Bringing Color To Life

By Christine Canning Esposito | April 5, 2006

Some customers are very comfortable with color, others not so much. Hard work behind the scenes brings color alive for everyone.

As homeowners' comfort level with color continues to grow, paint manufacturers are offering enticing palettes that whet the appetite for design and creativity. But although the average DIYer believes she is now ready to move away from safe off-white to a more daring apple green for her living room, she still needs guidance. Paint companies have found it necessary to hold the hands of cautious and sometimes apprehensive DIYers during the color selection process, as well as create palettes that appeal to professional designers, architects and specifiers.

All of this requires considerable effort from many divisions within a paint company-color forecasting and development, marketing, production and point of service. It also takes considerable financial resources.

But in the end, it is an investment paint companies believe will pay off-if they are smart about their processes and how they deliver the concept of color to their customers.

One of the most important aspects of selling color comes well before tint hits the can. It's vital for paint makers to stay in tune with shifting color trends and make sure their palette and promotional material reflect that.

"[That is] the core of our business," said Benjamin Moore's Doty Horn, who as director of design and color, guides the company's color endeavors. "Colors are just colors, unless you show how the colors work together and the 'why' or story behind the mood, inspiration and theme."

ICI Paints' Colour Futures Team - comprised of experts from North America, Europe and India - has selected a kiwi-inspired yellow as its 2006 color of the year. According to its 2006 Colour Futures International Color Trends Book, this "exquisite green gold" has an "authentic nature" and it represents a building warmth of the palette overall.
"We believe that it is of utmost importance to stay current with color trends," agreed Barbara Richardson, director, color marketing, ICI Paints USA. "Our customers count on us to understand what is happening and we want to incorporate this expertise in our color materials."

Margret Pesch, color marketing manager with SigmaKalon's Deco North (The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark) business unit, says it is imperative that the paint maker and its brands show they are in touch with trends. "It is a way to build or sustain your brand image as innovator and inspirer. It leads to more sales," Pesch said. "Choosing the colors of a specific brand will most often lead to buying the brand in that particular color. So you have to pay attention to your colors and be aware of the latest trend and incorporate them in your promotional material," she added.

But when a customer can literally request any color under the sun, why is it necessary to invest so much time and resources into promotional materials used to showcase a company's range of color? Industry insiders say color swatches, displays, color books and the overall experience are what generate sales at retail in the DIY market and what help drive success with designers and architects.

"Customers buy what they see," said Horn. "Inspiration materials and how the colors are arranged on a display-along with lighting-can be huge influences."

In addition, display areas can also help make a DIY customer feel more confident about her choice.

"Most customers like to select a color off a color chart as it takes some of the perceived risk out of the color decision," said Karen Warman, marketing manager, Resene Paint, New Zealand. "Selecting colors can be a nerve-racking process for many customers, which is why we believe many will simply select from the standard colors in the color charts."

Is Bigger Always Better?

YOLO ColorHouse may offer a small palette of colors, but its paint swatches are larger than life. These poster-size color swatches with real paint have repositionable tape on the back. Their large size and portability help give customers a level of comfort with their shade choice before they paint.
But walking the aisles of any big box or paint retailer, it is apparent that standard displays could still overwhelm some. Most color palettes go far beyond 1,000 shades.

But not every collection is so vast. YOLO Colorhouse Ltd., Portland, OR, has opted to showcase a considerably smaller palette. The company is offering its own line of Green Seal-certified, zero- and low-VOC paints in just 40 colors.

"We've gone the opposite way; we've narrowed down the choices. We will never confuse the customer with 1,300 colors," said Janie Lowe, co-creator of YOLO ColorHouse.

Lowe, along with co-creator Virginia Young, were owners of a custom paint and plaster finishes firm, creating ceiling murals for restaurant interiors and mixing custom colors for designers and homeowners. Their work mixing colors on-site for their own projects helped them build their concise palette. "Janie and I have been mixing custom colors for years. We used a lot of same colors over and over again," said Young.

According to Todd Braden, vice president of marketing for Rodda-which is teaming with YOLO on the new line of interior paint-niche/designer lines help customers make savvy choices.

"The success of a designer palette is that it takes the guesswork out for the customer. The palette is limited. If you are looking for taupe color for a living room, there's only four, not 50. Those four are tested over time and their success rate is very high. It takes the guesswork out for the customer and they appreciate that," Braden said.

Behind the Curtain

One thing that the average customer may not appreciate is the work that has gone on behind the scenes in production and the R&D lab and with pigment suppliers and equipment providers, to make a paint company's expertise seem effortless. But industry-wide, much work has been done over the past decade to make it look so easy.

According to Resene, 2007 brings an
"optimistic fresh palette of warm clear colors expanding into traditionally cool color families and neutrals joined by exciting new ways of combining colors to push the boundaries on our colored environment."
The Range 2007 fandeck (right), will be released in June.
"ICI Paint has made incredible strides in how we develop colors," said Richardson of ICI Paints, which has a color lab dedicated to the accuracy and consistency of color and products.

The importance of accuracy and consistency was echoed by Kees van der Kolk, general manager, Deco R&D, SigmaKalon. "Color accuracy and repeatability, ease of use and efficiency are the most important and also critical issues when it comes to color development and point-of-sale (POS) and in-plant tinting." According to van der Kolk, all components of a tinting system have to be very accurate. "Both the colorants and base paints have to be produced under tight specifications concerning color and tinting strength and have to be fully compatible with each other. The dispensing and mixing equipment have to be accurate. This also applies to the color recipes and of course, also color materials, like color fans," he said.

In general, more precise pigment technology from leading suppliers and a greater focus on understanding color trends has helped paint companies become more precise in their color pursuits.

"[We] understand the significance in changing color trends and recognize the importance in fulfilling future demands and requirements in the deco/architectural business," said Tony Newell, marketing manager of decorative/wood coatings for the pigments and additives division of Clariant. "[We] realize that changes in color preferences can often result in greater demands on performance characteristics and the influence it may have on technical performance as trends move from pastels to strong deep saturated colors or to primary color shades."

According to Newell, Clariant continues to develop improved and enhanced forms of pigments to enable easier dispersion, cleaner handling and easy to use forms to assist paint companies and improve their production and color development processes.

And from a color trend perspective, Newell said Clariant's Archroma/ ColorWorks address color issues on the design level at the early development stage by educating and pointing out pitfalls, hazards up front (surface texture, prep work, physical properties etc.) all to assist in a smooth launch of a product line.

Of course, computerization has helped the industry's color matching and consistency rise to the challenges created by demanding professional and DIY customers.

"Computerization and automatics are indispensable for our business," said van der Kolk. "It improves the overall performance and efficiency of the POS as well as in-plant tinting systems and allows minimization of costly errors due to mis-tints."

"The new technology has significantly improved the way we do our business," commented Hien Nguyen, color system manager with Rodda.

In some of Rodda's larger stores, automatic dispensing machines are connected directly with the color matching computer system, which is speeding up its process considerably. "It only takes a few minutes from the time a color sample is read to the time the paint color is mixed and ready for shipping," Nguyen said.

"Every aspect of color matching has improved," said Carl Minchew, director of product development at Benjamin Moore. "We can measure color more accurately than ever and convert those measurements into accurate color prescriptions. At the same time, dispensers are smarter too with extreme accuracy and the ability to monitor their own status."

But in the end, human cooperation helps color move from concept to a successful wall coating.

"The key, however, is still the people behind the technology," said Minchew. "Our chemists, designers, retailers, sales force and the professional painters who use our products are part of a vast web focused on helping our customers make great color decisions."

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