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To get a wider picture on the market as a whole, I spoke to Master Painters New Zealand Training & Assessment manager Phil Wilkinson to outline the lay of the land and, fortunately, it’s mostly good news.
“Work is picking up very strongly across New Zealand but particularly Auckland and Christchurch as New Zealand becomes a stronger ‘do it for me’ market at the expense of DIY,” Wilkinson explains.
Of course everything isn’t all rosy. I asked Phil Wilkinson what issues he and his members had been seeing most in the last year.
“Problems cropping up more regularly are moisture content of weatherboards which can be higher than is recommended for painting and the prevalence of blistering paint after the job is completed from painting over previous coatings that should have been removed,” Wilkinson says.
And how about trends within the types of products being used and being asked for by Master Painter customers?
“Water-based paint is now widely used on all exterior substrates with some professional painters and decorators still using enamel paint on window frames to provide smooth finish, high gloss level and to avoid blocking,” says Master Painters’ Wilkinson.
THE SUPPLIERS’ POINT OF VIEW
So are the sentiments expressed by Wilkinson shared by the major suppliers in the exterior painting and decorating industry?
Fresh from a win at the Hardware Awards for Painting & Decorating Supplier of the Year, Valspar Country manager Paul Connolly reports that the market for its exterior products is as strong as ever.
So when looking at the exterior market, do trends in colour and finish affect this category in the same way that they do interiors?
“Not so much,” explains Connolly. “Compared with interiors it’s about having trust and confidence that if it goes outside it’s not going to wash away, it’s going to be reliable and have appropriate coverage. So it’s about having a dependable product that the consumer can really rely on.”
I asked Paul Connolly if there were any notable changes in the types of houses going up in New Zealand that might be having an effect on the market for exterior painting and decorating products.
“We are seeing changes in people’s habits here. In the type of housing you are seeing more apartments, particularly in Auckland. However, we still have some way to go before we see the “Coronation Street” developments that you see in some parts of Europe.
How about the reports of affordable housing developments changing the types of home that New Zealanders will be living in? Terraced housing developments in some of Auckland’s much talked about, but still not seen, Special Housing Areas might not be dissimilar to the Coronation Street model that Connolly mentioned earlier.
“If we do get to a situation of having more modular housing the challenge will be to create points of difference and that will be the key for us in that area,” he concludes.
GAINING TRACTION OR TREADING WATER?
Going back to the market in general, does growth in Auckland and Christchurch really mean improvement for the sector as a whole?
Cotec’s Hylton Jones isn’t entirely convinced: “There have been increases in those two main centres as we all know but there are only marginal increases in any other regions with some going actually backwards. So there really is no country wide rock star economy as we have heard touted, with much of New Zealand marking time,” he says.
The tough state of the market however may have made people more discerning about how and what they spend their money on, which may be positive for the hardware channel.
“It is interesting that in a time when much of the economy is static that cheap paint is not a growth area and we are finding that many people are becoming far more discerning in what they buy and will pay for high performance products,” says Hylton Jones.
“Christchurch is a good example of this. Much of the initial paint work done under the EQC is being found to be of a low quality and the repaint work is tending to be done with top end paint and our premium interior finish and exterior elastomeric are finding excellent acceptance by trade and retail customers alike.”
Passing the talking stick to Resene, Marketing Manager Karen Warman reports a healthy year in Resene’s overall paint business: “The start of the year was very strong and the late Easter running into Anzac meant that April was noticeably busier than normal. While many trade customers used that week for holidays, it gave retail customers a chance to get their decorating jobs done,” she reports.
Warman has also identified some concerns that may come to fruition in upcoming years: “General DIY skills in the population are falling and many can’t afford a professional painter, so they don’t have the ability to do the work themselves or the resource to pay someone else to do it. That means a lot of exterior maintenance is deferred which means when the work is done, it is often a much harder project than had the work been done earlier when the surface was in a more sound condition.”
This generational skill gap has been referred to in several aspects of the hardware sector (especially gardening) and this has led to some major misconceptions about how to correctly maintain a property’s exterior.
“Many natural materials are now being left unprotected in the belief that this is environmentally better, however the natural surface is left prone to the weather, dirt and dust without protection so rather than the coating bearing the brunt of the wear and tear, the bare surface is. This means it is much harder to repair the surface later than it would be to repaint or recoat the surface at the start and then keep it in good condition with a regular maintenance cycle,” Warman says.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT PAINT
Of course the exterior of a building needs a lot more than a lick of paint so what is the perspective of the other players in this market and do they work with or against paint sales?
Avin Jandu at Cabot’s feels that the market for oils and stains on timber exteriors has been doing well with as a combination of hard work and new products helping the category.
“We have seen some growth over the last 12 months and we’ve certainly been a part of that and helped to drive that growth as well by having different conversations with trade and retail ensuring we grow both segments of the market.”
For both the trade and retail markets it seems that the increased convenience of new products, particularly those with solvent-free formulations, has done well for Cabot’s.
“Traditionally consumers believed you had to recoat every 12 months if you were using decking oil and a few years if you were using a traditional decking stain purely because that’s how products in the market have been historically. So our Intergrain Natural Stain System and Intergrain UltraDeck are doing exceptionally well in this market and that’s on the back of us getting people used to the fact that this is no longer the case.”
Some traditional solvent-based solutions do remain cheaper than these new products however. Surely it’s a tough sell to charge more especially if your clientele are used to using solvent-based products?
“Yes they are premium products,” admits Avin Jandu. “But if you look on the long term what consumers are paying every 3-4 years is still less than what they would pay every year with a lesser known brand with a solvent-base every year.”
So where are we seeing these new formulations being put to the test? “There’s a lot of movement we have with trade painters so people who were traditionally applicators of paint on job sites are now getting involved in using oils as well as paints on site. And it does also get used in new homes so we do aggressively chase new opportunities in new home developments as well with quite a bit of work in Auckland and Christchurch.”
And do these exterior oils and coatings have an aesthetic value or is it all about protection? Talking to paint manufacturers you see some companies emphasises the reliability and durability of their formulations while others tend to focus on aesthetic qualities with colour and finish the key elements of their brand recognition. Does this apply to the oils and stain market as well?
“As the market grows, in turn the engagement level with the category starts to materialise into something that could reflect paint, though not at the same level,” says Avin Jandu.
“But people are still very much in tune with current trends, for example there is large drive to blacks as well as natural colours to reflect the natural environment they are in where traditionally people bought stains in a typical brown shade.”
People are also showing a tendency to let the wood itself be the star rather than the stain.
“There has been a lot of growth in more semi-transparent oils that will really reflect timber tone and grain timber grain as opposed to covering that up. So whether that be on the side of housing or decking, people really want to start enhancing the characteristics of timber as opposed to changing the look of it.”
MADE HERE, FOR HERE
While stains and oils may be entering more and more into the aesthetic realm dominated by paint, there are some exterior products that remain resolutely practical in nature. Neil Watkins from Selleys has specialised in the type of products that rely on a trusted reputation more than trends.
“The market here in New Zealand for sealants and adhesives that you would use in the exterior of the house has been very strong for us as those products still have a lot of consumer support and people continue to buy them,” Watkins says.
Neil Watkins has seen the company’s 100% silicone range continue to be a star performer within this product category but admits to seeing some losses in other areas.
“It’s fair to say there are a lot of cheaper products entering the market. Most people don’t know the difference between a good quality paint brush and an average one and as long as the products perform to a reasonable level they are happy with that, so we are seeing some devaluation of that particular category.”
So far this trend hasn’t hurt Selleys adhesives and sealants business but Watkins is realistic that anything can happen in the tough market we live in now.
“It’s just a fact of life that there are more and more imported products coming into the market, with customers getting their own buying teams up in Asia, and Mitre 10 recently announcing their alignment with Ace Hardware. That hasn’t impacted on us yet but you can never say never and have to be mindful of that and make sure you are meeting the needs of your customer and consumer. Those are the key drivers for us.”
Stricter Building Code standards in recent years have certainly done well for Watkins and Selleys, with the trade remaining loyal to trusted local brands with proven reputations that will tick all the regulatory boxes.
Neil Watkins: “From an exterior perspective, you have to have sealants that meet the requirements of the NZ Building Code with things like E2AS1 weather tightness and having products that meet that is certainly of more significance these days than perhaps they were 10 years ago and having products that are BRANZ appraised also is important from a trade perspective.
“And unless imported products are going to do all the testing and refer to the NZ Standards on their packaging like the majority of NZ manufacturers do, then the imported products will traditionally not be picked up by the trade.”
So for now it seems that manufacturing in New Zealand for New Zealand conditions still has its advantages on home soil. Let’s hope it stays that way.
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