More Places Than You Think

By Jenn Hess | August 9, 2005

From barbeques to swimming pools, specialty coatings are everywhere. Here is a a look at some of the companies manufacturing coatings for niche markets.

Their products might not be known throughout the world, the demand not as high, the markets not as profitable. But manufacturers and suppliers of specialty coatings do fill needs within the coatings industry. These companies have found small, but profitable niche markets and work as hard as other coatings companies to meet the needs of their customers.

Without specialty coatings companies, where would a teacher find poster paint for art class, a homeowner know how to ensure a summer of fun in the backyard pool or a municipality learn the best way to make road markings as visible as possible?


Making a Splash: Pool Paint Every owner of a swimming pool knows just how much time must be spent maintaining a pool, but when those hot summer days come around, they know it's worth it! Ramuc Pool Paint, Pittsburgh, PA, is focused on helping consumers make sure they will get the most of out their pool year after year. "Our business is pool and deck coatings," said Pam Keeler, Ramuc's division manager. "We know what we are doing."

Formed in the late 1930s, Ramuc's original product line – coatings for concrete and masonry, sewage tanks and the pipes inside the tanks – was part of the Intertol Company. "The company then took the same immersion technology and came up with a line of paints for pools," said Ms. Keeler. (The company's name is actually the shortened version of the first resin used in pool paint, cumardiene, smelled backwards.)

Ramuc manufactures epoxies, chlorinated rubber and water-based coatings for spas and whirlpools; fish and koi ponds, fountains and aquascapes; and concrete, plaster and fiberglass swimming pools, and slides sold through pool equipment distributors and wholesale distributors. "We offer a surface preparation kit, a paint roller kit, everything to make the dealer/retailer that is selling our products a 'one-stop shop' for all the customer's pool needs," said Ms. Keeler. "Our distributors can tell them how to paint their pool, give them the rollers and equipment they need. It adds value to the entire pool or deck paint sale."

A unique service Ramuc offers to consumers is the analyzing of a chip from a pool to determine what type of paint is is needed to best coat the surface. "Consumers can take a chip of paint to one of our distributors, who will send it to Ramuc's R&D department," said Ms. Keeler. "We will perform some tests and send it back to the customer within 72 hours telling them what kind of paint to use."

Ramuc's service can also warn customers if there is a high risk of peeling. "If the paint is too thick, Ramuc will tell them not to paint and instead sandblast," Ms. Keeler said. "We can also recommend a water-based paint to use for a year until they can sandblast it."

Ms. Keeler valued the pool paint industry between $10-40 billion. Swimming pools continue to pop up across the country. According to Ms. Keeler, 190,000 new pools were purchased in 1998, of which two-thirds were plaster. "This will provide a base for paint in the future." However the pool paint industry faces some tough competition from other recreational markets. Ms. Keeler noted that 300,000 new RVs were purchased in 1998. "We as an industry need to create an awareness of pools or spas instead of buying an RV or buying a country club membership." Ms. Keeler said the pool paint industry is also trying to generate business by promoting home backyard entertainment centers, complete with a pool, pond, fountain and/or fiber optic lights.

Having primarily served the residential market, Ramuc has begun to expand into commercial markets like water and amusement parks. "We have hired a new sales coordinator and will be exhibiting at the major trade shows," Ms. Keeler said. She said initial inquiries have turned up a few solid leads. "In the initial calls we have made, we have found that many parks are not using Ramuc paints and they are not happy with what they have been using.

"The key to our business is growth, both in traditional and non- traditional markets," added Ms. Keeler. "We are branching out to stores and distributors who sell house paints and industrial coatings to paint contractors. We feel we have the full line of VOC compliant products to market to these companies."

All in all, Ramuc tries to cater to their customers. "Ramuc's paints can be manufactured in any color�we have customers who paint designs and logos on their pools," Ms. Keeler said. "We try to make it fun to have a pool!"


On the Road:Traffic Coatings As long as there are roads and parking lots, there will be a demand for traffic coatings. According to the Freedonia Group, Cleveland, OH, the traffic coatings market will grow 3.5% per year through 2002. Business Trend Analysts, Commack, NY, estimate this market to be worth $267.4 million in 1999, and project that the market will be worth $337 million in 2007. With the constant demand for traffic paints, this market has become very competitive with global players going head-to-head with smaller, niche companies.

Franklin Paint Co., a family-owned business located in Franklin, MA, has been manufacturing traffic paints since 1946. "There has been a tremendous rise in market volume," said Mark Herbert, president of Franklin Paint. "There are miles of road, everywhere you drive or park there is a line."

Due to the limitations of both water-based and solvent-based technologies, Franklin Paint manufactures both types. According to Mr. Herbert, water-based paints are environmentally friendly, but cannot be sprayed in the cold weather, and federal restrictions on VOCs will effect the sales of solvent-based traffic paints.

Although yellow and white are the most visible colors of traffic paint, other colors are used as well. "Blue is used for handicapped stalls, green for crosswalks and red for fire lanes," said Mr. Herbert. "We also have black, which is used for changes or mistakes."

A key element pertaining to traffic coatings is retroreflectivity for night visibility. To make the paint retroreflective, glass beads are sprayed into the paint after it has been applied. "Traffic paint is usually reapplied every year," said Mr. Herbert. "The problem isn't that the paint wears out, but you lose the beads that make the markings retroreflective. Sanding and plowing the roads removes the beads."

In recent years, manufacturers of traffic paints have found that they are competing not only with other paint manufacturers, but also with manufacturers of thermoplastics. "Thermoplastics have two to three times the effective life of water-based paint," said Susan Guion, marketing manager of Cataphote, a Jackson, MS-based thermoplastic manufacturer. Thermoplastics do not have any VOCs because they are 100% solid, according to Ms. Guion.

With thermoplastics, Ms. Guion said there is less traffic congestion because less maintenance is required and the products are more durable. "Thermoplastics also offer better retroreflectivity, dry instantly and do not have the weather restrictions that water-based paints have," she said.

To solidify its position in the road marking industry, Franklin Paint also offers thermoplastics. "The advantage is that thermoplastic markings will last longer, but are very expensive to put down initially," Mr. Herbert said. "Thermoplastics are being used for new construction as companies do not want to be out there every year. But many construction companies continue to use both coatings and thermoplastics, so for them, we are one-stop shopping."


Game Day: Athletic Field Markings Franklin Paint found that although the market for traffic paint was very prosperous, the actual season was quite short so it began manufacturing athletic field markings to expand its sales year-round.

Franklin Paint manufactures three products for the marking of athletic fields, all of which are water-based. "We have standard and premium formulations that must be mixed with water, either one-to-one or two-to-one," said Mr. Herbert.

To eliminate the hassle of mixing the paint, Franklin Paint introduced Game Day Stir and Spray, a product introduced last year that does not need to be mixed with water. "Game Day Stir and Spray has been selling a lot more this year because it does not have the hassle of mixing," Mr. Herbert said.

Also suited for athletic fields is Upside Down Striping Paint, a solvent-based striping paint from Krylon. The product is available in athletic field yellow, athletic field orange and athletic field white, according to Krylon.

Although the highest demand for athletic field markings is during football season, Franklin Paint sells marking throughout the spring and fall for other sports such as baseball, softball and soccer.

Though only a small market, athletic field markings is one that is always growing�literally. "As the grass grows, you lose the marking and it has to be reapplied," said Mr. Herbert. "Fields are being repainted all the time, so it is a very good market to be in.."


Getting Creative: Artist and Craft Paints From children's art class to the professional painter, the demand is for bright, sharp colors that stand out and make artwork noticeable. "By virtue of the market, we are focused on colors and creating the most permanent paint film and pigments that are as light-fast as possible," said David Pyle, communications manager, ColArt America, Piscataway, NJ.

Experience with pigments and the quality of pigments are key issues in the manufacturing of artist paint. "When working with artist grade color, there is level of experience required to understand how each pigment goes into dispersion," Mr. Pyle said.

There is room for substantial growth within artist paint market as the number of people interested in these markets increase, according to Mr. Pyle. "This is a very exciting industry�we are in the business of helping people explore their creativity," he said.

ColArt began manufacturing Winsor & Newton artist paint, the company's most recognized brand, in England in 1832. "We pride ourselves on making high quality artist paint," said Mr. Pyle Included in this line are alkyd-based oil colors, as well as ranges of acrylics, oil colors and artist watercolors. "We try to use single-pigment colors," Mr. Pyle said. "In our top line ranges, more than 90% of the colors are single-pigment." ColArt's range of hobby and craft products have been manufactured under the name Lefranc & Bourgeois since 1720. "The hobby and craft ranges have been very successful in Europe and are now being developed for the North American market," Mr. Pyle said.

One market where artist paint is seeing solid growth is in the children's market. "It is a market that is growing remarkably," said Mr. Pyle. ColArt manufactures two lines of paint for this market, Reeves "Art for Kids" children's paint, and Color & Co. children's art products.

Originally a paint brush company, Grumbacher began manufacturing paints formulated by German chemists in 1930's as the company's demand for artist paint could not be met by their German-based manufacturer. "The formulas and quality control used now are very similar to those from the German chemists," said Mr. Stegmeir. Grumbacher manufactures a line of fine artist paint, traditional oil paint, watermissable oil paint which is diluted with water, artist acrylics and water colors, available in both professional and student grades.

The main ingredient in artist paints manufactured by Grumbacher, Bloomsbury, NJ, is pure linseed oil. "Pigment loads are extremely high in terms of weight of the oil, 20-85%," said George Stegmeir, an artist technical consultant at Grumbacher. Grumbacher does not use dispersions, modern wetting agents or drying agents in its formulations.

Grumbacher's color control is very tight, according to Mr. Stegmeir. "I could pull a product that was recently manufactured off a store's shelf and it will match a bottle of that same color that is in our archives," he explained.

ColArt is looking to reach into the craft marketplace by pushing a message of quality. "We are bringing something new to customers within the craft marketplace," said Mr. Pyle. "We are promoting the message that, as for artists, materials make a difference in the quality of the final product. If you use high quality materials, it is going to show up in your work."

Sargent Art Inc., Hazleton, PA, has been manufacturing arts and craft products for the educational market for 30 years. Ron Capece, vice president, sales, said Sargent Art's top selling item is traditional poster paint. The company also manufactures finger paints and acrylics. "Our paints are available in fluorescent, pearlescent and basic colors," said Mr. Capece. "Metallics have also been very popular as pigment suppliers have been providing new effects." Sargent Art contends it uses the fact that it is not a national brand to its advantage. "We provide a personal touch," said Mr. Capece. "We are niche company that manufactures paints, crayons, clays and brushes." With its solid position in the children's art market, Sargent Art has begun to branch out into the retail market. "We have begun to expand into the adult market/hobby and crafts," said Mr. Capece.

Designed for hobbyists, Krylon's lacquer spray is available in five colors and offers a moisture resistant, fast-dry, ultra-hard finish. "It's a neat hobby paint.," said Justin Kalvitz, assistant marketing manager, Krylon Products Group, Cleveland, OH. The lacquer spray can be used on contemporary furnishings, unfinished or stained wood, brass, wicker and chrome.

A new entry into the decorative/hobby paint market is a new sponge paint manufactured by the Sponge Paint Co. of Gloucestershire, England. Available in 12 colors, the paint can be applied over any existing basecoat on flat, semi-gloss and gloss walls. According to the company, it is easy to apply and perfect for the craft market.

For the artist who wants to take their artistic talents outside, Deco Art Inc., Stanford, KY, has introduced Patio paint, permanent and weatherproof acrylic paints for concrete, terra cotta and wood.

"It is terrific for ornamental coatings," said Etta Brown of Deco Art. Patio paint can be used as a basecoat, stain, or opaque, or can be used for antiquing or stenciling. It can also be used for concrete painting to create a faux patio. Bricks and rocks are sponged on; colors can be mixed and matched to make different looks, from classic red bricks to grey rocks.

High in the Sky: Water Tanks Just about every community has a portable water tank, or one nearby. Most water tanks are painted with basic colors, and maybe display the name of the town where it is located. There are some water towers that are works of art, covered with neat designs and bright colors to make it look like anything but a water tank!

Tnemec, Kansas City, MO, has been manufacturing coatings for water tanks for more than 70 years. The company was founded in 1921 as a manufacturer of coatings for oil storage tanks, and later progressed to coatings for portable water tanks.

"Coatings for water tanks are our largest market," said Lisa Ruisch, director of Tnemec's marketing services. "Every community has a tank, sometimes more than one. New water tanks go up every year, and existing tanks needing to be repainted."

Time frames for repainting water tanks vary, and the inside of a tank is repainted more frequently than the outside. Ms. Ruisch said the inside of a tank is repainted about every 15-20 years, while it is 20-30 years between repainting for the outside of a tank.

According to Ms. Ruisch, coatings for a tank's interior have to be certified by NSF International, an agency that tests coatings to make sure additives, residues and pigments do not leach into the water. "The conditions that a coating on the inside a tank is exposed to are different than what an exterior coating is subjected to," she said. "Coatings for inside a water tank must be able to withstand constant moisture and the conditions that make mold and mildew grow."

Coatings used on the exteriors of water tanks also have some harsh conditions to withstand, too. "They have to be resistant to a myriad of conditions from freeze/thaw to the hot sun, salt spray and sweating," Ms. Ruisch said. "Exterior coatings must protect the tank from these conditions, which can cause corrosion of the steel plates."

Two years ago Tnemec introduced 91-H20 Hydro-Zinc, a primer that can be used on both the interior and exterior surfaces of water tanks. "This product has NSF-approval for inside, as well as all the qualities necessary to protect the outside of the water tank," Ms. Ruisch said. 91-H20 Hydro-Zinc can save time and money because it eliminates the need to apply two different primers, Ms. Ruisch explained. "Before an applicator goes out to the site to coat the water tank, the fabricator shapes the metal and has to apply a primer to the steel to protect it from rust before the steel goes out to the site. Usually the fabricator has to apply two different paints," Ms. Ruisch said. "With Hydro-Zinc, the fabricator applies the same paint to the inside and outside, which means labor savings for the fabricator."

Tnemec also carries a system designed for repainting water tanks. "Most water tanks are constructed away from highly populated areas, but as communities grow, housing and shopping districts can end up right under a tank," said Ms. Ruisch. "When it's time to repaint, owners and painters have to be concerned about overspray reaching the structures below." To protect the ground below, Tnemec has designed the Tri-Fall coating system to be dryfall, meaning the coating will not stick to any structure or can simply be wiped off if it comes in contact. Ms. Ruisch said Tnemec is the first company to offer a total dryfall system for water tanks�a primer, intermediate and topcoat all utilizing dryfall technology.

Whether it be a new or repainted water tank, the final step in the process is the application of a clear topcoat. Aware that it might be difficult for the applicator to remember which parts of the tank the topcoat has been applied to, Tnemec now offers series 44-500 Skip-Saf. A fugitive colorant, the topcoat appears purple when applied but loses its color in about four to 72 hours under direct and indirect sunlight. "It's a life saver for the painter and engineer because they can walk away knowing the topcoat was applied to everywhere it is suppose to be," said. Ms. Ruisch.

Even with continued business from the construction of new tanks and the maintenance of current tanks, Ms. Ruisch described the water tank coatings market as mature. "There is not a lot of room to gain market share," she said. "Every supplier works to keep current customers happy and gain new customers with new technology."


Accidents Happen: Touch-Up Paint In the fast-paced world we live in, car accidents are bound to happen. Sometimes, the result of a scratch or bump is not enough to warrant major repair, but is noticeable just enough to necessitate a touch up to hide the damage. For Raabe Corporation, Menomonee Falls, WI, these small nicks and scratches are big business. The company has been manufacturing Precision Color custom color match touch-up paint for more than 30 years; the segment comprises 50% of Raabe's business.

Raabe entered the custom touch-up paint market through the retail segment, and then migrated to the industrial side. "The demand was higher on the industrial side," said Dave Wacker, Raabe's director of sales and marketing. "We now strictly sell to manufacturers of metal equipment."

Once Raabe receives a color chip from a customer and formulates paint, the paint is packaged into aerosol cans, touch-up containers or quart or gallon pails.

"Most touch-up paints are sold in aerosol cans," Mr. Wacker said. "It offers an easy, portable way to apply the paint. Customers are able to spray just the area needed. Otherwise, the only option would be to hook up a gallon-can to a gun, which has a lot of clean-up and waste involved."

In addition to manufacturing touch-up paint, Raabe also packages products made by other coatings manufacturers into aerosol cans. This is where the remaining 50% of the company's business is generated. Mr. Wacker said aerosol cans are very popular within the hobby and craft industry.

"The overall aerosol paint market has been relatively flat for many years," said Mr. Wacker. "However, Raabe Corporation has been able to grow by taking away market share from their competition. We've acquired additional business because of our focus on custom filling, rather than marketing our own line of paint products. By focusing on custom packaging, we are able to provide shorter lead times with greater package and run size flexibility."


Hot Stuff: High-Temperature Paints One niche market tackled by Krylon is coatings for high-temperature surfaces. The company has a line of products designed to protect barbeques, stoves and propane tanks. Mr. Kalvitz of Krylon said these products are designed for the DIY market and do not require primers. "All you do is clean the surface and apply," said Mr. Kalvitz.

Krylon's High Heat and Radiator paint can withstand temperatures up to 1,200�F and protects against rust. Mr. Kalvitz said this product can be used on radiators, grill work, automotive parts, pot belly stoves and fireplace equipment.

Mr. Kalvitz said one of Krylon's most popular products is Krylon BBQ and Stove paint. Available in black, aluminum, red, green and blue, Mr. Kalvitz said 70% of the cans sold are in black. According to Krylon, the BBQ and Stove paint protects surfaces up to 1,200 degrees F, dries tack-free in five minutes, restores the appearance of grills, outdoor barbecues and wood burning stoves and helps prevent the formation of new rust. To accompany the BBQ and Stove paint, Krylon also manufactures Krylon propane tank paint for propane and storage tanks which are often attached to gas grills.


The Bottom Line: Customer-Minded No matter what product they offer�pool paint, finger paint, traffic paint or touch-up paint�manufacturers of specialty coatings realize one thing; without customers, they wouldn't be going anywhere! And because the customer base for their products is quite smaller than that of a larger market, companies need to do whatever they can to keep their customers happy, well-informed and well-serviced. "We offer a lot of assistance to our customers," said Ms. Keeler of Ramuc. "We have a toll-free number for technical assistance available 24-7 and a web site where users can e-mail questions and receive an answer as soon as possible."

As a service to customers, Hoffer's will do a free pre-test for customers to determine how much of an Enviro-Prep product they will need to remove lead-based paint. "The company will send us a few chips of the paint they wish to remove, and we will run an 18-hour test on the chips," said Darryl L. Cielinski, president of Hoffer's Coatings. As any company operating in a niche market will tell you, finding customers is key to success. Mr. Pyle of ColArt said, while the customer base for artist paint looks very promising, "we just have to figure out how to reach them."

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