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Let’s kick off with the tradie’s perspective on painting & decorating. Phil Wilkinson, National Workmanship & Membership Manager of the Master Painters Association, says it’s “steady as she goes” in the trade as winter draws to a close and painters ease off chasing interior work.
Feeling that the painting trade has come off “the silliness of a couple of years ago”, Phil reports: “We’re still busy but it’s not ridiculous. In fact, it’s a nice place to be; we can still pick and choose what we want to do but we aren’t looking at 200 requests for quotes each week. That was stressful, now it’s manageable.”
With a Master Painters Association conference just around the corner when we spoke, and board members having just submitted reports about what’s happening around the country, Phil was happy to pass on some of this intelligence.
“In the Auckland region, things seem to be going quite well and consents are up. One only has to look at the number of cranes on the horizon to see there’s plenty of building going on at the moment.
“The Canterbury report talked about commercial bubbling along nicely and some significant projects still to come on line with the Convention Centre and others to be completed.”
Having said this, Phil also reports that things are somehow “out of sync” in Christchurch and that some painters, like many of their builder counterparts, are experiencing a lull.
“If there’s an area of some concern, it’s Christchurch; they are putting that down to the earthquake rebuild as 10-15 years of work got done in a five- or six-year period. Certainly in that rework arena, a lot of the work’s already been done that we would expect to be doing now.”
Other Mainland areas are also reporting a softening market. “Anecdotally, I was talking to an Ashburton painter recently who thought that things were slowing down there and he put it down to farmers pulling back a bit since the milk price fell.
“On the other hand, the local association thought they were having a reasonable run with winter just presenting its usual challenges,” says Phil Wilkinson.
Elsewhere around the country, reports suggest house price growth and low interest rates may be supporting demand for the trade, he says.
“Otago and Southland have been quite busy, for example, and the winter weather was very kind to them for a while, so they were able to stay outside for longer. And, whereas Gisborne was a hard place to do business a few years ago, there seems to be plenty of work there at the moment.”
BRIGHT OUTLOOK FOR PREMIUM PAINTS
Also seeing good opportunities throughout the country is Decora Group Director, David Ryan, whose Aalto Paint brand targets the premium end of the decorative paints market. Commenting on Aalto’s entry into some PlaceMakers stores, David says the New Zealand trade and retail market “has always desired high performance products” and it’s a trend he sees continuing.
“We are enjoying partnering with select PlaceMakers stores to make our colours and paint more accessible to a wider market. We’ve also worked hard to provide retailers and customers with a comprehensive range of support collateral including fandecks and Aalto brushouts [A5 swatches created using real Aalto paint].”
While the main North Island centres are currently soaking up the bulk of Aalto sales, Ryan is recognising plenty of demand for high-end decorative paints elsewhere throughout the country.
“Aalto is now available in four PlaceMakers stores in the South Island and we have been enjoying excellent feedback from the retailers and customers in these areas. We also have strong support in Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Taranaki, and more recently Northland and the Eastern Coromandel.
“However there is no doubt the PlaceMakers partnership has boosted our presence and sales in the competitive Auckland market with Aalto being ranged into PlaceMakers New Lynn, Waiheke Island and very soon Wairau Park.”
Aalto has traditionally targeted the premium end of the paint market, working closely with designers, specifiers and architects undertaking commercial and residential projects. But today the brand offers a comprehensive retail and trade range, and this includes undercoats, interior and exterior topcoats and water-based enamels.
Bottom line, though, David Ryan believes it’s the Aalto colour range that enables the brand to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive sector.
Decora Group also manufactures the Procoat range of products for use on timber, flooring and metal, and an extensive roof-coating range for the trade.
With a highly experienced technical team and fully resourced lab, David Ryan sees continuing to provide a quality, no-compromise alternative to the major brands.
“While we don’t so much see ourselves leading the industry in terms of innovation in paint products, we have the ability to follow closely behind with beautifully crafted paints and colour of superior performance.”
The level of investment available for R&D might be a limiting factor for a company of Decora’s size but David Ryan insists that, at the quality end of the market, “technical experience and ability can compensate for any lack of capital investment”.
And being a smaller company, with all shareholders active in the business, Aalto can move quickly to take advantage of new technologies and opportunities…
NICHE PRODUCTS MAKING INROADS
Anthony McGill of Rust-Oleum reports the Zinsser range of speciality primers and undercoats is expanding and has just put an acrylic sealer into Bunnings called Dry Wall Primer.
The product name is US-speak for a plasterboard/GIB board sealer. “New Zealand consumers are pretty savvy,” he suggests, “they watch things like HGTV, so a term like ‘dry wall’ doesn’t faze them.”
While Zinsser isn’t targeted at the trade, Anthony says the trades speak very highly of the products, which has a flow-on effect with sales in the retail market.
“The range covers every priming scenario you can think of and two key properties that give the products a competitive advantage are strong adhesion and stain-blocking abilities.”
The Zinsser brand has been established for 15-20 years in the local market and much longer in the US, and offers much potential for range expansion.
“That’s one of the drivers of our business; with both Zinsser and Rust-Oleum, we’re expanding our range with what’s already working well in the US. More will come; it’s just a matter of getting these things ranged.
“The local Rust-Oleum office works very closely with sales and marketing in the US so that, moving forward, there’s less of a lag between products being launched in the US and subsequently in NZ. The benefit of our direct connection to the US is that we don’t have to wait for Australia to make product decisions.”
In terms of the Rust-Oleum product line-up, an expanded range is now in Mitre 10 stores and Anthony McGill notes that consumers are becoming more comfortable suing aerosols for their small-scale painting and decorating projects.
He describes this part of the painting and decorating market as very much a niche with products that stimulate creativity through speciality finishes, like glitters and metallic.
“Specifically on-trend,” he says, “are the ultra-matt, chalked-type products that allow householders to upcycle what they already own. Rust-Oleum products are very versatile – you can upcycle anything from metal to plastic to timber.”
Future expansion is all about using social media to further boost brand awareness, says Anthony McGill; “We still have more work to do with Rust-Oleum but enjoy very good engagement on our social media platforms. It’s just the tip of the iceberg at the moment; we plan to invest heavily in that space to communicate directly with our consumer.
“The reason it works so well on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook is that it’s very visual and very aspirational. People flick through and see an image of a restored chest of drawers and they realise they can achieve the same effect with an easy-to-use aerosol.”
SEALANTS AND ADHESIVES GOING STRONG
Innovative new products are also adding to brand and product competition in the sealants and adhesive space and Soudal (formerly Holdfast) COO, Melanie Reid, says a mix of innovation, promotions and new products is not only good for the category but is driving value for the consumer.
“The market is strong in some areas while a bit patchy in others but we feel we are punching above our weight in many of the areas where others might be finding it tough through a new and relaunched product offering.”
Melanie reports a favourable response from the trade following the rebranding of the range into the Gorilla brand, notably with Gorilla MS and Gorilla FixAll products.
“We’ve also widened the range to ensure we have a product fit for every purpose that is easily recognised through the association to a brand people know and trust.”
In terms of the broader economic outlook, she says media coverage makes it unsurprising that business confidence has slipped and that people are feeling cautious.
“The world economy may have an impact down here in NZ but our focus is on what we can control, so we remain optimistic despite all of the rhetoric.”
Selleys’ Country Manager, Darren Newland, is pleased to report that the overall market is “holding very well” and that Selleys sales in particular are “pretty constant”.
Selleys is enjoying a major sealant/adhesive product push on the back of its locally developed Silex technology, which is the base on which the company will be building much of its future offer and delivering more value into the category.
“Silex is enabling us to create and market quite a few new products with a bunch of new characteristics,” says Darren. “It’s something that we’re very proud of and which will keep evolving as move forward.”
Highlighting the success of Storm sealant as an example of the innovation being well received by the market, he says: “It’s a sealant that works off Silex technology and can be applied to roofing or guttering in heavy rain. Rather than waiting for the area to dry, the Storm product cures, seals and hardens in the rain.”
The latest cab off the rank boasting Silex technology is MarineFlex which Newland anticipates will have a wide base of appeal as we come into the spring-summer period and boats and pools are in greater use.
“The Storm product has been out for a while now and we’ve had a strong response in terms of its ease of use and what it actually does,” he says, adding: “MarineFlex is just hitting the wider market now and is attracting a lot of interest due to its ability to cure, harden and seal under water. It’s unique in that it can be used in fresh water, salt water and in swimming pools and spa pools.”
Returning to the state of the New Zealand market, Darren comments on the resilience of the market, in Selleys’ experience, thanks to an ongoing level of construction combined with plenty of activity in the DIY and renovation space.
“No area in particular is taking off, but no area is dropping off either. The only real worry is around the pipeline of work and the level of skilled labour to do it. There seems to be an even spread of activity across the country and, although a lot of repair work in Christchurch has come to an end, there are a lot of new-build projects. We’re also seeing a lot of good growth coming out of Wellington, for example, with new housing and refurbishment activity.”
Likewise, Darren Newland says that Selleys’ customer base is stable, despite talk of new entrants coming to the market, such as Costco and the online retailers.
“The actual heartland customer base hasn’t changed and it doesn’t look to be changing in the near future.”
MORE LOCAL INNOVATION
Meanwhile, Auckland-based Chemical Specialties is excited to bring to market a water-based, ready-to-use product called Rot-Fix that hardens, waterproofs and protects rotted timbers before re-forming and repairing with Builder’s Bog.
“The potential cost benefits are huge,” says Managing Director, Stuart Jordan. “Instead of bringing in a carpenter or builder to replace a rotted window frame, window sill, French door or floorboard, the DIY user can fix the rot quickly without costly tools or any carpentry skills.
“Alternatively, a professional can make a perfect repair without replacement, finishing the job in a single visit, including painting, once the product has been sprayed on and allowed to dry overnight.”
Rot-Fix is sprayed into the joint until it is thoroughly soaked and has penetrated deep into the crevices. Then it’s simply a matter of letting it dry and cure until there is a hardened interior in the joint that Builder’s Bog will chemically bond to. It can make a solid repair undetectable when painted.
According to Stuart Jordan, Turbo Builder’s Bog has been “a huge market success both here and in Australia” since Chemical Specialties formulated it over 30 years ago.
“Our instructions for Builder’s Bog recommend users to remove rotted, papery timber down to a firm surface before filling and repairing with Builder’s Bog. But this is not always possible on deep, rotted joints.
“There were products on the market that contained poisonous isocyanates and others consisting of thin, two-pack epoxy resins that are messy, toxic and can cause allergic reactions and dermatitis. And there are also acrylic resin solutions in acetone and other volatile solvents available on the American market.
“But none of these products will bond strongly to Builder’s Bog – the repair can simply detach due to incompatibility and lack of adhesion. And, of course, they are too dangerous and messy to spray on without industrial equipment.”
Now check out our painting & decorating new product round-up here.