Summit Paint & Decorating is built for speed.
Aspen, Colorado evokes a certain type of lifestyle, even if you’ve never been there. Snow, skiing, mountains, tourists, healthy snacks, and clean living. High priced living too, while we’re at it, which is why business owner Sam Taylor moved Summit Paint and Decorating out of Aspen and 18 miles up State Highway 82 to Basalt, Colorado. Basalt offered him twice the space at half the rent. He became a Benjamin Moore Signature Store and is now in line to become a Benjamin Moore “Store of the Future.”
Speaking of future, in the very near future this store is moving again—across the hall to the front of the building instead of the back. Again, more space, less hassle. “We’ll be right off the main street so customers won’t have to come around and park in the back,” he said. You know how customers can be, one more turn in the parking lot and you’ve lost ’em.
Basalt is a growing city of almost 4.000, with an official altitude of 6,611. Summit serves that community, of course, but also serves as a hub for Apsen and surrounding communities including Snowmass, Missouri Heights, and Glenwood Springs. There aren’t a lot of big box stores around—none on the 40-mile route between Glenwood Springs to the north and Apsen to the south—and Sam prides himself on being “built for speed.” Contractors who work in Aspen often don’t take to its high rent, so they live north of Basalt and drive past Summit on their way down. “They come down 82, get loaded up here and away they go,” he said. If a painter calls in advance, they can pare the visit down to just a few minutes—pay at one window, load at the next, and get to work.
The store is very “lived in,” but it was also getting ready to uproot—even if they don’t need a truck, there’s a lot of poundage to move from one spot to the other. As you’d expect in Colorado, a large portion of this shop is devoted to exterior stains; there’s a separate room to house the various brands. As the area grows, people come in from all over—often people who have invested a lot of money into a home and want it to blend in with the surroundings. They certainly don’t want their house to spoil the view! After all that investing, they get picky about their stain.
While Summit carries Benjamin Moore paint almost exclusively, its stain section is a smorgasbord of treats from around the country. “We carry Cabot, Messmer’s, Penofin, Superdeck, and Sikkens,” Sam noted. They also do a good business with Colorado-based Sashco’s Log Home product line. The wide brand selection is a must in serving the diverse clientele, some of whom only live here part of the year. “We get asked for a lot of different products,” Taylor explained. “A guy who lives in New York and has a cabin in Missouri Heights wants a stain he knows from the east coast, but a customer from the west might want Penofin. We have Benjamin Moore’s exterior stains as well.”
You have to read a customer, however, and try to sell the stain or paint that fits financially as well as aesthetically. It might be futile to try selling a $59 gallon of paint to someone who has to watch their dollars. If it’s a builder on a big condo project, they’ll want a good product but something affordable at the same time. Part of Summit’s success is selling the product that fits the customer’s budget as well as the project.
Part of that is selling samples to color-hungry customers, and Taylor goes through them at a rate that even confounds the folks at Ben Moore HQ in Montvale. People want to make sure they like their color and they’ll spare no time or expense to get it right. “We sell more quarts and samples than any store in the country,” Taylor asserts, adding that pint-sized sampled will be available soon. “We start ordering from Ben Moore and they’ll say are you sure you want that many? It’s typical for a decorator to go through 20 quarts to pick a color. Our record is over 100.”
Taylor clocks in 29 years behind the counter. He got a degree from the University of Colorado, and he filled up his semester breaks as a painter and carpenter. “After college I worked for some of the municipalities in the Denver area, then I got into a paint store because it had health benefits,” he said. “I was active in football and skiing and needed the benefits, so I switched out of municipal work and went into construction, which at the time offered health. Then I was offered a job in Glenwood Springs managing a paint store and have done paint ever since.”
The importance of health benefits is not lost on him, and he offers that to his employees now. “They’re active. They motorcycle, ski…so it’s important. I needed them when I was younger and I realize their need for it as well.”
His 29 years has made its mark on the community and offers some stability in a rapidly changing environment. “I have the longevity and the trustworthiness of being local,” he said. Staffer Cody Diaz is also a known quantity—he first came to Summit in 2002, while newcomer Richard Marques was in his first month on the job at the time of our visit (August 2017) with plans to stay around. “We have a lot of knowledge and customer service, and we’re fast and effeicnt. That’s what keeps us going,” said Taylor. “We have everyone from the painter to the laborer to the ultra-rich coming to choose colors, or they’ll hire a decorator. We set up a retail area so customers can be comfortable in the decorating section, but painters and contractors can pick up bulk items in the back.”
He emphasizes again the need for speed. “Fast, cheap, easy, and yesterday,” he smiles.
Catch Me Outside
Cody Diaz needs that health insurance. He likes four-wheeling, paint-balling, fishing, and hunting. When he’s not working, he and his family are often on an outdoor adventure. From his home in Rifle, Colorado, 15 minutes any which way and you’re away from it all in the mountains, he points out.
While he started at Summit in ’02, his retail experience includes six years’ leave of absence managing a store for a large national paint chain, perchance a chain with a hyphenated name, before returning to Summit a couple years back. Of course, we had to ask what he liked better, even (or especially!) with the boss in the room. And of course, he noted that at this store, he’s treated like a human being. “Sam is a real person who cares about his employees,” Cody said. “At Sherwin-Williams, all their employees are is a number. I sold $12.5 million and once they were done with me it was easy for them to part ways. There were things going on with my family at the time, and they didn’t treat me like a person.” Even so, he notes, he learned a lot from that experience and it’s helped him work better at an independent.
Cody’s t-shirt (above) shows the easy-going atmosphere here, in that Sam and customers aren’t worried about what he puts on when he makes his hour commute from Rifle to get to work at 6:30. They aren’t worried about Richard’s tattoos or his turquoise earrings. Diaz likes the constant change among the daily paint milieu. “Every day it seems like you’re doing the same thing but it’s always something different,” he said. One of his favorite facets of the job, fortunately, is color matching. “I picked it up really well. I can do it for stain, paint, faux, plaster, glazes, whatever needs it.” Over the years he’s become fascinated with the drip of tint into the can of paint and he’s taken several amazing photographs of that coalescence, including the one in this article and on the cover. Quite the impressionist!
Color matching at Summit is done with a bit of eye and a bit of computer, he said. “We scan the color in the spectrophotometer to get a formula that’s close, then we use our eyes to find the color in the formula book that’s close, then we use those formulas to come up with one of our own. We’re perfectionists here,” he said. “It doesn’t leave the store if it doesn’t match.” These days customers don’t even want the color they originally bought, they want the color it faded into, providing an additional matching challenge.
Even if it’s not old and faded, many people want a color they can call their own, They want a color called The Martinez Living Room or Countess Razumovsky’s Kitchen Window.
“Decorators love to take the top color of the card, cut it in half, and make it off white, but it’s custom to them,” said Diaz. Which is good, because it’s likely that Razumovsky Brown won’t be available anywhere else. Brown is very popular, he added, as it helps a structure blend in with the surroundings.
Another issue they deal with here is altitude. Most paint is made to perform at sea level, not the mile or two up that you find in Colorado. “Here you’re a mile closer to the sun and it bakes finishes,” Cody said. “Paint that is supposed to last five years will last only two or three, especially on the south side of a structure.” Painters with maintenance contracts need to keep track of where and when. “They do the north every four years and the south every two,” he explained. This makes selling the right product important, and also emphasizes the need for quality. “If it’s a home exterior in Aspen we try to sell our best paint. We don’t want to go with a lower grade of paint. It may not perform as well.”
Gotta Start Somewhere
Then there’s “the new guy,” the guy everyone is afraid to buy paint from, but a new guy has to start somewhere and Summit is a good training ground. Richard Marques, now 28, spent five years as a pro mover driving a 40-foot box truck. Earlier this year he took a mosquito control job in Aspen. “Cody hit me up about a month ago with a job offer and I started here,” he said.
Following in Cody’s footsteps, Richard’s picked up paint matching quite handily. “It’s great to have Cody and Sam here to ask them questions. I’m learning from two pros instead of one person teaching me one way,” he said. He’s still got a lot to learn, so no, they don’t put him out with a customer and say “go,” but he knows what he doesn’t know and how to find out the answer.
“Out of all my jobs, this is my most relaxed,” he said. “I get treated better here being new than as someone at an established company after five years.”
Up next? Moving the inventory to the new spot, so he should be right at home.
Coming to the Bridge, But Not Crossing It
One reason it’s important for customers to have their product “yesterday” is because getting it tomorrow is not guaranteed. A state known for its ski seasons and snow can put up a lot of barriers to timely delivery. Basalt is a bit out of the way on a good day, and on a snowy week, good luck. “Freight is a constant problem because it can take days to get material,” Taylor noted. “If someone runs short on a job and can’t get a product, and then we have to tell them it won’t be here for two or three days, it slows the job down. It’s not like Denver where you can drive across the city and get it someone else. There is a limited number of vendors, so when something runs out it is out for a few days.”
In the winter, mountain passes get closed, there are rock slides on occasion, and what nature doesn’t do, humanity can complicate. The week after our visit, the bridge from
Glenwood Springs to the Aspen area was going into three months of closure. There was going to be a one-lane detour which was going to make the trip significantly longer, keep some trucks from making the journey at all, and Cody and Richard would have to get up even earlier to get to work on time.
But once it’s fixed, they’ll get there…fast, easy and yesterday.