On June 1 of this year, Axalta Coating Systems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, completed its previously announced acquisition of The Valspar Corporation’s North American Industrial Wood Coatings business. Valspar divested the business in connection with the antitrust approval of its acquisition by The Sherwin-Williams Company. PCI recently discussed this acquisition with Mike Cash, Axalta Senior Vice President and President, Industrial Coatings.
PCI: What was the motivation behind Axalta acquiring Valspar’s wood coatings business?
Cash: The acquisition was an opportunity for Axalta to enter the wood coatings business, a market size of more than $8 billion globally, with an industry-leading product portfolio and a customer-trusted business with a strong reputation. Through our coil coatings and architectural extrusion businesses, we’ve seen first-hand the growth in North America for the building and construction markets, which are two major playing fields for this wood coating business. As a team, our values of purposeful innovation, focus on application consistency and ease, along with customer service excellence will enable us to meet the needs of both current and new customers, in addition to using Axalta’s existing footprint to expand these great products globally. We also expect to add to their leading technology position through our color capability, as well as utilize our history of chemistry capability with urethane and waterborne technologies to help build the next generation of products.
PCI: It was initially reported that Axalta intends to operate this new business as a pure add-on - acquiring the personnel, both dedicated manufacturing sites, R&D assets and the underlying intellectual property. Is this still accurate, or have changes been made?
Cash: We will continue to operate the business with the existing sites, products and employees, who are all fully engaged in continuing to invest in further developing and growing the business. Axalta acquired the industrial wood coatings business precisely because it was a high-performing business with great market share that is heavily focused on its customers and independent from other Valspar businesses. It also operates in a market expected to grow by up to 9%, and to become more and more focused on technology and innovation; two areas that Axalta excels in. We foresee Axalta’s experience building programs to enable growth of our industrial distribution partners being another key asset and a great channel to reach custom cabinet and furniture manufacturers in North America.
PCI: Since the industrial wood coatings market is a new area for Axalta, what did you do to prepare for and learn about this market?
Cash: Several of our senior leaders have significant prior experience running wood coatings businesses, and as such we do have imbedded knowledge of the market and experience in this space. To truly learn about any market and any industry you must actively engage with customers throughout all segments of that industry, and see the industry and our company through the customer’s lens. We immediately connected and listened to long-time customers, new customers, and customers who are considering entrusting their wood coating business to us to understand their views and their needs. We heard their concerns about receiving the same great service, support and products their business counts on each day, and made this our greatest priority from the beginning. We ensured that they continued receiving their products as we implemented new logistics and supply chain channels. You only get one shot at a first impression and I think we earned ourselves some good faith from customers for how smooth the transition has been. We are encouraged and motivated by the array of great responses we have received thus far, and we believe we have a clear picture of what can continue to set us apart from the competition moving forward.
PCI: Have there been any challenges during the transition?
Cash: Externally speaking, one of the main challenges has been maintaining the high expectations we’ve set while mindfully approaching the learning curve and not disrupting the current momentum of the business.
Internally, we had to take nearly 400 employees at multiple locations in three countries and integrate them into Axalta systems and processes as fast as possible, while welcoming them to their new company and making them feel at home. We had to onboard and process all employees, change out their IT infrastructure and support, and we are currently aligning the business with our version of SAP, which new users will have to learn. These exercises have helped us hone our acquisition blueprint and processes for future use. In addition, it’s created a cohesive work force ready to focus on customers.
It is a delicate balance of adding value where we can, and not getting in the way of the great service and support Industrial Wood already provides.
PCI: What is the current state of the wood coatings market and short-term future outlook?
Cash: The market is a great space to be in, with a promising outlook. It is rising steadily as the global economy drives growth in the building product and construction industries, and industry experts predict continued growth in the coming year of between 5 and 9%. There is a nice balance between demand for new construction builds and renovation, also driving growth in cabinet manufacturing. We’re seeing furniture companies in emerging markets growing approximately 15% per year and the emergence of the luxury vinyl flooring market, which is a great market for us because it is reliant on technology, innovation and close working relationships with customers on their application lines – all things Axalta is well-versed.
PCI: What are some of the major areas of focus and emerging technologies in this market?
Cash: Environmental goals are playing a significant role in shaping every coating market. In this respect, Axalta has a historic wealth of knowledge in waterborne chemistries in other business segments, and we look forward to helping to further develop and expand upon current waterborne technology for wood coatings. We recognize the challenges of applying this chemistry to wood substrates, but we also remember the same challenge in automotive coatings 30 years ago and are prepared for any obstacles. Another trend is diverse color options, including matte and opaque trends. We look forward to the chance to add value to the great color competence that already exists within the Industrial Wood coatings business today.