John Lahey and Robin Daly Interview

November 15, 2014

Daly (0:00): So Woody, I’ve been around the paint industry since before I could drive. And I don’t really want to tell you how many years that is but during that time I’ve witnessed a lot of changes. And one of the biggest things has been all of the consolidation in the industry. When I was in high school, there were probably 750 paint makers in the country–down to, probably, under 100. A lot of companies have been gobbled up by larger companies and big fish eating the smaller fish, on down the line. Which has given opportunity to niche markets and niche brands. Where does Fine Paints of Europe fit within this Universe?

Lahey (1:00): That’s a great question. We only deal with the ultra high end. From our manufacturer, Visional, in the Netherlands–we only bring in their A-line, their cream of the crop paint. Whether it’s the eco, the euro-lux or the Holland-lac. We important that and distribute it only to high-end paint retailers like yourself and other very high-end independents. We let the paint speak for itself.

D: What does Fine Paints of Europe–what niche does it fill? What problems does it answer that you may not be able to get from an everyday national brand?

L: The niche that we maintain–that we go after–is just the ultra high end.

D: Just because it’s expensive?

L: No no no

D: Why would a bucket of this cost more?

L: That’s a good question. It’s not what’s in it–it’s what’s not in it.

D: What’s not in it…

L (2:00): That’s right. A domestic paint manufacturer…There’s no real telling what’s 30%, 40%, sometimes 50% fillers, additives, things that aren’t necessarily making the product better

D: So it might give the paint the body but it doesn’t

L: Make it maybe go farther. Maybe it covers really well because of the chalk.

D: But then that’s great when you’re buying it, but what you’re saying is, when you leave those things out what you’re left with is really good quality products on your wall.

L: Yeah, for a long time. Therein lies the rub in the paint industry is that what our job is to do is to educate the homeowner. Whether it’s my paint–an expensive coating, or a less expensive coating, anywhere from 85% to in some areas we’re painting 98%-99% the cost of painting is labor.

D: That doesn’t change no matter what product you’re using.

L (3:00): It doesn’t. So why would you ever care how much the paint costs?

D: Because the difference might be a trip to an everyday restaurant in the cost of the paint. You’re never going to remember that experience. So invest it in your product.

L: And now it looks much different, it lasts much longer, and you’re not going to have to paint again another 3-4 years.

D: One of the things we’ve done in our store is we’ve taken a color and we’ve put the same color side by side–Fine Paints of Europe and Brand X.

L: I’ve seen that

D (4:00): Same color. There’s a marked difference in the hand–the way it feels. People will literally come up and pet the wall because it feels nice. One of the things that I’ve noticed in our industry is 1.) we don’t value craftsmanship as much. So we’re in the studios of Shearer Painting and Shearer has really taken the time to play with the paint, get to know it–it’s the time element. But also people buying the paint think of it as a commodity item. Like we go to the box store and we buy a huge case of toilet paper so we think of paint the same way. But what you’re saying is not all paints are created equal.

L (5:00): No they’re not. And it’s not for everybody–I’m not trying to sell these paints for everybody. And they’re not for every project. But in the residential and the high end residential you can’t say there’s not some place in almost every project in some part of the job for fine paints whether it’s just a front door so they’re getting that beautiful high-gloss European finish every time they come home, they get to enjoy that front door. Or maybe it’s their kitchen cabinetry or coffered ceiling or living room trim. Then from there, they’re usually so satisfied with the trim now they’re going to experiment with the eurolux matte or the new eurolux flat. Because they say to themselves

D: Wow, that was seriously great

L: If it was great on the trim, let me try this. And then they’re ruined for life.

D: They’re ruined for life?

L: They are, because what happens is

D: Ok, some people will say, some of my favorite customers are people who have tried cheap paint. Because when they come back to us and they try something good–and we offer many good paints–they never go back. Because the hassle isn’t worth it.

L: It’s not

D (6:00): So that’s kind of cool too. I was thinking–you were talking about the high-gloss entry door, or the coffered ceiling, the miles of trim that just glow. Cotour details maybe, attention to detail that, on its own, may not be as much as the whole picture, but if you really pay attention to all those details, you’re adding up to this space that

L: Yeah you’re ostensibly using marine-grade coatings on your trim. Because that’s what it is. The high gloss oil, the hall-black brilliant

D: It’s like kidproof too

L: Right so pick a color you like, because it’s going to be on there for a very long time. And that’s really what it’s all about. And again, you’re not going to have to come back in 3 or 4 years and repaint it. I know John’s been involved in some projects where it’s been–how long John? 8, 10, some of these facades and things like that.

John: Actually headlines lawn in University Village in 1997, exterior, Mike Blitzo owner

D: Let’s see–17 years?

L: 17 years

J: It looks perfect, I was there last night

L: I think it’s time for a repaint though.

D (7:00): So here’s a problem. Are you ready?

L: Yes.

D: I tell people paint is guaranteed to fail–that’s what keeps paint stores in business. So what you’re telling me is I better go find some customers.

L: I think it’s time to get out there and let’s sell some paint, Robin.

D: They’re not going to be coming back. So it’s cheaper because if you’re saving thousands of dollars by not repainting as often, that extra little bit of money you’re putting into the initial bucket of paint is saving you thousands of dollars in the future.

L: That’s what they see in Holland: there’s nothing more expensive than cheap paint. And it’s really the case because I keep going back into it–95%, 98% of the cost of painting is labor. The paint itself is a throwaway commodity in the overall cost of the paint job.

D: But it’s not a commodity product. You’re saying it’s a detail that doesn’t affect the price as much.

L (8:00): Right, and too many homeowners don’t know that. They think because you’re doubling the cost of the paint that it’s going to somehow double the cost of a paint job. Where in reality that’s definitely not the case

D: So earlier during our conversation I was talking about the way our industry has changed. And one of the things is the lack of appreciation for craftsmanship but also the lack of appreciation–or the uneducated element that you don’t even know you have this option. So if you’ve only gone to a box store you think that’s good paint. You think that’s good and we’re saying that’s meh

L: That’s not so much

D: That’s not so much.

L (9:00): And there’s plenty of room for everybody. Every manufacturer knows what their paint is worth. And that’s what they charge. I don’t apologize for the cost of my materials. They’re not for everybody. But they’re for people who are looking for something a little different, or what’s really common now is because our world has gotten so much smaller, a lot of our clients home from Western Europe, they’ve been to the Netherlands or they’ve been to Holland, London, or Berlin, and they come back and they’re like “why is the paint over there so much better and the craftsmanship different?”

D: Because the culture appreciates craftsmanship.

L: As Americans, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that we’re moving every four years. So your expectation level of a coating is much different from a Western European who’s moving every 12-14 years. You’re not looking for the same material. If you and I are signing an 18-month lease in an apartment in downtown Seattle

D: Blow and go

L: Blow and go. We don’t necessarily care what it is we’re putting on the walls

D (10:00): But don’t we all crave that feeling–like when you go to Europe, and you have that sense of history–that anchor to place. I can see why the Fine Paints of Europe does that, with the gloss front door. It resonates with us in a different way. I’m on Pinterest–I call it crack for designers

L: It is

D: And everybody’s got their front door board, where they collect pictures of the front door and they’re always high-gloss. They’ll be that British racing car green or just beautiful black and that’s what the Fine Paints of Europe is about

L: It is, it is, and we find that Fine Paints of Europe is doors

D: That’s where you made your reputation

L: In our entrance way, and it literally costs nothing. You buy a 750ml can at Daly’s and you can do 3, 4, 5 doors with a 750ml can. That’s affordable to everybody

D: So 750ml–that’s a bottle of wine.

L: It’s a fifth, yes

D: So you’re saying for the price of a bottle of wine, you can look stylishly smart.

L: For years and years and years  to come

D: For years and years to come

L (11:00): That’s what it’s all about. And people like John can have their calling card and have that door be his signature.

J: This is more than a 750 but that’s…

L: This is a 1-liter sized can. This is going to do 175 square feet. The average painted door is 21 square feet. I’ll let you do the math, but that’s a lot of doors. It’s $55 or $56 dollars for this but you’re going to be left with something entirely different.

D: So, again, it’s the price of a good bottle of wine.

L: Yeah. You drink good wine.

D: I can drink a lot of boxes of wine.

L: That’s a lot of boxes

D: Yeah

L: So it’s a niche, but it’s our niche because there’s not room for two.

D: It’s good to know where you belong.

L (12:00): It is good to know where you belong. And every year we get more and more of the high-end dealers. There’s not a lot of really good Daly’s paint stores out there but every year we’re generating more, getting more of them which is a lot of fun.

D: We appreciate it because it is unique to the marketplace. When we’ve gone through this major contraction in our marketplace where only a few manufacturers are left, we feel so excited to be able to offer something unique. It also keeps it from being lost. Because it’s a niche product–if you put that in the scale of the larger behemoths, it would be lost in the big picture. But this way you’re able to nurture it and bring it to market so it gets noticed and so we don’t lose that.

L (13:00): Right and that’s why we’re very comfortable with the C2 relationship, because we’re dealing with high-end independent retailers that are real business people. The only way that the high-end independent dealer is going to find niche products–they have to find something that’s going to separate them from other dealers out there. What’s going to get people in the door? What’s going to get people talking? That not every big box has.

D: It’s so much fun

L: It is fun

D: To get your client excited about paint. Who gets to say that?

L: It’s different. It’s not the same thing. It’s fun for the people at your store. It’s not the same thing. That’s why people will have lines like C2 and Fine Paints because it is different, it’s interesting.

D: They’re both unique.

L: They’re both unique and they get people in the store.

D: They both serve–they answer a need that wasn’t being met. I think in this kind of world, you have to be able to do that to make it worthwhile.

L: And is the quality there?

D: You’re not just saying it. You’re putting your money where your mouth is.

L (14:00): Absolutely. We’d be out of business right now if they weren’t substantially different. We’re a very small, family-owned company. All I have to go to market with is the quality of my paints. I can’t buy four color page ads in the New York Times magazine section.

D: No. You’re dad called me up. “Robin, I want you to carry my paint.” “John, uugh.” “No, you need to do it.” “John, we’re in the middle of a recession.” “I insist.” “Fine.”

L: More the reason to do it.

D: We weren’t taking anything new on and we took your paint on. What does that say? Maybe it just said that your father is insistent.

L: Insistent but he had facts to back that up.

D: And a reputation behind it. Fine Paints’ reputation is stellar.

L (15:00): The quality of the paint is there to back it up. For instance, 1933 was one of the worst–was the worst year of the depression. It was the second best year Rolls Royce ever had as a manufacturer. Now what’s that saying? What that’s saying is that people also at the high end will always be willing to pay for quality. There will always be something there that people with money will always want something different, and better, which this is. I try not to market this paint as the Rolls Royce or the Ferrari or anything like that. I really try to market this paint as the Volvo of coatings.

D: I think that’s appropriate because if you compare it to Rolls Royce it maybe high quality but only a few people look at it. The point of entry is not so painful that normal people can’t have this.

L: No, 100%. Everybody can afford–how much paint do you need to paint living room trim? Or kitchen cabinets on a kitchen project

D: A couple liters maybe. A couple bottles of really good wine.

L (16:00): I don’t think I’ve ever sold more than four gallons of paint for  kitchen cabinets.

D: Just don’t drink it the same time as you’re painting

L: No. That’s not going to be good. But who can’t afford that? And you’re going to be left with something very different.

D: Who can afford to have bad paint?

L: I don’t know anybody.

D: Thank you John.

L: Thank you.

Previous post: