Russia's paint market has over the last few years been one of the fastest growing in Greater Europe due to its booming economy.
In fact, the rise in its coatings sales rival those of China, which is generally considered to be the most rapidly expanding of all the major markets in the world.
The current growth in demand in Russia is presenting further chances for Western European paint companies to establish themselves in a country where paint sales have greater short term and medium term prospects than those in their own domestic markets.
It is also giving an opportunity to Russian paint producers to gain a firmer foothold in their home territory where they have tended to be outpaced by foreign coatings manufacturers.
Russia's GDP has so far this year been growing at approximately eight percent-not far behind China's ten percent and the fastest in Europe. Some parts of the industrial sector have been expanding at an even faster rate.
With a population of approximately 143 million, Russia is now one of the largest consumer markets in Europe with an economy, which is the fifth biggest in the region behind Germany, UK, France and Italy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP).
Its total retail sales of approximately $300 billion are growing at 22% year on year, while average income per capita is rising at 25% annually, according to figures from Kingfisher plc, the UK-based retail group, which is setting up a DIY chain in Russia.
Coatings demand is now approximately 1.1 million metric tons-second only to Germany in Europe-with annual growth in recent years being approximately five to ten percent. Now it is beginning to surge ahead even more strongly. Demand for automotive coatings has been bolstered by a ten percent rise in car production in the first half of this year. In July output of automobiles rose by 14% compared with a year ago. In some segments of the industrial coatings sector, sales have been moved ahead even more quickly, particularly in the segment for mechanical equipment.
However the major driving force behind coatings demand is a thriving construction market with building of new homes and commercial facilities currently estimated to be growing by as much as 15-20%.
In addition, with the rise in disposable income, there has been a strong increase in expenditure on renovations after many years of low investment in the country's housing stock. Kingfisher estimates that 85% of Russian homes need refurbishment. Some of these are second homes or dachas on which more DIY work is required. Approximately 40% of Moscow's population, for example, own a dacha.
While there is a long tradition of DIY in the country, higher salaries have also enabled more Russians to employ professionals to carry out paint jobs.
"Consumer interest in home improvement has been exploding in Russia in recent years as income levels have risen," said George Adams, managing director for European development at Kingfisher, which estimates that over the last five years the total DIY market has been expanding at a 11% average.
Kingfisher has just opened its first store in Moscow, the Russian capital, and its fourth in the country under its Castorama banner. It is planning to raise its total in Russia to ten by the end of next year while its long-term aim is reported to be a 50-strong chain in the country.
In Moscow alone there are now ten DIY stores owned by Western European companies with the other nine being shared by Leroy Merlin of France and OBI of Germany.
The arrival of large DIY outlets in Russia, some of them operated by Russian companies, is forcing Western and Russian coatings companies with decorative paints businesses in the country to reshape their operations in order to put a greater emphasis on distribution and service to customers.
The great majority of decorative paints are at the moment sold in open markets with less than five percent being supplied through large stores. But some commentators are predicting that the share of open market sales will fall dramatically over the next five years as a growing proportion of paints and other DIY products are sold through more modern retail outlets such as hypermarkets and non-food convenience chains.
"We are having to reorganize ourselves because distribution structures are radically changing with so many 'big box' DIY stores being opened across the country," explained Janno Paju, vice-president of Tikkurila Deco East, the Eastern European decorative paints arm of Tikkurila, the coatings division of Kemira of Finland.
"At the moment we are operating mainly through wholesale distributors," Paju continued. "But the new large stores will have different expectations. They will want daily deliveries and a fast service."
"At the same time we are expecting changes in the way professionals in decorative paints are served," he added. "Some of the new large stores may cater to them. But we may see the emergence of specialist outlets for professionals, as has happened elsewhere in Eastern Europe."
Tikkurila has just decided to invest 20 million ($27 million) in the building of a logistics and customer services center in Moscow to supply the area in and around the capital. It will also include facilities for customer training (see page 12).
The Finnish company, which has six paint plants in Russia, claims to be the clear market leader in decorative coatings in the country with a share of over 20%, well ahead of other leading Western players like Akzo Nobel, ICI and Caparol and Russian competitors such as Empils and Russkiye Kraski.
Russian coatings companies have tended in recent years to be overshadowed in their domestic market by Western rivals, mainly because of their lack of access to quality raw materials. Now with improvements in the standards of supplies of Russian chemicals, the quality gap has begun to close, both in the decorative and industrial coatings sectors.
"In the past the main problems of our business were that we could not sell as much production as we produced," said Nikolay Vasiljevich, general manager of Russkiye Kraski's Yaroslavl Paints. "Now for the first time we have been faced with a problem when demand exceeds the supply."