The Price is Nice

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Features

Be in charge of what you charge

You’ve sent the estimate with everything meticulously noted down to the doors, the trim, and every last roll of tape, and you’d bite your nails waiting for an answer if only you hadn’t finished them off yesterday. What’s left? Pace around the floor, pull at your mustache, dig into a half gallon of whatever ice cream flavor matches the paint color… It’s a great price—for you, but how about your customer? If you go into a house that was last painted in 1966, same owner, and they’re still talking about how raunchy the Stones are and leaving 10% tips, how do you get them past the sticker shock of 2018?


$99 a Foot

“The paint industry has become increasingly competitive in the last 10 years. Some contractors offering deals like $99 a room are focused on getting their foot in the door with the customer and building their customer base. Others are trying to undercut everyone,” says Joseph Cassidy, ICP Construction’s (California Paint) technical service and new product support manager. Surely that’s no surprise to you, but what do you do from here?

“The most important thing is to try to educate your potential customers on what steps you are going to take in your paint job and why it is important to use certain products,” he said. Also, remind your customer (gently) that just like any industry, you get what you pay for. In your case, that means the contractor they hire and the product they choose. Sell your value, he insists. “It is always important to add value to any paint job.”
Mike Mundwiller, Benjamin Moore field integration manager. adds a second coat to that. “You can combat the sticker shock that some customers might feel by showing the value that you provide,” he agrees with Cassidy. Don’t make it about you, make it about them! “Whether it be in print (advertising, product sheets, company information) or verbal, communicate what’s ‘in it’ for the customer.”

Brian Osterried, PPG product marketing manager, interior paint, suggests that you ask questions about competitive bids. If a customer tells you that another painter is doing it for 40 percent less, see how you stack up. “Ask your customer to consider what is truly included in the deal,” he said. “Does a $99 room include painting the trim and ceiling? Is it a one or two-coat job? Does the second coat cost more? There are many factors to consider here.” Make sure your estimate includes all the work you’ll do, so they can compare it to what seems on the surface to be a much cheaper deal.

Plus, sell yourself! “To combat sticker shock, bring your array of expertise to the table,” said Osterried. “For example, you can demonstrate and share your business history combined with years of experience, a list of local clientele, and reassurance that you are insured. Often, a higher estimate is linked to greater quality, time, detail, and expertise, so be ready to communicate these benefits to a customer.”


Pricing Across the Board

With a decorative finish, it’s more or less expected that you’ll charge a higher price, but along with that comes higher expectations for both your finished project and your product knowledge. “It’s important to become familiar with the product you are working with,” said Brent Barnard, sales manager at Golden Paintworks, makers of Lifestyle Finishes. “If you’ve never worked with it before, the task may take you out of your comfort zone…but that is how we all grow. Creating sample boards is a great way to experiment with color and technique and it gives you something to show your customers for inspiration.”

Not only that, but as you create your sample board, you’ll see how long it takes and what your possibilities are, which can help you get an idea of cost per square foot and help you grow your creative side as well. It can also convince your customer that you can do it better than they can, which can lead to them hiring you vs. trying it themselves—again. “It will take longer than applying conventional paint, but today’s consumers are looking to individualize their living spaces and bring the beauty of nature’s textures inside,” says Barnard. Besides, who picks off-white as their favorite color?”


Paint on Point

Off white or no, one thing we preach here is quality. After you sell them on yourself, you still may need to sell ’em on some good paint. As nice as you might be, how soon do they want to pay you to do this again? Are kids running around scratching the walls with a trombone? Is a cat—or husband—marking his territory? Or, will the paint be untouched by anything but a few spiders? Not everyone will jump with you into a can of top-quality paint, so be sure to let clients know the benefits and challenges of the various price points.

Mundwiller at Benjamin Moore reports that by presenting your customers the spectrum of product quality, you can make sure to give them what they want—even if you lose the battle of premium. “With a variety of options, you have the opportunity to match your customer’s desires and expectations,” he said. “By doing this, you can create a competitive advantage for yourself.”

PPG’s Osterried agrees: offer an assortment of price points your clients can pick from. This way you’re not just a Paint Contractor, you’re a Point Contractor as well. So go ahead, talk up the premium, but don’t let it make or break the bid. “From price-point to price-point, there can be major differences between different types of paint, but no one should assume the most expensive gallon of paint is the right paint for each customer,” he said. “A painter will naturally gravitate towards a product that saves time because time is money. Paint that can be applied efficiently and is durable will benefit both commercial and residential customers. We recommend that you identify the client’s needs first and then fit them with the appropriate paint.”


Math Class

Dan Cohen, executive vice president at ICP Construction, recommends telling prospective clients specifically what your paint will do. As he mentioned in last month’s paint article, almost any job looks great when it’s finished, but what about next year?

“The measurement of quality paint comes not only in the application and coverage of the product, but in the product’s attributes,” he said. “These can be washability, stain resistance, marring, water sensitivity, color fastness, mildew and mold protection, etc. Many of the products’ attributes are not noticeable at time of application.” Find out what is most important to your customer so then you can recommend a product to fit their expectations, vs. the expectations of the last customer and the one before that. “Remember that long term expectations and customer satisfaction are the number one drivers of repeat business,” he said.

His colleague Joe Cassidy says to start at the top, and he’s got some numbers to bolster his position. “I am a big advocate for contractors using premium products, and no, not all paint is the same!” he says. Certainly, you’ve had to counter that argument at least once last week.

Along with that, he adds, don’t be that painter that charges for premium paint and then pockets the change after getting the low end bottom shelf. It might cost you money and reputation! “This goes back to labor cost and customer expectation,” he said. “If you tell your customer you are going to use a certain brand of paint and sell them on that brand, but then show up with the lowest grade line from that brand, you are not doing right by your customer. You also run the risk of having to do an additional coat, which was not in your original budget.”

Even if you all agree on the cheaper paint, try to explain to your customers that what they save on the gallons might pop right back up—and higher—on the labor cost, and it’s no secret that labor costs substantially more than paint. To prove it, Cassidy took us on a safari into a mathematical word problem: “Let’s say two contractors are producing the same job: a 10×10 room with a $25 per hour labor cost. Contractor A buys a cheap gallon of paint for $20. He ends up having to do three coats due to lack of hide and he also ends up buying a second gallon of paint he hadn’t planned on. The job takes him six hours, because he has to wait for his second coat to dry (and drive to get some more paint). He has spent $40 on paint and $150 on labor.”

Contractor B, on the other hand, uses a premium grade paint for $45 a gallon. Two coats, three hours. “He has spent $45 on paint and $75 on labor,” Cassidy tabulates. “Contractor A’s cost: $190; contractor B: $120. That is a $70 difference! Using a quality product will save you labor expenses.” Which means with the premium paint you can charge less to do the room.

We won’t ask what’s going on with Contractor C.