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UK decorating trade – is it all about the value or the price? Part 2

Listed under Blog, Independent suppliers, paint Posted Nov 05 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! German lining paper supplier Part 1 here.

Ben Sturges of Paints and Interiors supplies high quality paints and finishes for interior decorators and designers, as well as supplying to the general public. They also design and supply fine internal and external joinery.

A bit of background

Whilst working in London in the 90’s, my main port of call used to be merchants like Travis in Vauxhall for bog standard trade, or Leyland SDM for colours. They were straight forward, quick and easy. Leyland SDM was even more attractive a stop, as the owner had rather pretty daughters, which obviously makes the whole shopping experience more fulfilling than Travis!

Farrow & Ball was really beginning to take hold and this decade saw its meteoric rise. Paint was becoming fashionable, with brands like Paint Library opening up shops in central London and Anna Ryder Richardson was in leathers on Changing Room – hand-painted colour charts were everywhere. It was also around this time that I was introduced to various unknown brands through a new paint shop on Fulham Road called Ray Munn.

Eyes opened

I went to their opening night and quickly became a frequent visitor. They were the first company I knew of to have an advanced computer based tinting system, and introduced me to paints such as Beckers and Sigma, stains and wood treatments by Osmo, Owatrol, strippers by Peel Away and brushes by Purdy.

All of these products seemed to be from abroad, had strange names, were in strange sized tins, and had instructions in Swedish or German, and slightly industrial looking logos as opposed to a huge fluffy dog! But one thing that these products all did was deliver.

I quickly discovered that there was more to life than the UK high street names

Sadly the visits to Leyland SDM became less frequent and these products – many of which were from countries where the climate was much harsher and suffered more extremes of weather and temperature than ours, really did work. These were products, it seemed to me, which were actually made with the decorator in mind, between them they had a product for every conceivable task possible and they really worked. The one perceived problem (apart from trying to decipher the hastily stuck on and badly translated sticker on the back) was the cost!

Where we are now

13 years later, I now find myself on the other side of the counter selling the very same sorts of products I discovered all those years ago – and discovering and selling more. To my ever growing repertoire, I have added a 100% Acrylic paint made in Iceland from Eicó, stains and invisible polyurethanes by Rigostep from Holland, Swedish paints by Scala, and German silicate paints Keim, cleaners by Krud Kutter, brushes by Wooster and Adorn.

These are all high end products – among the best in their field – but even though they offer more than the readily available brands, the trade in general are still reluctant to even try them. The biggest hurdle it seems is price!

Some products other than paint are specifically designed and are niche, so price is never really an issue, but when it comes to paint – it’s just paint – Right? Wrong! Paint is a similar product to any other. It comes in varying degrees of quality from your DIY trade to your high performance industrial.

What makes a tin of paint?

In this instance I am going to stick with basic emulsion paints – I know there are a lot more out there, but if I went through all of them you would be reading forever. So what is in a tin of paint to make it “paint”?

Binders – in very basic terms the film forming part of the paint and the things that make paint stick. Binders affect durability, flexibility and durability. These are both natural and synthetic, such as Acrylics, styrenes and vinyl acetates. Acrylics are the most expensive and therefore produce higher quality paints.

Pigments – including Titanium Dioxide to improve opacity, along with fillers such as clays, chalks and silicas. There is a huge difference in the prices of these – some are natural, some synthetic, but on a basic level the more expensive the ingredients, the better quality the paint.

Additives – such as preservers, glossing/de glossing agents, fungicides etc.

Solvent – Water. Easy – the more solvent the poorer the quality of the paint, as it is basically nearly all water!

Low Quality – High Quality

Not only are some of the most widely used paints in this country between 25-33% solids by Volume, but they are also made using lower quality vinyl acetates as the binders.

solids by volume

What does this all mean?


So the customer gets a lesser quality job for a greater cost, because it takes you longer to do the job – that makes perfect sense.

– By spending an extra 20 – 30% more on a tin of paint, it means that you are able to carry out the job in less time, due to its better coverage (the ingredients used are a higher quality and it contains more pure acrylics and less water). So why would you not use it?

– If you told your customer that by using a slightly more expensive product, the labour bill would be reduced, because there was no need for a mist coat, do you think they would complain, leading to you losing the contract – I doubt it!

– If you told a customer that the paint you would like to use for their £30,000 kitchen is £29/litre as opposed to £15/litre, but it would leave a better finish, be harder wearing and therefore last longer – do you really think they would say – ‘sorry no, I would prefer it if you used the cheaper tin please’?

– If you used a product that was not only nicer and easier to use, and was of a quality that meant you would be unlikely to have to come back to the job to revisit a problem – would you still not use it? It cannot be a more obvious choice – Surely??

But No…
For so many UK tradesmen, it is still easier to plod along that middle of the road bit, not willing to lift our paint splattered caps above the parapet and try something different.

Even at a time when painting has never been such a healthy job – no lead, no more smoking on site or in the company van, more water-based finishes, less solvents, we will all live much longer doing it too! It’s a Win Win time to be moving on!

The Future

Now, to say there is not a decent product available that is not from outside the UK, is not entirely true – there are still some great British companies and great products available here.

Patrick Baty, a godfather of paints and colours;

Farrow & Ball – it divides decorators, but turns over nearly £50 million a year;

Bristol Paints (possibly the best colours ever!);

Little Greene;


Bedec, and more besides (sorry if I have not mentioned you).

However there are still more products out there to be discovered which will make your life even easier – paints galore, brushes of all shapes, colours and sizes, fillers, masking tapes, brush storage, power tools, cleaners etc. etc…… you could go on and on and on, if you have the interest!

Where to find these products I hear you cry? Start with the small independents both on the high street and online, join the forums, engage with the wider world more – you may actually find it interesting.

These small businesses are people who have found out and continue to find out about these new products. They have a genuine interest in the stuff that they sell, test and trial. For them selling something that does not work is business suicide, so by and large they only sell what they can recommend. They also back that up with a knowledge and customer service that stands out above the rest – I hope!

Prices may be slightly higher, (margins are usually tighter), but the price is reflected in the quality and pedigree of the product on offer. You get what you pay for.

Case in point

Funnily enough, I have just had a trade customer in here this morning with whom I was discussing this very blog. He was one of my first customers and has tried nearly all the products I have had since I opened. His opinion on the higher prices of these products was –

‘it is, at the end of the day the customers’ choice. Yes, there is the customer who just wants a room freshened up and a tin of trade white does the job, but if you give the customer an informed choice on the sorts of products they could use on their project and the differences in finish, durability and time taken to do the project, most want to use the best possible materials for the job in hand. An extra £10/litre does not make any difference’

– his words not mine. He also said

by being informed and offering the customer a range of products, being knowledgeable about them and listing their different benefits and advantages, the customer viewed them as a ‘professional decorator’ rather than one who was run of the mill, someone one who knew their stuff and stood out from the rest of the competition and was interested in their trade and interested in the job – ‘THAT’ he said ‘gives us the edge’.

What do you think?

– Do you buy into the benefits of high performance premium products, or do you think high paint prices are usually a reflection of high marketing costs?

As a decorator, would you shy away from offering your clients the nuclear option, because of the price of materials, or do you always offer options, so they can decide what suits them?

As a homeowner having your house exterior painted, do you assume that a main stream UK Trade paint is the “best paint you can get” or do you dig deeper?

Next article in this series is from a merchant who has first hand knowledge of how the mainstream UK trade companies have become so driven by price they sometimes forgot the point of what they were making.

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2 comments to “UK decorating trade – is it all about the value or the price? Part 2”

  1. Charles Budd

    What a great article! For many years I nearly always recommended Dulux paints – I hadn’t bothered to research other brands and thought that it reassured home-owners as it was a well-known brand and more expensive than the other trade paints I sometimes used. But due in large part to blogs on Traditional Painter (as well as a few other sources) I began to experiment with other brands and it was, and continues to be such a breath of fresh air!

    I had already begun to become dissatisfied with oil-based paints on interior surfaces, and the acrylic alternatives I’d tried from Dulux were terrible (since improved, at least a bit).

    Little Greene, Mylands, Bedec… are now staple names on my quotes – and all British paints! There are others from the USA and continental Europe which I’m still trialling – having heard great things of them.

    In my quotes I always give customers different options when it comes to paints – and I explain the differences between them not only in cost, but also performance. And I know I’ve got work because of this attention to detail and thoroughness in quotes. In fact, even when potential customers have decided not to use me, they often email ‘thank you for your very detailed quote…’

    I used to be cheap, now I’m good value.

  2. tony slater

    Great artical,why do paint manufacturers,hear and abroard,not list their ingrediants on the side of the tin.If i buy a tin of soup at the supermarket,it lists the ingrediants and the percentage of each ingrediant,i can make an informed choice depending on the kind of things i prefer.I know they are going to say they dont want the oposition to know their formular,or is it that if they listed the ingrediants there would be a legal obligation for it to contain the specified amounts.As in most things in the decorating industry its only an opinion,there are no comparison studies on different paints and sundries,if we are to progress we need independant reveues on different products.

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