Classic Priming

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Feature


Same Idea, New Message

Mark Twain was a realist if nothing else, and came up with this gem about great literature: “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read…and nobody wants to read.” It’s great to say you read War and Peace, but are you going to?

Painting is often the same way, people want to have something painted, but often they don’t want to paint. It’s up to you, actually up to all of us in the industry, to remind them that it’s not that bad a job, plus once the room looks great they’ll have a nice place to sit back and crack open those classics…or at least watch a good bout of mud wrestling.

One of the most important steps in painting is priming—a no brainer to you, and thanks to this industry and 25 years of The Paint Dealer, everyone’s more aware of its importance. So our question was “what’s the next message?” After all, celery is good for you, vegetables are important, and Dunkin’ Donuts is still doing a fine business. So how do you get DIYers to use it?


NOT Like a Pro

Dan Gibbons, Brand Manager at Rust-Oleum, suggests appealing to their sense of fast and easy. “The most important thing with primers is that they make painting easier and they make the final job look better and last longer,” he said. “A professional’s business depends on their reputation so they are always going to do the job the right way. However, pushing only the ‘professional results’ message on DIYers can be a mistake as it may intimidate consumers and make them think the products themselves require the skills of a professional.”

Along with fast and easy, you may need to answer their “what will it do for me?” question—even if they don’t ask. Remind them that it’ll make the final project look better so their spouse and parents don’t sigh and complain about the paint job every time they come into the room. “Primers prep by creating a flat surface to make painting easier and improve the final look of the finish,” said Gibbons. “There are different primers that specialize in tackling specific problems. DIYers focus more on the specific problem they are facing so it’s important to offer a solid selection of primers that can address those issues.”


Mike Galley, General Manager at at Dyco Paints (a division of Sun Coatings), expands on that, adding don’t forget the savings! “Proper priming of a substrate is still integral to producing a good paint job,” he said. That’s true, but you still need to get them to integrate it into their purchase.

“The primer acts as the foundation and building block of a successful system. It enhances adhesion and seals the porosity of the substrate, allowing the finish coat to glide on easily and produce an even sheen across the entire surface,” said Galley. From there, you can explain how using primer saves money, since they’ll then need less of the more expensive finish paint.


Sell Like Tom Sawyer

It’s likely your customer is going to wonder, out loud in front of everyone else in line behind them, what about one coat coverage? What about paint and primer in one? If Mark Twain had access to all that, well…that whole Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence chapter might not be nearly as famous. “We did the fence in one coat, let’s go in,” isn’t great literature, but it’s great sales strategy under certain circumstances.

Brian Osterried, PPG product marketing manager, advises to stock paint-and-primer-in-one products, but not to let them kick your dedicated primers to the curb. “Primers still deliver features and benefits that some paint and primer in one products cannot. They block the toughest stains and adhere to the most difficult surfaces, for example, wallpaper. In addition, they block odors from smoke damage and other sources.”

You know there are going to be times when a dedicated primer is needed, and better yet, Brian will back you up. “Depending on the surface, a primer is likely recommended to seal any patched areas to prepare the surface for a high-quality finish coat,” he advised. If there’s been smoke damage, for example, homeowners will need to clean the walls and prime before they paint. You remember Uncle Vanya’s teeth from Russian Easter? Maybe you don’t, but Aunt Yelena certainly does. After a half century of cigarettes, their walls and his teeth look pretty much the same.

“Nicotine creates a yellow residue on the surface that must be removed before painting,” said Osterried. In this case, it’s not so fast and easy, but it’s not as bad as all that, either. “I recommend removing the residue with a solution of trisodium phosphate and warm water,” he said. Even after this, it can be hard to keep the nicotine from bleeding through, particularly with wood substrates such as cabinets, doors or trim. Who wants Uncle Vanya’s old habit leering at them through a new paint job? “We recommend a stain blocking primer (such as PPG Paints™ Seal Grip®) prior to painting, to ensure that the stains don’t eventually come through.”


Don’t Whitewash the Truth

If you sell a one coat coverage product and the paint job needs two, you’ll hear about it on Yelp, Facebook, or even a YouTube rant. That’s not good for you or your supplier. Not every job is ripe for one coat. “One coat coverage should mean one coat coverage, meaning users shouldn’t need a separate primer coat underneath the paint,” Osterried insists. “However, using a primer, especially a tinted primer, can cut down on the number of coats you’ll need to complete a painting project if you’re not using a one coat coverage product.”

Not only that, but people need to read the labels, said Mike Galley at Dyco, to see if their one coat coverage product is the right choice or if they need…primer! “In most cases, the manufacturers of the paint products that are promoting ‘one coat coverage’ and ‘paint and primer in one’ have disclaimers regarding coverage,” he pointed out. “They stipulate that you will achieve the best results from their products when used on a previously painted surface with a similar color to what is currently there. Most manufacturers recommend using a primer when painting new uncoated surfaces and when painting with dark colors or with a color that highly contrasts with the existing color.”

Primers are very useful when painting with dark colors, he added, and they’re also necessary on new uncoated surfaces, such as new drywall, since finish paint will rapidly soak into the drywall if it not properly primed. This can bring up all sorts of problems that a good primer can keep at bay. “Failure to prime will make it necessary to apply additional coats of paint to get the proper coverage and hide, as well as to achieve an even looking sheen on the surface,” Galley warned. “If your customer is painting over an existing paint with a similar color, that’s when the ‘paint and primer in one’ or the ‘one coat coverage’ paint can be a good option.”


Save Time, Spend Money

When it’s good, it’s great, but, says Dan Gibbons at Rust-Oleum, the time-saving solution might not be the longest lasting. Sure, if you try to talk them out of one coat coverage, it may look like you’re selling them a more expensive solution. But that’s only because you are. To do this successfully, everyone needs to be on the money as far as explaining how it works.

Gibbons agrees with everyone else: there’s a time and place for everything, but not all the time and not all over the place. “Paint and primer in one can save time in perfect painting situations, but it will never last as long or provide the same finish compared to a project using primer,” he said. “Most painting situations are harder than top-coating a brand new white wall. In most cases, a paint and primer in one will take two coats to finish a project so in reality you aren’t saving that much time when compared to using a primer and then a topcoat. If you are painting over bold colors, stains, or uneven surfaces, a paint and primer in one product won’t cut it on its own.”

Then, there’s Dotty. Who’s she? Let’s say she lived next door to Uncle Vanya, but she just moved into an upscale senior living center in Jupiter, Florida so she won’t miss any Cardinals exhibition games. She’s had quite the life, so unless you want her memory to linger on, you’ll need to recommend the right system for painting over her iniquities. If the new homeowners inherited some of her more aggressive leftovers such as mold, mildew, nicotine, and pet odor, they’ll require the use of a specialty primer.

“Imagine that Dotty was a 65-year-old woman who smoked for the past 30 years and had two golden retrievers,” Gibbons postulated. “If you use two coats of  ‘paint and primer in one’ you may be able to change the color of your living room from pink to white, but the lingering smells of tobacco and the retrievers will make you feel like Dotty is still living there. Using a product such as Zinsser Odor Killing Primer will help eliminate odors completely and cover up stains so you can make the living space your own.”


Color of the Year, but Underneath

One thing Mark Twain didn’t have was tinted primer, which might have made things a lot easier for Tom, Huck, and Becky, and especially Tom’s mom, who could have had all sorts of colors along with her lead and linseed oil.

Tinted primers may just save your customers a finish coat and scientifically make that finish coat more true to the chip. The final appearance of the topcoat is affected by the color underneath, and a gray or tinted primer, you can explain, makes it more true to itself vs. using a white primer. “Gray primers and other tinted primers are growing in popularity,” said Gibbons, who attributed this to the growing popularity of bold, rich colors on interior walls. “People who are looking to move away from traditional white and cross over to a trendier navy or deep blue should start with a gray primer to achieve a rich finish that will pop. The gray provides excellent stain blocking characteristics and improves hide and coverage with dark top coats.”

Galley at Dyco adds that just like any other priming product, there’s a right time and a not-so-right time to use it. It’s great to have it in your arsenal, though! “Tinted primers can be extremely useful when dealing with difficult colors or when the color change is drastic,” he said. “When painting with lighter colors there is no need to tint the primer.” If you’ve got one of those “traditionally hard to hide colors,” then a tinted primer will come in handy. “A gray base coat allows for success with difficult colors like reds and dark blues to be achieved in fewer coats,” said Galley.

Osterried at PPG agrees; tinting a primer does provide worthwhile benefits in certain circumstances. “The added color in the primer can help cut down on the number of coats required and can help the color of your finish look more uniform. As people’s color choices are beginning to drift more to vibrant accent colors, we recommend tinted primer more often to achieve true, deep color on the top coat.”

Essentially it comes down to options. The more you have, the better chance you have of finding that perfect balance of good sales, good results, and happy customers.


The Quick and the Wrong

TV is different than it used to be. It’s not just three networks and that independent station full of ghosts and shadows that plays two-star movies from 1945. But you’re an independent, and you have to make sure people can tune in clearly. It can help to make use of the knowledge people acquire outside your store, yet make sure you’re there to (gently) correct them when they’re wrong.

“On the positive side, education is always a wonderful thing,” said Galley. “The more informed a customer is, the better for your business. If the consumer understands the importance of using primer, it removes the misconception that you are simply trying to increase sales by selling an unnecessary product. The only downside to this situation would be if the customer either got misinformation or misunderstood it. They may have a false sense of being better informed than the store representative. I am sure this would be more the exception than the norm.”

“YouTube can be a great way to learn more about painting and is especially great for people with little experience to get a base of knowledge,” continued Dan Gibbons at Rust-Oleum. But it’s possible your client watched a 30-second sound bite that distills twenty-five years of retail paint experience into three dubious talking points. “The problem with most online videos is they are quick, short and simplified to help keep our attention,” he said. “These quick videos can give the outline to help understand a project, but they may not go as in depth as needed and may not cover all the unique problems someone would run into.”

Weather, for example—a paint guru from New Brunswick might not consider the humidity and heat of the Gulf Coast. If your store is the answer place, people can call you to clarify what a home improvement web site might have made perfectly unclear. “Make sure you have qualified and educated staff to help answer specific questions DIYers have for their project,” said Gibbons.


But wait…is there more?

Yep! Paint is changing. It’s getting better and quality keeps trending upwards, which also changes the game for when and what kind of primers are needed. “As paints improve, they become better at providing the benefits that primers have traditionally provided,” said Brian Osterried at PPG. “Paints now offer better stain blocking, adhesion and hiding when making drastic color changes, especially situations where a primer was previously necessary. However, there are situations where I still recommend using a primer under your paint, such as painting over a smooth or glossy surface or blocking difficult water stains. When gathering information from

YouTube videos or other online resources, the content may not take into account the users’ specific project or recent product technology improvements. However, this offers a great opportunity for independent dealers to provide the most up-to-date expertise to customers via one-on-one in-store consultations based on the customers’ specific concerns.”

Just ask Dotty or Uncle Vanya to smile and you’ll know what to do from there.