Paint and primer in one
The mixing of paint and primer together, in the same can, has swept through the coatings industry like no other innovation. Almost every manufacturer and retailer has added a version of this product to its assortment, although some have done so reluctantly. Within the paint industry, many dismiss paint-and-primer combos as a marketing ploy that raises the price of a gallon of paint. Others say it can save time and money and has a rightful place as a consumer option.
Behr Paints is often credited with introducing paint-in-primer in 2009. But Ames Research Laboratories was the first to market with a paint-and-primer product 20 years ago. And Sherwin-Williams had a self-priming product called SuperPaint in its assortment for many years. But Behr, a division of Masco, launched a huge marketing campaign for its Behr Premium Plus Ultra Paint & Primer in One. Consumers responded enthusiastically, according to executives at Home Depot, the exclusive seller of Behr Paint.
But behind the apparent success of Behr Ultra were some unhappy homeowners who complained, via Behr’s Facebook page, about adhesion problems (paint peeling) and the need to use multiple coats. Craig Menear, Home Depot’s VP merchandising, commented on these issues during a conference call on the company’s fourth-quarter results of 2011.
“We are announcing an improved version of our Behr Premium Plus Ultra interior paint and primer in one,” Menear told analysts. “This new formula has better stain-blocking capabilities and improved adhesion on multiple surfaces.” Durability, scuff resistance and drying time were also improved, he said.
While consumers care about all these attributes, their primary assumption — that they won’t need to use a primer as a first coat — is highly debatable, according to numerous people interviewed for this article. Sherwin-Williams reformulated and repositioned its original SuperPaint because of customer demand, according to a company spokesman. “Our first recommendation [to store customers] is the correct primer followed by a top coat,” said Karl Schmitt, VP marketing research and design. “Using a paint/primer combo paint does not mean you will save a coat,” Schmitt added.
Independent retailers were divided on the issue. None of the hardware co-ops liked the idea of losing paint sales to Home Depot or Lowe’s, which carried Valspar’s Paint and Primer in One. (Home Depot also added, at a lower price point, Glidden “Duo” Paint + Primer.) So they gave consumers what they asked for. In early 2011, True Value launched EasyCare Platinum Paint & Primer, which promised to “seal the surface and top coats in one easy step.” Ace Hardware launched its Clark + Kensington private label in June 2011. A major promotional campaign followed in 2012.
Do it Best stocked two paints in its DCs that were already paint/primer formulas: the Sherwin-Williams paint and Valspar Medallion. Valspar sent out adhesive labels to highlight its dual qualities. Scott Plummer, owner of Plummer’s Hardware, never put them on the cans.
“We don’t push it as a paint and primer in one,” said the Farmington, Mo., dealer. “If people come in and ask for it, we try to educate them.”
Plummer’s staff explains that all paint can act as a primer — but only on the first coat. “I’m sure we’ve lost a customer here and there,” Plummer admitted. But he doesn’t have to deal with unhappy DIYers who have to come back for more.
The paint-and-primer-in-one trend has also caused some problems for professional painter Eric Giansiracusa. “People do read the labels,” said the Pittsfield, Mass., contractor. “If it says it covers in one coat, they want [only] one coat.” Having to use extra paint also plays into customer’s fears that “painters have been scamming them for years,” he said.
Giansiracusa recently did two jobs with Behr Ultra paint. One was the exterior of a house scraped down to the bare wood. “I used only one coat, and the customer was very happy with the results,” he said. “But I know I’ll be back [to repaint] in six years.” The other job, a bathroom with raw sheetrock, needed two coats. Luckily for Giansiracusa, it was obvious. “No customer would have let me out of that bathroom with one coat,” he said.
Dunn-Edwards, a favorite of professional painting contractors, addressed the two-in-one paint issue in a recent customer newsletter. While acknowledging the popularity and convenience of these products, the Los Angeles-based paint supplier pointed out that certain surfaces, such as drywall, metal, masonry, redwood or cedar, need special primers to prevent leaching, discoloration, fading and other problems.
“For interior projects, paint-and-primer-in-one products perform well,” the Dunn-Edwards article said. But professional painters and consumers should read the disclaimers on the label, as well as calculate the overall cost of using a gallon of sealer and a gallon of finish versus two gallons of paint and primer in one.
Richard Hooks, the former owner of Kitty Hawk Paints, an independent paint store dealer in North Carolina, said the combination products are “nothing new.” Hooks remembers a paint/primer product in the Lucite line at PPG paints in the mid-1990s. “They were sold in 2-gallon pails in either white or off-white,” he recalled. “It worked very well and was reasonably priced.” Lowe’s sold the paint, primarily to contractors.
Today’s paint-and-primer products “are more for retail purchase,” said Hooks, describing them as “a new marketing strategy.” While professional painters usually prefer a separate primer, he said, some of the best ones he knows use certain brands — such as Sherwin-Williams “Duration” and Pratt & Lambert “Accolade” — as self-priming paints. Neither brand is advertised or recommended as a primer/paint combo.
Fifty shades of green
By Kent Panther, VP, Director of Strategic Planning at Wray Ward
According to the latest nationwide research by The Farnsworth Group, given consumers’ varying views of green advantages as well as the skepticism many have regarding green claims, the opportunity for manufacturers to capitalize on an ability to better define green — and to promote its specific benefits — seems clear.
Brad Farnsworth, whose company conducted the study, “How ‘Green’ Are Home Improvement Customers?” summarized it like this: “Clearly, a majority of consumers are receptive to green products, but they need a greater depth of information to encourage purchase — especially information that points out how they will personally benefit from the product. Manufacturers and retailers alike need to spell out what green means. The category is ripe for growth.”
The results of the 500-person study may help guide product manufacturers, especially in refining their communications vehicles and marketing messages.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that respondents fall along a wide continuum, from Ideologues to Anti-Ecos (see chart).
Attitudes toward green, however, may not match consumers’ purchasing behavior. A higher percentage of Anti-Ecos purchased HVAC systems or light bulbs they defined as green as opposed even to Ideologues.
This discrepancy between attitude and actions may be accounted for by different definitions of green. When asked what the term “green” meant to them, nearly half of the survey’s respondents correlated green with “environmentally friendly,” while nearly 20% defined green as “energy saving,” and about the same number thought of green as “recyclable/renewable.”
Moreover, the research showed that consumers are most likely to purchase green products that benefit themselves. In order of priority, factors most likely to influence purchase are energy efficiency, longevity of the product and low maintenance. Perhaps consumers, such as Anti-Ecos, are inclined to buy green products they believe are in their economic self-interest. The way green is defined and its perceived benefits are both essential.
As to the importance of purchasing green products for home remodeling and maintenance projects, about 13% of all respondents feel it is “not at all important,” 56% feel it is “somewhat important,” and 31% are either very near or in the range of saying it is “extremely important.”
While a large majority of consumers show an interest in green products, few feel knowledgeable about the category. Among consumers, 25% fall within the “do not know much” range, 63% consider themselves “somewhat knowledgeable,” and 12% rate themselves as near-experts or experts.
Finally, all consumers should be considered as potential targets for green products regardless of their professed attitudes.
HIRI takes the industry’s pulse
Since the beginning of the economic downturn, forecasts on housing starts, real estate sales and remodeling have gathered like a convention of fortune tellers. But only one crystal ball is focused solely on the home improvement industry and how consumers are spending — or not spending — money on their homes.
The Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI), headquartered in Tampa, Fla., is an independent, not-for-profit organization comprised of about 80 manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and allied organizations in the home improvement industry. Once a month, HIRI holds its “Pulse of the Industry” webinar to provide the latest data and what implications it might have on its members. Listed below is a summary of August’s report, which bases its conclusions on statistics from various government agencies, trade groups, marketing research firms and academic think tanks. For more, visit HIRI.org.
• Low mortgage rates and strong housing affordability could boost home sales.
• Backlog of remodeling jobs, low financing costs, stronger consumer confidence and stabilizing home prices point to an uptick in remodeling. Harvard Joint Center for Housing predicts double-digit growth by the first quarter of 2013.
• Retail sales are showing good growth for 14 straight months — with the exception of June.
• Overall economic growth still at a modest pace
• Moderate rate of inflation
• Are housing prices truly stabilizing?
• Consumer confidence up one month, down the next. “Consumers are very prone to the latest headlines,” said Fred Miller, HIRI’s managing director.
• There is no end in sight for foreclosures.
• Global instability — particularity events in Europe and the Middle East — could push the U.S. economy into another recession.
• Employment is growing, but not fast enough. “It continues to have an impact on the consumer psyche,” Miller said.