. It also outsold every other single Do it Best store in the Do it Best Quality Paint category last year. Paint accounts for about 30% to 40% of the store’s annual sales.

Lakewood’s brand of customer service involves some old-fashioned methods that take more time but produce better results, according to Tyler. “We can do eye-matching,” he explained. “If we do [color-matching] on the computer and we don’t think it’s right, we’ll tweak it.”

At Ace Hardware & Paint in Laramie, Wyo., staff members answer the phone with the entire store name.

“We want the consumers to realize that Ace has paint besides hardware supplies,” said paint manager Darl Peterson. The store also keeps a database of customers’ paint purchases.

Mike Dube, category manager for paint sundries distributor Lancaster Co., agrees with the need for a contractor entrance, strong brands and a knowledgeable staff at the paint counter. Where many dealers come up short, he said, is in high-quality brushes and other painting supplies needed by pros.

“The typical hardware store isn’t going to stock a professional paint brush or roller,” Dube said. “You can purchase an expensive paint, but if you apply it with a cheap brush or roller, you won’t get the performance you are looking for out of the paint.” 

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