Efficient color production is a key competitive advantage in today's fast-paced coatings industry - resulting in consumer cost savings, enhanced speed to market and a host of other bottom-line benefits. Paint manufacturers need to communicate paint formulas faster than ever among their distribution networks. Paint retailers need exciting products and reliable color matches to build traffic and loyalty. Customers need paint choices that capture a vision, brand or motif.
In short, color plays a critical role in achieving desired results through the entire supply chain. This is true of the world's largest manufacturing operations as well as successful independents.
Consider the case of Virginia-based Bennette Paint Manufacturing, Inc.
Employee-Owned ExcellenceIn 1984, when James P. Bennette was looking to retire from the corporation he founded in Newport News, Va., almost 20 years earlier, he turned to those he knew would carry on his dedication and vision. He sold the company to his employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Yet even among such a motivated group, continued success was not guaranteed. At the time Bennette Paint became an employee-owned enterprise, the paint and coatings industry was already becoming a vastly different marketplace than it was in the mid 1960s.
Today, the challenges are even greater. Consolidation has created industry giants. Margins continue to shrink, and environmental compliance is more demanding than ever.
Success, according to Jeff Nance, vice president at Bennette, lies in adopting a different strategy - one that relies on the latest color technology to support the exceptional service and customized color choices that have become the company's hallmark.
"We learned early on that the way to increase sales was not to try and win at the same game as the big boxes but rather to do what they can't. That is, deliver a localized level of service and offer specific formulated paints to meet our customers' needs rather than off-the-shelf products. As time went on, it became clear that the only way to maintain the highest quality possible cost-effectively was with the latest color technology," Nance adds.
A New Technology-Powered RideWhen he and his team began to explore new color technology options in 2004, not everyone at the company was enthused. Many of Bennette's employee-owners were satisfied with the instruments and equipment they had in place to shade and supply paint. The lab had the accumulated expertise of master shaders to draw upon when selecting and refining formulas. At the store level, the focus for decades had remained unchanged: match a customer's sample or color card to drive sales and win repeat business.
Nance, a chemist by background and a hands-on executive whose day-to-day responsibilities include the Bennette color lab, understood these traditions very well. From a business perspective, however, new color technology was a need not a want. Replacing the old DOS-based computerized color management equipment went beyond a mere upgrade. "A big clue was when Datacolor told us that one of the spectrophotometers we were using for color measurement in our lab could not be repaired because the parts were no longer available. At that point, the decision was made to examine the color technology capabilities in the market."
Datacolor is a leading supplier of color communication, management and control systems, software, and instrumentation for the paint and coatings industry worldwide. Although Bennette was a long-time Datacolor customer, the search committee opened the evaluation process to several color technology suppliers to be sure that they were evaluating the very best and most viable solutions on the market.
In order to be considered, the color technology had to meet certain criteria. These encompassed the ability to: deliver the company's "Signature" color collections as well as primer and coatings products faster and easier from Bennette's Hampton, Va., manufacturing plant; facilitate unique formulations in the research lab to meet the demands of the local region (i.e., high humidity, proximity to salt water, etc.), and environmentally compliant products; and, finally, support the expanded decorative consultancy services being adopted in Bennette's company-owned distribution and service centers and authorized dealers located throughout Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
In terms of specific equipment, Bennette was looking for an integrated system of color formulation and color-matching software, color measuring instruments, and countertop systems at the store level. In the end, the search team found the solution with Datacolor.
"We have always been extremely happy with the level of service and support we have received from Datacolor, and that played a part in our decision to stay with them. But when we really began to explore the functionality of all available technology, we were very excited by Datacolor's capabilities," Nance reveals.
Bennette chose Datacolor PAINT, an integrated system of software designed for the color lab and in-store systems that was developed to support market demand for virtually unlimited product choices and supply distributors and retailers with streamlined and enhanced point-of-sale color matching.
Bennette Enjoys BenefitsThe new system was implemented company-wide in January 2005. Bennette already has experienced many benefits of the new technology enterprise-wide.
The research lab is equipped with Datacolor's state-of the art instruments to ensure Bennette's full line of interior and exterior paints and coatings meets the highest standards of quality and performance, as well as to analyze new and existing proprietary formulas and those of other manufacturers. These instruments link seamlessly with Datacolor PAINT LAB™ in the color lab. There, Bennette color technicians have easy-to-use, flexible software for efficient formula development for all of its own paints, primers, finishes and coatings.
The staff enjoys automation of routines such as color correction and palette searches, error recognition and quick matches to any customer request. As a result, they can concentrate their considerable expertise on the most complex formulation creation and management. This may include accommodating more environmentally compliant formulations for Bennette's industrial customers or delivering paints customized to certain design motifs or performance characteristics required by its residential painting contractors. The same system then allows Bennette's plant personnel to batch-test products as they come off the production line, easily and efficiently, further enhancing efficiencies.
Nance confirms that the new system supports the company's rapid response times. "We can produce a 1,000-gallon order in a customer-specified paint in two days, even a day if required, all with less waste" he notes.
The learning curve has been easy as well. Personnel at all eight of the company's dedicated retail centers now have the state-of-the art color matching power of Datacolor PAINT to color match any sample, even from a competitor's fandeck, with confidence. Featuring an easy-to-learn, easy-to-operate, graphically oriented interface, Datacolor PAINT allows them to retrieve formulas, print labels and even track customer paint formulas.
"Really, we were expecting to be bombarded with phone calls after the systems were installed in our stores, because we moved from very little technology at the store level to quite a sophisticated system. But the transition has been extremely smooth, and the calls have been minimal. It's a testament to how user-friendly the equipment really is."
Continuing To Make a DifferenceNance expects that Datacolor PAINT will become even more crucial to future successes as employees become more comfortable with its extensive functionality and the company continues to evolve from a paint supplier to a decorating and consultancy service provider. Already, he notes, many Bennette locations carry accessory products as well as paint. And paint-matching services continue to expand into much more than matching a color. Customers are looking for guidance as to the right coating with certain performance characteristics such as mildew resistance, gloss retention or overall durability. As Bennette in-store staff is called upon to provide expertise as to what products are designed to work together, Datacolor PAINT can support a deeper level of service. For example, an exclusive Sheen Determination feature indicates which sheen of paint to buy to match the surface effects of an existing paint sample.
As large paint manufacturers consolidate, and market demands for more and varied product choices increases, innovative, regional coatings manufacturers like Bennette Paint Manufacturing, Inc., seek every advantage to retain customers and grow business. Chief among them is leveraging the latest color technology to enhance efficiencies and support the kind of professional and knowledgeable service that continues to set this independent paint manufacturer apart - and allows the company to carry on a tradition of excellence founded by James Bennette more than 40 years ago.
Editors Note: With all the downsizing this industry has endured, it is refreshing to read about smaller companies that have a definite and successful niche. I think there are quite a few companies that fall into this category - let us hear your success stories too!