We asked Kevin Coghlan, former owner of award-winning store, MRCB Ltd in Dublin, for his thoughts on paint retailing mid and post pandemic.
Paint sales are up, but who are our Customers?
There’s no doubt, 2020 was a great year for paint sales. Because of the pandemic lockdowns and the fantastic weather, people took it upon themselves to decorate and spruce up their homes. We all know a lot of our regular customers, but what about the customers we had never seen before or who contacted us through social media or emails?
- Did we engage with them and make them feel welcome?
- Did we presume they have been to our stores before?
- Have they just moved into a new home or new housing estate in the area?
These are opportunities to make an impression and possibly make customers for life.
First impressions are so important and can create a positive long-term relationship, if handled correctly. It was a crazy unprecedented year and at times extremely busy for everyone, with no time to really engage with the customers. It’s important now that we take time to reflect on the past year or so and learn from the craziness. When the dust settles, it’s important to review our customer services and policies with the sales team and everyone who engages with our customers.
For instance, for each sale do we establish if our customer is doing the painting project themselves, or getting a professional decorator?
If they are painting themselves, have they painted before or are they complete novices?
If they are novices, it gives you a great opportunity to literally take them by the hand and explain everything in detail, from the quality and benefits of paint to the advantages of using a premium quality paint, applicators and tools etc. and perhaps increasing your add-on sales.
They will leave your store very impressed by your knowledge, and possibly somewhat confused, because they won’t have grasped it all. By the time they’ve finished the painting, they’ll have appreciated your expertise and made sense of most of what you taught them. They will remember you the next time they have a paint project.
You wouldn’t know any of this if you didn’t ask the questions or engage with them initially. Maybe they are experienced at painting and appreciate quality paints? Maybe they’ve used less expensive paints before, and understand you get what you pay for. This type of customer is happy to pay a premium for quality.
All too often, I hear products being offered based on price rather than benefits, performance, and application properties, and usually it’s because the salesperson hasn’t the training or knowledge themselves. If the salespeople doesn’t have the knowledge and understanding of the products they sell, you can’t expect them to be able to sell paint at premium prices.
We as retailers need to look at the level of training, (both product knowledge and customer service) given and offered to our teams. There are many moving parts in the retail paint industry (technological, environmental, social media and online) and we need to keep up with the rapid changes. This is an ongoing investment in your business and is essential to your success in the future.
2020 may have been a great year for paint, but how many customers received top class service and advice? How many customers entered an independent paint retailer for the first time rather than going to the sheds? Will they be back? We may have got away with it last year, as it wasn’t like any other year in memory, but is it good enough going forward, or could we do much better?
When is a premium quality paint the right option for your customer?
Notwithstanding the current disrupted trading patterns with Covid-19 and Brexit let me try to explain why sometimes paying a little more saves your customer money in the long term. Not everyone wants or needs expensive premium quality paints. You have the person who just wants to refresh their house or apartment before putting it on the market for sale. You also have people who love to decorate regularly, so they don’t need anything to last or look good for that long.
When a customer browses paint shelves in a store, they can be forgiven for being confused, as paint cans are confusing. Just because a can of paint is premium quality it does not necessarily mean it’s better for every application as outlined earlier. A question I was frequently asked by customers was ‘What’s your best paint‘? I could only answer by asking the customer further questions about what they mean.
- Is it the best value?
- Is it the best for washing and cleaning?
- Is it the best for coverage?
- Is it the best finish?
- Is it the best for application etc?
There is no one answer, nor is there one product that fits all the criteria. It’s very important to understand the questions as much as the products.
Generally, less expensive paints don’t cover well, or if they do, they won’t last long. If your customer has to give, for example, two coats of paint versus three coats of a less expensive option, you need to inform them before-hand so that they can value their time. Also, they will need more paint for that third coat which will add more cost. Also, if it doesn’t last as long, they will be repainting sooner, costing more money again, you can see where I am coming from here!
If your customer employs a Painting Contractor, it always works out much cheaper to purchase the best quality and most suitable paint for their needs, as the Decorator will charge them the same labour costs for applying two coats of paint irrelevant of the brand or quality. In fact, sometimes a Decorator may have to charge more if they have to apply a third coat because it`s not covering very well.
There are many forgotten or hidden qualities in premium quality paints, that the manufacturers and we as retailers sometimes don’t emphasise enough. For instance, a lot of people paint simply to change the colour of their homes. Premium quality paints generally use better quality organic and inorganic pigments which generally don’t fade or fade very little. This is particularly important outside, and more so with deeper colours. Quite often, premium quality paints are not that much more expensive than ‘regular’ quality, so it’s well worth while asking your customer relevant questions and giving the best advice as it will save them a lot of money in the long term. Also, lesser quality paints tend to break down much more quickly, leading to flaking, peeling and becoming unbound, which in turn costs more with the amount of extra preparation needed.
There are many more benefits to premium quality paints, such as scuff resistance, mould resistance, great touch up quality, more wipeable, more refined finishes, better flow and levelling, more environmentally friendly, higher volume solids, more frost resistant the list goes on!
Most people are not acutely aware of the prices as it’s not an every day item. It can often seem expensive to them when you add up everything you need for a proper painting job, but the opportunity you have is to `sell the difference` in price between regular paint and premium quality paint, because they will find, it’s not that much!