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UK decorating trade – is it all about the value or the price?

Listed under Blog, Cover Your Wall, wallcoverings Posted Nov 04 2013

I asked three UK suppliers with a Europe-wide perspective of the decorating industry – is it all about the value or the price for UK suppliers, trades or homeowners? To say they were impassioned, insightful responses would be an understatement!

Robert Sikorski of Cover Your Wall supplies German-made MAV Erfurt lining papers and wall coverings.

Using continental Europe as a benchmark for the building and decorating industry is a great way of demonstrating where most UK businesses and professionals should be heading!

How often do we hear sarcastic comparisons between German and UK building contractors and their abilities to deliver on time and on-budget, using latest technologies? I don’t have to mention the name of the TV programme, but it’s true in a lot of cases.

In quite a few European countries, the entire building and decorating trade is treated with the utmost respect and people working in it consider themselves true professionals. With this comes a responsibility to be at the top of their game. Education doesn’t stop the day they start work and I feel that’s how a lot of decorators in Europe approach their profession. A true professional will search for better products, better processes and technologies, so that they can offer customers a choice of solutions. Their professionalism drives them to provide best overall value and most benefits, not just solutions based on the best price.

Does cheap and cheerful dominate UK thinking?

From my experience, UK manufacturers, a large part of the decorating supply chain and a substantial part of the decorating trade have bullied themselves into believing that customers want cheap and cheerful and nobody is going to spend £20 on a roll of flat wall liner where one at £3 used to work. So few look beyond what they have always sold or used.

However, customers have moved on, and look at things very differently nowadays. We live in an era of in-wall speakers and WiFi and we are rapidly exiting the world of single-brick construction and woodchip. 3D printing is here and there’s already talk of 3D printing of entire buildings. How long before it’s commercially viable? It won’t be long, because it’s not the traditional building businesses driving the process.

A growing number of customers are becoming much better educated than the trade that serves them

Here in the UK, we are finding that after doing all the research, customers very often ask decorators to use a specific product, only to find that the decorator hasn’t even heard of it. I appreciate that with 100’s of products coming onto the market every year, it’s impossible to know them all, but I’m curious how many professional decorators have attended various trade shows in the past 12 months and how many have spent time looking for innovative solutions after work on-line?

If tradesmen don’t know products and their benefits, beyond what they first used 10 or 20 years ago, they’ll always talk about price, and there will always be someone cheaper than them.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for consumers looking for the very best products to meet their needs, far from it.

I see a great pull coming from customers who require durable and fit-for-purpose products that will address the problems they face i.e. their product choice is all about the benefits they are going to reap from the product. Unfortunately, their requirements, in a lot of cases, are counteracted by the mainstream decorating industry, who are not even registering certain products and technologies available to them, simply because of the price.

However, what’s cheap or expensive is relative, when you apply a perspective of cost of usage or cost of ownership over a period of time. Customers who think like this are now winning, using the Internet to bypass the gatekeepers focussed on price points alone, and finding the suppliers offering the solution that they, the customer, are looking for.

There’s an exciting trend developing with a growing number of small suppliers who aren’t afraid to bring new products onto the market and spend the time and resources to educate customers about product benefits. And there’s a great group of industry professionals who seek out these products and technologies to offer more suitable choices for their customers.

Long term, this combination with a growing customer demand for good work and products is going to change the industry.

Case studies

Resisting new. We know of a case where a manufacturer supplied a product to a retailer to test the market and found the product 3 years later still at the retailer’s warehouse. It never made it onto the shop’s shelves because the sales people couldn’t bring themselves to sell it at a much higher price than well known and much cheaper alternatives. Nobody even bothered to find out what was so special about the product and why people would want it. Surely, at least it would have made for an interesting conversation with customers?

Old habits die hard. Recently we received a call from an upset customer saying that the decorator wouldn’t listen to her, and had left gaps between drops of Wallrock Thermal Liner. He told her that he’d been paperhanging for X number of years and that it would butt-up on the wall. He wouldn’t believe what the customer or the label said. Hanging normal wallpapers for the last X number of years, he had never came across a wall liner that was dimensionally stable.

What do you think?

That is what Robert Sikorski has observed on his travels and from his perspective as an online merchant of high price high performance Continental lining papers and the like. Your comments are most welcome.

– Are mainstream UK decorator merchants getting better at explaining the benefits of high performance premium products, or is it still a matter of flogging contractor quality products based on a tasty price?

Are you, as a decorator, happier to stick with what you know, or do you seek out tried and tested products from the continent that might offer a bit more?

As a homeowner, do you feel that you sometimes know more about decorating products than your decorator?

Next article in this series is from a merchant who sells a Continental masonry paint at prices that will make most UK decorators’ eyes water, yet sales are rising fast – homeowners have done the research and want the benefits these products offer.

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