Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Getting More Out of Your Paint Store

“Give me a good price on that paint today and I’ll buy more paint from you tomorrow.”

Ahhh, hypocrisy.I love listening to a paint contractor complain about a new customer that wants a really good price because they have lots of friends that need a painter or have more projects possibly in the future. The good old dangling a carrot on a stick negotiating tool.

Yet this same contractor will employ the same method of persuasion when negotiating their cost of paint from their supplier. The other day I was in my local paint store and there was a contractor at the counter wanting a better price on his paint. He reasoned that he was going to be really busy this upcoming exterior season and therefore his pricing should be adjusted to reflect that not yet existent volume. I am surprised the manager behind the counter didn’t roll his eyes. I laughed to myself thinking how many times he must have heard that before.

Why in the world should a paint store provide preferential pricing to a contractor that hasn’t proven their buying power and loyalty to that store?

Your paint store can be one of the most valuable resources in your business. They can provide product knowledge and expertise, assistance with estimating quantities, colour advice, delivery of products and REFERRALS. Not to mention the endless coffee, donuts, t-shirts and other perks most stores provide to their contractors. But those things and preferential pricing are earned.

At Warline, our relationship with our paint suppliers is essential for our success in business. I have had the owner of our Benjamin Moore store personally visit a very demanding customer, in her home, to discuss her concerns over paint colour and lighting issues. He provided reassurance and confidence to her and today she is a repeat customer and a good source of referrals for us. We drive 20 minutes out of our way to deal with this particular store – that is how much we value the service and value we get from Zulie and his staff.

We do enough business with our main paint suppliers to regularly get calls and attractive offers by other suppliers that want our business and volume. In these tough economic times when every penny counts, it can be tempting to take these offers. We don’t though.

Our relationship with our paint suppliers is about more than just pricing. It is about an owner or sales rep that knows his stuff, a staff at each store that is helpful and professional, a company that is interested in helping us grow our business because they get that it is good for them too, a product that delivers on performance and an entire organization that stands behind their products and their contractors. It’s way more than just a good price on a gallon of paint. It’s a like-minded business operating on the same set of principles that we run our own business on.

So if you are reading this and thinking “wow, my paint store doesn’t do that for me” maybe you need to ask yourself why.

A good store, with good staff understands that your success means their success. But they also are dealing with a ton of paint contractors every day so it makes sense that they are going to focus on contractors that they have relationships with. I spoke with some store managers and owners and here are their tips for getting more out of your paint store:

  1. Become a regular. Get to know the staff in a store by finding out their names, chatting with them and developing friendships. The more they get to know you and understand your business, the more they can help you.
  2. Ask them for advice. What it says on the can is one thing. Store owners hear all the feedback on application and durability. Good and bad. These guys have a wealth of knowledge that could be the difference between profit and loss on a job. One store owner I spoke with said “there is no such thing as asking too many questions. Often the problem is that not enough questions were asked”.
  3. Call your order in ahead of time and let them know when you are picking it up. Not only does this help the store prioritize their orders, it means when you come in, you aren’t wasting extra time. Especially during the morning rush. Your paint store wants to give you the best service possible so help them do that. And if your order isn’t quite ready when you get there, relax and have a coffee.
  4. Buy your sundries at your local store instead of at the big box store where they are slightly cheaper. Talk to your manager about getting better pricing on some of your regularly purchased items first. They often have more room for discounts on supply items.
  5. Pay your bill on time. Simple. But if you get stiffed on a job or run into a cash flow problem go in and talk to the manager and make arrangements to make small installments to pay off the account. Most stores will go out of their way to help you if ask. Avoiding the store, not taking their calls and buying your paint elsewhere while you have an outstanding account with them does nothing to build trust.
  6. Follow-up on referrals from the store promptly and professionally. When a store provides a customer with a referral it is a direct reflection on them so make sure you are treating the customer with the same consideration you would any good referral. Last year we did an estimate that was a direct referral from our paint store. When we got there, another painter was already there doing an estimate (the homeowner had asked for two referrals). This other painter was quoting the job using a different store’s brand of paint, because it was cheaper. Talk about a lack of appreciation and loyalty.
  7. Show your appreciation. Did the store give you a good referral? Did they rush a job that you forgot to call in? Thank them. Relationships are a two way street so think about reciprocating the perks you regularly are enjoying. Maybe bring in pizza and pop to your store for lunch one day or hand out a couple of gift certificates for a local restaurant as a thank you for that referral.

It doesn’t matter if it is an independent retailer, a small regional company with branch stores or a large publicly owned conglomerate. The more business you do with them, the better your pricing and service gets. The more you give, the more you get.

Your paint store feels the same way about pricing as you do. Giving discounts based on a loose promise of future business rarely pans out. We don’t get the free trip to Hawaii before we earn the travel miles. Car insurance rates only go down after showing years of safe driving. It is no different when it comes to doing business with paint suppliers. Walking in the door and asking for a discount because you are wearing painter whites isn’t going to get you much, but you might get a cup of coffee.

27 thoughts on “Getting More Out of Your Paint Store

  1. I was driving in the rain this morning, and thinking of how I can better build relationships with everyone I deal with. The webinar Chris Wright did last week on building relationships has had me thinking a lot about it these last few days.

    I can see where I need to improve on my paint stores relationship. I just have such a large service area I have to deal with several. It would be impossible to deal with just one.

  2. It’s great when you have that rare business who dazzles you. Like Tommy, I cover a huge area, but most of my business goes to one store, Maryland Paint and Decorating in Annapolis, MD. Many times I have driven past several other stores to deal with them.

    Wish I had similar relationships with more stores.

    1. We cover a large area too and one of our supplliers is Cloverdale Paint which is a great regional store with branches across Western Canada and the US. It is a big advantage because we can walk into any store and get the same service on the same account. We have good relationships with the managers in all the stores we deal with and we don’t have to travel across town to a specific store. It also helps that we have a top notch sales rep.

      Since Benjamin Moore is independently owned, it is a bit more challenging. We deal with a couple of different owners but the bulk of our business is with one owner (he has two stores). He gets most of our volume. Over and over again it has proven worthwhile for us to go out of our way a bit to deal with them.

      It really comes down to finding the right store that is like minded to your business and building on that relationship.

      Thanks for commenting and stopping by Blogging Painters.

  3. In my experience so far, the paint stores in my area are all part of larger conglomerates, nothing privately owned. Because of this, I deal exclusively with sales reps, as the store managers and workers can only recommend a discount for me, but can’t actually institute it.

    In the “mid range” product gamut there is not much difference across the field, so I expect sales reps to be more competitive in their offerings. Whether it is on site visits, competitive prices, free product trials etc. With specialty products, or certain products that are just worth it regardless of price and the companies know that, I understand that getting a discount requires purchasing volume.

    I find that sales reps do exactly what paint contractors do. I may tell a Sherwin Williams rep that if he gives me a good deal I will buy from him, but in the same breath he is telling me he will give me a good deal if I buy from him. Basically, neither of us is giving in. We both call a bluff. From these interactions I have realized that compromising is best. In reality a sales rep can’t give you a fantastic discount on EVERY product, and at the same time, most contractors don’t buy ALL their paint from one store. That being said, I do require a certain amount of “feeling important” like any customer in order for me to shop at a store.

    I would be less harsh with the sales reps if I was not constantly receiving calls from them asking if I was going to buy more products or use this or try that. I realize they are just doing their jobs, but a simple answer to “will you buy more paint this summer?” is, “will you lower my price on it this summer?”.

    My final point is that you are not comparing apples to apples. When you sell paint jobs you are selling a set of professional services, your companies image, your warranty etc… you are a service based business and YOUR customer is going to be hiring you based on these things and ultimately pleased if you do what you say you are going to do. Paint store companies are selling a product. Yes they are selling image, a warranty, and promises as well, but they do not have to concern themselves with the technical application in the same way. A residential paint customer is going to be looking at how you do the job, or how clean you are etc etc… like a million variables that affect how they view your company and your job. How you view a paint store company is limited to product, service/knowledge, price: many less variables.

    1. Hi Coby.
      I was at a recent event hosted by Benjamin Moore and there were number of store owners there. One of them made a really great comment to me. He said a customer can buy their paint anywhere, it’s the service that keeps them coming back to the store. I agree completely with that statement.

      I really disagree with the entire carrot and stick negotiating tool. My thought is your price should go down based on your purchasing history, not future. Our pricing with our suppliers (both big company and privately owned) has been earned. Both of our major suppliers (one is company owned and the other is an independent store) have gone to bat for us and stood behind their products in ways that more than exceed any discounts that other sales reps have offered us.

      1. Heidi,

        What I meant was, when getting solicited by sales reps constantly, it seems prudent that they offer something besides frequent calls. There are a lot of products out there that are basically the same with different names and slightly different pricing. Sales reps know this. They will say: “this product is comparable to ____.” If I am already shopping at their competitor and they are offering me a comparable product why would I bother?
        Ultimately sales reps try to get you by price. Whether you earn your discount or not, that is the thing they have the MOST control over.

        1. In terms of “going to bat for you and coming to site”, I kind of expect all sales reps to do that.

          The 3 reps I deal with would all do that, all have fairly comparable products, and I have base stores for them that I like the staff. So how do I choose which to go to?

          Sometimes it is location (how close to a job site the store is), and sometimes it is in fact price.

          Like General Paint Exterior Breeze and Sherwin Williams Weatherclad. These are basically the same product. Both the SW and GP sales reps have been good to me, how to I choose?

          Well GP gives better pricing to contractors so I may buy from them, but if I am doing a job close to SW I would accept the extra cost and buy from them.

          My point is, when comparing similar stores/sales reps/staff/service you are left with product/price and location.

          So it DOES matter!

          1. Coby,

            I think you are making my point for me.

            In the example you gave, I would drive the extra distance to my regular store, regardless of whether there was a different store with a comparable product, closer. That is the loyalty I am referring to. Not only that but by keeping my buying at that store, I increase my volume with them and therefore my prices improve.

            We get lots of calls from other sales reps and we are always willing to try different and new products but if the performance is the on par with what we are already using, why change suppliers?

  4. Couple of things…paint stores don’t “just” sell product. They sell service. Not all paint contractors get to experience the highest level of service that a supplier has to offer, especially if they are constantly beating on price, price, price. As an example, I have a rep/store combo that I can call at 7:00 in the morning and ask them to deliver a roll of tape and a tack cloth to a site 30 minutes away before 10:00 and they would do it. They know that I would only ask in a pinch, and I know it costs them far more to deliver those items than the profit they will make on those items, but they will do it for a good customer. In turn, I don’t shop them around on their items that we use. I don’t have time for that, especially if a supplier can inventory and deliver at the level that my volume needs require. Straight up, honesty in relationships is best. If suppliers sense that you are playing shell games, that is when you find you are calling each others bluff all the time.

  5. Great post and comments! It is the mutually respectful/beneficial relationships we develop with our suppliers, customers and even our online friends that serve our businesses and even our personal lives well. I know I can always count on my reps!

  6. I don’t see how suppliers are NOT playing games. Every supplier is trying to get you to only buy products from them, but they do it forcefully through constant calls etc.

    The sales reps I have dealt with, and stores themselves will do all those things you mention: deliver supplies if needed, etc. If I am already spending several thousand a month there, I do not feel bad for going to another store when it would be really inconvenient for me to go to theirs.

    Also you have to understand that not EVERY contractor has the same kind of relationships with stores you do. I have been in the business for only a few years and frankly can’t have the same style relationships you do! I have to base my choices on convenience and price until I have the same time/buying clout that other contractors that get all the perks do. So honestly, I don’t feel I am proving your point, or at least I am proving my point for my case, but it turns out it proves your point for YOUR case!

    1. Coby,

      Honestly, this isn’t about the size of our buying power but about the time we have invested in building our vendor relationships.

      We deal with the same five paint companies you do but we don’t get a ton of calls wanting to know if we will do more business with them. They all know where we stand and that our business isn’t regularly up for tender. Maybe that is the difference.

  7. Good thoughtful post, you are becoming a prolific blogger. This topic is very spot on when it comes to what I believe is the difference between the excellent reputable company and the lesser reputable operations. I go out of my way to help my dealers and other contractors, and I don’t ever complain about price. I have met the CEO of Cloverdale paint ( and golfed with him) on several occasions because of my paint store relationships.

    It would be interesting to have paint dealers give their input. Want an objective opinion of the best contractor in your city…ask the dealers.

    Thanks Heidi.

  8. Great article! We have a strong relationship with our local SW store and our rep. Not everyone in the store is an advocate of our company, but enough of them are that we get several jobs a year from the referrals. I highly recommend servicing your “inside” customers just as much as you take care of your other clients. I make every effort to keep our crew leaders motivated, our office staff in good spirits, and our vendors loving CCI. It is a full time job just keeping those “inside” clients happy!

  9. That timeless epithet, treat others as you want them to treat you – is in evidence here. Your advice is cogent, mature and bang-on!

  10. I Love my guys at the paint store. We do about 50k a year with them, and they love us for that im sure. Most of the things in this blog Im already doing and I can say they give me exceptional service at the price I need. Thanks Rich and Chuck.

  11. Tips for getting more than out of paint store are really good, to applying we can get a professional-looking finish and may also help you to get big projects, I like your blog. Thanks…

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