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On this episode of Paint ED, our very own company President Nigel Costolloe, and Jess Ritchie from Farrow and Ball, discuss ways painting contractors can include high-end paint in their bids in a way that customers find compelling.

Chris: Welcome to Paint ED. Hey, I’m Chris Shank, the education guy at the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA). We provide painting contractors with the training and connections they need to grow their business. To find out more, visit pdca.org.

Do you specify high-end paint in your bids?

There are a lot of contractors out there who do, some even exclusively, but others may be a bit hesitant to offer something that they may feel drives up the price and scares away potential customers. No one likes to lose a bid, no one.

But offering high-end products may actually close more deals than not.

On this episode of Paint ED, Nigel Costolloe, from Catchlight Painting in the Boston area, and Jess Ritchie, from Farrow & Ball, discuss ways contractors can use high-end paint in their bids in a way that customers find compelling. It never hurts to expand your repertoire, especially if you can offer customers more of what they want.

Hey, Jess and Nigel. Welcome to Paint ED.

Nigel: Good afternoon, Chris. Nice to catch up.

Jess: Great to be here. Thanks, Chris.

Chris: We are talking about bidding with high-end paint, and how to include that in your bid. We’re going to talk about what happens when you’re surprised in the bid with a customer or prospect wanting high-end paint, if a contractor isn’t ready to offer that in a bid, if they’re not already offering that. I want to talk with you, because I know that Catchlight Painting does work with high-end paint, correct?

Nigel: Correct, yes. Always has.

Chris: Did you guys do that exclusively, or how much high-end paint do you use?

Nigel: It is exclusive. Our client base is definitely higher end. But we wouldn’t ask our painters, our craftsmen and women to use a low-end paint brush. We wanna provide them with the best tools possible to produce the best work we possibly can, and then commensurate with that is using the best paint we can get our hands on. And quite frankly, if someone made a better paint, and it costs more than the best paint we can buy today, we’d just start using it.

Chris: Okay. Well, let me just be point blank and ask you, is it really all that profitable for you? Obviously, you’re making a profit on it. But how would you answer a contractor that says, “How do you make a profit using high-end paint?”

Nigel: Good question, and two answers. One is, paint typically consumes or accounts for less than 8% of the cost of one of our projects. So, it’s easier for us to lose money by screwing up the hours on a project than it is by under-pricing the paint we’re using. The second answer is, we mark up all the product that we provide to our project. We basically charge twice the price of the kind of paint that we use. That covers the risk we have of showing up with a paint that’s been miss-tinted, it handles the headache of picking up paint or dealing with a customer who’s changed their mind about the color of a product too late in a project. So, that covers any of the additional cost a high-end paint might provide. We make sure that our mark up covers our profit margin on that gallon regardless of how expensive the gallon is.

Chris: Everyone knows that high-end paint is more expensive, so you talked about the merits of using it and bidding with it. There may be some contractors and estimators who are afraid to include it because they don’t understand simply how to do that in their bid, or they think they might lose a bid by including that and pricing that. Let me ask you, how do you and your estimators walk customers through the advantages and merits of the extra cost?

Nigel: Good question. First thing that we do is, we try and get the head trash out of the way. We should not presume to know where our customers’ spend level is. Most of our customers own much nicer houses than we do, they spend much more lavishly than we do. So it’s foolish of me to go into a meeting assuming that someone has sensitivity to pricing in the first place. Foolish then to extrapolate that sensitivity to this customer definitely wants to use cheap paint.

I should not be making those decisions for my customer. We assume they want the best product and service that they can afford to buy, and we deliver that. If there’s a need to sharpen a pencil, and this of course happened a lot during the recession, then perhaps a negotiation is appropriate. But we go in assuming that every customer wants the best and we just need to make sure that what we provide fits that budget.

So far we have yet to find the customer who says, “I love your pricing, I want to use a cheap paint, what can you do for me?” No one ever asks that question. They may say, “Can we get away with one coat? Or why is this going to be so much money?” Because they’re looking at the labor cost as the largest chunk of change. No one ever says, “Let’s use cheap paint on this project.”

Chris: Wow. Well, that’s kind of interesting from your perspective. So, let’s talk about contractors who maybe are listening to this and thinking, “Well, I don’t really bid with a whole lot of high-end paint, so, how do I slowly get that as part of my repertoire?” And then I have a question about what if a customer comes up with a request of high-end paint for contractors who aren’t necessarily offering that already? So, first, how do you start including that more often in your bidding? What would your suggestion be? And then secondly, what if a customer surprises you before you have it in your repertoire?

Nigel: Okay. So, similarly, we start the conversation talking about how to deliver the best value for the money the customer is going to invest in their project. That includes using what we think is gonna be the product that delivers the best service, and for us, that’s gonna be the highest-end paint. This isn’t a paint that smells nice, this is a paint that is engineered to last a longer time, delivers a smoother finish, and nicer hand. So, I think high-end paints sells itself, and there is a reason it costs more, it’s a better product.

If a contractor has not done this in the past and is typically used to providing a middle range paint, then I think going in slightly more educated about the benefits of using the highest-end product, and if that manufacturer includes in their product line should be sufficient. So, they could also just reach out to their local rep and say, “I want to start using your top of the line product. How do I up sell this to my client?” And I think they’ll get a lot of really good tips.

Jess: I find that the best way to starting on something like that is to really educate yourself on the products that you’re going to using. So, check the company’s website, look at their resources, lean on their people. For us, for example, we have a lot of color consultants throughout our network of showrooms and stockists across the country and beyond, and the websites can also be a fantastic resource for you to find information regarding both color combinations, inspiration, and finishes. As well as social media.

Chris: What about social media? Tell me more about that.

Jess: Absolutely. So, I find that this is a great source of online inspiration. And where social media is so prevalent today, you can easily type in any hashtags or keywords that are something that are relevant to the project that you’re working on, and probably come up with hundreds of pictures of that particular instance that you need to see. And if you’re working with a particular brand, you can even look for a hashtag of a specific color, or something like that. And that tends to be really helpful because people can most of the time visualize something much better when they’re looking at a picture in front of them. Now, the slight caveat to that is that things don’t come through your monitor exactly as they do in real life, so, it’s not a substitute for testing the color, but it is a great place to start

Chris: How might that work real quick? With Farrow & Ball, how do you guys do things. What might be a situation a contractor will be in, what search term will they search under and what would they expect to find? With you guys in particular?

Jess: Sure. So, with Farrow & Ball, we have a fantastic online resource actually on our website called Inspiration. So, if you go through our website and you click through inspiration, it’s actually almost like our own dedicated Pinterest, where we actually police the images that are on there and make sure that everything is tagged correctly and properly, and that it’s an accurate representation of what you’re looking at.

So, that’s a fantastic place to go and you can do something as specific as saying, Bedroom, Hague Blue, and looking for a specific room done in a specific color and you should come up with a lot of great images of something that’s similar to what you’re thinking that you might want to try on a project. Or that you want to get your customer to understand how it may look.

Chris: Is that submitted by people who use your products?

Jess: Yes, in fact it is. So, some of the images are our own of course, but then there are lots and lots of images, and it’s constantly growing based on uploads that people have done. So, in fact, if you are a contractor or a designer out there and you want to get your images seen on that resource, you are more than welcome to come to our website. And we really encourage you to set that up and to put images into our bank, because it helps other people, but it also has your name on it, so that’s absolutely a great way to be seen.

So, in terms of offering your customer something that maybe they don’t know about, or that they haven’t considered using or thought was a possibility for them, I think it’s a really great way to set you apart in your business by being extremely knowledgeable about the different products and options that there are in the market. And a lot of times people will be very receptive to trying something even if it’s in just one room to start. Because, generally, the consumer, you know, they are educated, they are smart, they will see a difference, and they’ll, at the end of the day, really thank you for turning them onto something that’s a little bit different than what they thought that they can have.

Then when it comes to actually pulling that off in your bid, I think there are a couple of other factors that you do want to take into consideration. Things like square footage coverage of the paint is a big one for us. So, if you are used to using a paint that gets your average square footage from about 350 to 400 square feet, maybe. Consider with a high-end paint, specifically with Farrow & Ball, you do go between 480 to 570 square feet to the gallon. So, a project that needed multiple gallons may need less, and at the end of the day that really does help you to even the playing field a little bit when you’re putting your bid together.

Chris: And if somebody has not already added it to their repertoire, and they get a request, or they get what they think might be kind of a lead into a request for high-end paint, what’s the best way to handle that when you don’t feel prepared to include that?

Nigel: The best way I think is to go into every conversation with a client with eyes wide open, making no assumptions whatsoever. If there’s a specific request to use a higher-end paint that is not currently included in your calculation or your formula to developing an estimate or a take off, then simply add that in as an alternate and stipulate that, “We typically provide this paint for these reasons. You have made it clear that you wanna use this paint which cost a bit more, therefore it’s going to cost us a bit more.” And just be completely transparent and open about the process.

Jess: Oh, absolutely. And we do see that all the time. You know, it’s never a fun thing when something crops up after you’ve submitted and won your bid. And we’re here to help you with that. So, I think that the best bet is to go back to your customer and explain the reasons why it might be a little bit more expensive. So, although it’s a money conversation and those can be difficult, don’t shy away from it. Because the thing is, that at the end of the day if a customer has asked for a specific product, they really won’t be happy with the results unless they’re getting the results of that specific product.

And there are enough really fantastic reasons as to why it’s a different product, and the different look and feel that you will get at the end of the day that justifying a small amount more in product cost is very, very easy to do. And we have a lot of resources to help you do that. We have lots of great marketing materials and brochures. You can talk to somebody at one of our showrooms or one of our stockists, who are real Farrow & Ball expert, they can help you through that process.

Chris: Nigel, you talked before about the risks of what is called commoditization in the painting industry. And so, for people who don’t know what commoditization is. The idea here, very simply put is that, when specially designed products or services, like in the painting industry, paint, paint services, are produced more generically and cheaply, more people can have them. I mean, that sounds great. But consequently, these products have become a dumbed down version of the original high-value products and services. Therefore, often they’re not as valued or highly valued or appreciated by consumers. Do you see this happening in the painting world?

Nigel: Of course, we are not immune to that. For the painter who works with general contractors and property managers, there’s always pressure to keep pricing low. For those of us who tend to work more in the private sector and working direct with clients, we may intuit that pressure from our clients, especially as a recession approaches or is happening, because everyone likes a deal. Our job as a contractor first and foremost is to know how to sell. If we can’t sell our service as being distinct, unique, or just better than our competitors, then we have commoditized our own offering and we probably deserve to be swimming with the sharks.

If we’re playing around with the most competitive end of the market where everyone is just hustling for a dollar. But if we’re doing our job properly, and if we stand behind the product that we provide with confidence, if we’re informed, if we’re educated, then we can go into an opportunity and present ourselves with more sophistication, more intelligence, more maturity, more suave, I guess, and convince someone, based on our presentation, that we can deliver something better than the competitor.

I’ve heard, and I believe it to be true, that most of us make snap judgments within seven seconds of meeting someone. So, before we open our mouths, before we talk about how amazing we are, people have already decided whether or not they’re likely to buy from us based on how we present. So we have that, we need to show up with that seven seconds already in the bag. We have to be so ready to own that project that basically the handshake and we say, “Hello,” is just a way to seal the deal.

That’s really the only way to get around the commoditization. So we spend a lot of time in our company saying no to people on the phone, because of course, anyone can call us, everyone has the right to call us, but we know that we don’t get a lot of projects and a lot of clients, and we very carefully filter out and qualify clients who we anticipate won’t be the right fit.

Sometimes we’re mistaken, sometimes we’re delightfully surprised when someone persists and pushes and gets us to meet, and we think, “Oh, you are going to be the right project for us.” But a lot of the time we appreciate that we aren’t the right solution to their service, or their project, and we save them a lot of time and we certainly save ourselves a lot of time pursuing something we shouldn’t be pursuing. That’s another way to avoid the commoditization, is knowing exactly where our niche is and trying to play in that niche.

Chris: I love that. Quote of the day, “We spend a lot of time saying no.” And yet somehow that’s good business. You know how to make a profit off that. That’s cool. And I’m sure it helps too, when you’re talking about those first impressions, that first seven seconds, probably helps to have a British accent. I’m just guessing. I’m just guessing.

Nigel: Or at least fake it.

Chris: I’m kind of hoping that it’s going to get us more listeners on this podcast. The whole thing of the commoditization happening, we have to stick behind the values of knowing that a high-end paint is valued, and good service is valued, and we’ll just got to stand behind that and believe it, and represent that. But it begs the question, I mean, do people really appreciate high-quality colors paint jobs like they used to? I mean, I guess that’s just a question probably that’s out there wanting to be asked.

Nigel: Absolutely. Yes. I think more and more time is being spent by manufacturers to come up with what they refer to as the super premium product, because there is a greater appreciation for color, for texture, and the influence of color on mood in people’s homes. And I think we’re all spending more and more time at home and we’re all tending to spend more and more on maintaining our homes. So, it’s up to us to provide our customers with the colors and the quality of coatings that they are looking for.

The manufacturers, the big ones. Sherwin-Williams, Benjamin Moore. They’re not spending money on developing super premium products just on a whim, right? They’ve done their market research, they know what’s desired, and that’s true for Farrow & Ball, of course, they’re importing their paints from England, so there’s already a super, super premium on that product because it’s imported. But they have a beautiful little niche market, and people will use Farrow & Ball knowing they get a specific finish and a specific look that is unique to that product line and they’ll pay for the difference very happily.

Jess: Absolutely. And I totally agree with Nigel. I think that what we see people doing these days is harking back to the way that we used to do things, which is, do it once and do it right. So, instead of a flash in the pan, you know, repainting every year, every two years, people really value having something that is timeless, that will last for a long time. So, when you give them that fantastic quality, they can be happy with their room for a few years to come and really be thrilled with the outcome.

Chris: So, Jess, how do people find out more about Farrow & Ball?

Jess: You can find us on our website at www.farrow-ball.com as well as on multiple forms of social media. And I would really encourage checking out our Instagram and our Facebook pages.

Chris: Jess and Nigel, thank you for being on Paint ED. It’s always a pleasure, thank you for your time.

Jess: Thanks so much, Chris.

Chris: Paint ED podcasts are a product of the Painting Contractors Association. To find out more about upcoming education opportunities, or for more information about joining PDCA and getting access to advanced resources for your business, visit pdca.org. We’ll see you next time.

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