Wood coating manufacturers are reporting that they continue to be challenged by the economic downturn and the resulting housing slump. It is undeniable that 2011 was another tough year for the wood coatings market, but manufacturers are expressing optimism for the coming year.
“The reality is that the stain business is tied to the economy and housing market,” said Rob Sheehan, director of stain and primer segments, Benjamin Moore. “If people aren’t getting loans to build new decks or redo their house it impacts our sales.”
The exterior stain business is also very dependent on the weather. A lot of rain hurts the season while a dry season helps. In spite of some of these odds, Benjamin Moore said it is experiencing a measure of success due to a robust product portfolio and focused selling efforts.
While stain maker Minwax sees some optimism, not much has changed since last year. “We see consumers settling into this ‘new normal’ where their home improvement decisions are informed by tepid economic conditions, relatively high unemployment and a very weak housing market,” said Jacquelyn Ferrara, director of marketing, Minwax, Sherwin-Williams Wood Care Products. “They continue to focus on smaller projects that either give them a sense of aesthetic renewal, or keep their home in good shape, rather than greatly improving the value of their home.”
Uptick in smaller DIY projects
While it is true that more people are putting off costly home renovations, consumers are undertaking smaller, more affordable DIY projects.
“This situation continues to compel consumers to undertake small- to mid-sized projects, which can bode well for the wood coatings market; wood can often be refreshed with a new coating without committing to a huge budget,” Ferrara said. “Construction, especially for new homes, continues to struggle. Homebuyers are ‘downsizing the dream,’ and buying smaller homes that require investment, which in turn is creating more DIYers who can use the ease and low cost of various types of wood coatings to personalize their homes and spaces.”
Thompson’s Water Seal reported a positive outlook for 2012, in part because of pent up demand from 2011, which was partially attributed to inclement weather. “If you thought weather patterns were abnormal last year, you are right, and much of it kept consumers from undertaking outdoor projects,” said Mike Kozlowski, director of marketing, Thompson’s Water Seal brand. “For instance, Chicago reported the second wettest year in their history, and by October 2011, New Jersey was close to reporting their wettest year on record. Those are obviously major markets, and representative of much of the country and although parts of the South have drought conditions, last summer was also abnormally hot in that region, again keeping people from undertaking projects even if they wanted to do.”
Decks are still very important to the American homeowner, according to Kozlowski. “In a recent on-line survey conducted by The Thompson’s Company, more than 2,000 people responded to the query, ‘What would you do if you won $15,000 to spend on your deck?’ The number one answer, at 47 percent, was to tear out the current deck and start over,” he said. “That illustrates that most homeowners want to replace their decks so they can enjoy them even more.”
There is also a long-term trend toward more urban living, Kozlowski added. “That doesn’t mean that decks won’t be important to people,” he said. “They still want a nice outdoor space to enjoy with family and friends, but they want maintenance to be as easy and convenient as possible. And some people may not have room for a deck, but they’ll have a patio with room for a couple of Adirondack chairs or a swing, so small projects will grow as an opportunity.”
The Thompson’s Company has already introduced several new products specifically designed to take advantage of the opportunity, such as Thompson’s Water Seal Wood Stain in a 12-ounce aerosol can and Thompson’s Water Seal Easy Stain in an eight-ounce tube.
When it comes to creating products with a DIYer in mind, ease of use is one of the most important features. Consumers are looking for products that offer a variety of colors, are easy to use and are easily cleaned up.
“Many younger homeowners aren’t as interested in doing-it-themselves for personal satisfaction—they do it for necessity,” said Kozlowski. “They are looking for products that are easy to use, clean up quickly and look great. Of course, we think that current Thompson’s Water Seal products deliver many of those features, but we’re also continuing to research new innovations and advancements for the category.
“Speaking specifically about exterior waterproofing coatings, including deck stains, consumers want to make the whole process as easy—and as easy to understand—as possible,” said Kozlowski. “They want the can to be easy to handle and easy to open, and they want the product to come out of the can easily. They want the product to apply and clean–up easily. And they want the product to last longer. Color is very important to today’s consumer.”
According to Ferrara, weathered tones are trending strongly. “You’ll see them everywhere from Restoration Hardware to Pottery Barn to home décor and design magazines,” she said. “We’ve recently added two new colors to our Minwax Wood Finish line that nicely accommodate this trend: Weathered Oak and Classic Gray. They’re very versatile, and they help consumers make a big visual impact when putting together the latest home décor looks.
“Minwax understands that folks who use wood finishing products do so for a variety of reasons, so our product line continues to evolve to address the needs of all of our customers—from beginner DIYers to seasoned wood finishers,” said Ferrara. “Whether you are a woodworker who enjoys restoring and refinishing furniture, or if you are refinishing your hardwood floor, or are simply looking for a quick way to refresh the wood furniture or wood architectural elements in your home, Minwax has developed the right product for the project.”
For those who enjoy the traditional process of preparing, staining and topcoating their project, resulting in a beautiful, durable finish that will last through many generations, Minwax offers products such as its timeless Wood Finish stains and Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane. Another popular staining option is Minwax Gel Stain, featuring a non-drip formula that is especially useful for vertical surfaces.
“We also understand that today’s DIYers are time-crunched, so they’re looking for wood finishing products that are fast and easy to apply but still look beautiful when the project is complete,” Ferrara said. “We have a variety of products for small- to medium-sized projects that offer ease of use with terrific results.
One product is Minwax Express Color Wiping Stain & Finish. It is packaged in a convenient tube, and is available in eight colors, including four popular wood tones plus four designer colors. Customers are also becoming more aware of the benefits of water-based products that offer low odor, fast dry times, and easy soap-and-water cleanup.
“We continue to foster our water-based and low-VOC products,” said Ferrara. “Beyond regulatory compliance, we’re seeing more and more consumers asking for them, and we know they’ll expect the same great performance from them that they get from every one of our products.”
According to Benjamin Moore’s Sheehan, another trend among consumers of wood coatings is the transition from oil to latex in transparent and semi-transparent products.
“Solid color stains had predominantly transitioned from oil-based products to latex/acrylic over the past 10-plus years,” said Sheehan. “The transparent and semi-transparent products however have been much slower to make this transition. One of the primary reasons is these products tend to wear away so when the wood is getting recoated it’s often bare or very close to it, so people, especially painters who have been doing this work for years, want an oil that will get into the wood and help rejuvenate it.
“Historically they’ve said the transparent and semi transparent acrylics just don’t get the same penetration,” Sheehan said. “The trend is for products to be some form of a ‘water reducible alkyd.’ What this really means is the product contains alkyds to give the penetration and the acrylic gives improved color retention—the best of both worlds. These products also wash up with soap and water so there is no more need for mineral spirits to clean up.”
Benjamin Moore offers a number of wood care products to meet their customers’ needs. “Consumers are always looking for something to last longer, better color retention, no mildew, no peeling and similar characteristics that make it easy to use,” said Sheehan. “Exteriors, especially decks, go through a lot of extremes. Benjamin Moore’s unique two-coat system provides much longer life and provides a relatively easy maintenance plan.”
In addition to the two new Minwax Wood Finish stains previously mentioned—Weathered Oak and Classic Gray—the company has also introduced a new tool for changing the colors of wood around the home.
The Minwax PolyShades Color Transformation Guide, which can be found online at Minwax.com, provides an easy way to change the color of the currently stained or polyurethane-finished wood. There’s no stripping or heavy sanding necessary to remove the old finish. Simply give it a light sanding with fine-grit sandpaper, remove sanding dust, and brush on a coat of PolyShades. Step-by-step instructions are provided in the guide, along with examples of which color combinations will provide the desired new color.
“This new guide is a terrific way for consumers to easily and affordably change the color of the wood in their home, whether they want to match a particular furniture item to the rest of their décor, update a tired room, or restyle an older piece,” said Ferrara.
Thompson’s has brought a number of new products to market recently. The Thompson’s Water Seal Wood Stain, a 12-ounce aerosol wood stain for small projects, came out in 2011. For 2012, the company is introducing Thompson’s Water Seal Easy Stain, the first exterior stain to come in a convenient eight-ounce tube—the perfect size for small projects like wood Adirondack chairs, garden benches, window boxes, planters, birdhouses, mail boxes and more.
“The small package delivers big performance and benefits,” said Kozlowski. “Thompson’s Water Seal Easy Stain Wood Stain is a slightly thicker consistency than regular deck stains, allowing for more color control and less drips on vertical surfaces. There’s no need to pry open a one-gallon can or stir the stain—just pop the top, and you are ready to start. The stain can be squeezed directly onto the wood or onto a disposable surface such as a plastic plate.”
Easy Stain Wood Stain comes in four popular wood tones: Chestnut, Cedar, Cherry and Redwood. And one tube gives three different options for a finished look. Smoothing on the stain with a foam applicator gives semi-transparent coverage. Using a bristle brush gives a solid color finish, or the stain can be wiped onto the wood with a clean cloth for the most sheer, natural color.
The water-based formula is low odor and requires one-hour to dry to the touch. The Easy Stain coating provides rich fade-resistant color and prevents water damage, while resisting mildew and UV damage. Applicators clean up quickly with just soap and water. The eight-ounce tube provides enough product to stain and waterproof up to 50 square feet of wood.
The Wood Coatings Market
Wood coatings manufacturers continue to face a struggling housing market and economic woes. Will 2012 offer an improvement?
By Kerry Pianoforte, Associate Editor