Getting the best out of your surface stains.
by Josh Bohm
Now that we’re four months into my tenure here, I’ve noticed a trend in the stories I’m getting. I’m quickly becoming the “other stuff” guy. Whenever there’s a story needed about something not traditional—or more of a specialty in the industry—my inbox dings from Jerry! With that firmly in mind, I was not the least bit surprised when Jerry gave me the call to do a piece about stain. Interior stains are an important part of the industry and while they’re not always on the forefront of every paint customer’s imagination, your store would feel a whole lot emptier without them!
Aside from that, there are many exciting developments in this sector that are worth your time. I talked to Jacquelyn Ferrara of Minwax, Mike Mundwiller of Benjamin Moore, and Vanessa Manz of PPG to get the lowdown on what you need to know about these new developments, their applications, and how to sell them.
A New Coat of Technology and Confidence
Just like with many other product categories in our industry, there is a constant stream of research and development that can be hard to keep up with. I know I’m guilty of it! I can barely remember the last time I did a stain project but one thing I do remember is it didn’t turn out like I planned, so I’m glad I have these folks to talk to so next time I’ll be armed for success. Customers who haven’t stained in quite some time may be even more surprised than I was at the changes and improvements in today’s stains, which combine ease of use with great results.
“Coatings are becoming more advanced in color retention, open time, and water, chemical and abrasion resistance.” Benjamin Moore’s Mundwiller listed.
“Regulatory changes have been moving in a direction that favor water-based stains,” adds Manz at PPG. “Recent performance and application improvements in waterborne products—easy application, fast dry time, and easy clean up—will allow professionals and do-it-yourselfers alike to achieve the beauty and durability they expect without extensive preparation.”
Minwax takes the DIY ethos even further, Fererra noted. “Many DIYers are looking for a wide range of color choices, fast recoat and dry times, no sanding between coats of clear finish, soap and water clean-up, and other conveniences. Minwax has many products that meet all of these needs.” The ultimate deliverables are the same across all projects, she continued. “DIYers and pros want rich, beautiful stain color and long-lasting durable protection from their clear finishes. They want their project to be beautiful, and they want to achieve their goal with confidence. Education and inspiration is critical!”
Let’s unpack that last idea a bit further. If education and inspiration are critical to both paint pros and DIYers completing project successfully, it’s very beneficial to you to be able to provide BOTH of those to your clients—just like it’s beneficial for us to provide education and inspiration to you. It’s that kind of service and knowledge that keeps them in your stores and out of the Big Boxes!
It’s Not Hard (It’s Cured!)
This isn’t as common among paint pros, but quite prevalent among DIYers is the idea that stain is a completely different animal from paint all together. It can sometimes spook them a bit when they’re tackling their projects. But they’re in luck—many of the new generation of stains are designed to be very easy to work with. Our friends at PPG and Minwax offered their takes on making staining easier.
“At PPG, we look to develop formulas that enable easy application, for example PPG ProLuxe™ Cetol® BL Interior Wood Finish is a urethane-fortified acrylic formulation designed to offer a high-performance clear satin finish for most interior wood surfaces,” said Manz. “It offers protection, durability and ease of application with quick-dry features, easy clean-up, and a low odor formula that dries to touch in two hours.”
Once again focusing on that ever-growing DIY market, Fererra says you and your staff can help allay their fears. “While some consumers feel intimidated by staining, we at Minwax aim to empower and inspire DIYers to get their hands dirty and stain via our easy to use products and via our digital hub,” she said. “Our online destination is updated on a regular basis and includes the latest news on our products and programs, as well as how-to videos that will help educate consumers to make the wood finishing process accessible and approachable for people at all skill levels.”
Having these kinds of resources and being able to bring them to your customers might make the difference between them feeling empowered and doing a great job or having a rough go of it. (And if the going gets rough, check out our abrasives article on page 24!)
All of this is great, but I know you’re asking, “Can we get to the meat and potatoes of how to sell all of this?” Of course! Your patience is about to be rewarded because the panel had a lot to say about that!
From Your Shelves to (Staining) Theirs!
In many of these specialized product categories, there is one common thread among almost all of them: trying to figure out the best way to merchandise and sell them alongside the rest of your stock. A built-in option if you carry Benjamin Moore or PPG stain products is the brand recognition that can carry over from the paint lines you (probably) already handle!
Manz had great feedback on this. “Brand trust does have an impact on stain product selection,” she assured us. “PPG customers receive reassurance in noting PPG coatings are not only trusted on airplanes, cars, consumer electronics, submarines, and space shuttles in the harshest conditions, they also have been trusted by professional painters for more than 130 years.”
Minwax is a bit different, as stains and wood finishes are their specialty. Jacquelyn Ferrara brings up that by asking customers about their knowledge of wood finishing, you can provide customized product selection and advice. “Dealers that develop expertise in wood finishing products can connect with their consumers by offering products for every project and skill level, and by being able to help them select and use the right products for their unique project.” She adds, “Wood finishing is not difficult, and dealers that break down that ‘ease of use’ barrier are very successful in selling interior wood stains and clear protective finishes.”
Mundwiller reminds us to ask about the wood itself, because every piece has its own idiosyncrasies. “Discussing the unpredictability created by the variances in wood types, cut, and humidity levels gives you the opportunity to position yourself to your targeted customers as a true coatings and service provider.” If you show yourself as the stain expert, next time they need paint, they’ll come to you!
The common theme has been said by everyone in our sample group many times over: to sell stains to the best of your ability, you have to know the product inside and out! From different types and colors to tips on application and any other information you can give your customers, it all helps the end goal of selling more product. The keys to being your customers’ source is staying up to date on the newest developments in the industry (haha you’re welcome!) and most importantly, being up to date on how to work with the products to get the absolute best results for a project, no matter how big or small it might be. Don’t fear the stain—follow these tips and rake in the (unstained) cash! It’ll be great for your reputation!
To Stain or Not to Stain?
Howard Products Answers the Question
Even with all of the new products and developments in the stain sector, sometimes there might be reasons to not completely re-stain a surface. The finish might not be too far gone to warrant the stripping, sanding, and other labor involved, costs might be prohibitive, or perhaps your customer just doesn’t want to. In some cases, new stain can ruin old money, but we’ll get to that.
A good option for these customers is finish restoration, and Eric Howard of Howard Products has some thoughts on that very topic along with a line of products to help customers restore old finishes rather than entirely redo them.
What is it not?
Eric is quick to mention that Howard Products Restor-A-Finish is NOT a stain although it does have color in it. “It’s a restorer,” he clarifies. “Refinishing, restoring, and sometimes waxing antiques, old furniture, old pianos, and even kitchen cabinets can turn into a big job quickly. That’s why it’s important to merchandise these products correctly in the stain aisle and have plenty of brochures and header boards as well as knowledgeable sales staff that can help steer the customer in the right direction.”
If you remember Jerry’s piano project from a few months ago, you know how rough it started out and how Restor-A-Finish helped bring it back to life. “Not all antiques need to be refinished,” Eric urges, “in fact doing so can ruin the character and natural beauty of an antique piano or old finish. ‘Refinishing’ vs. ‘restoring’ has become more of a point of study before a customer starts a project. People are more enlightened on restoring and preserving old wood finishes with specialty products like Restor-A-Finish and Feed-N-Wax.”
I can agree with him on that because with these old instruments I handle every day in my “other job” at a vintage guitar shop, a full strip and refinish, even if it’s done very well with the right products and formulas, can tank values by up to half versus a guitar with the original yet well-worn finish.
Howard agrees, stating that most antiques are worth more and look better with their original finish intact. “Scratches, dents, dings and all…it’s what antique buffs call ‘patina.’ Restor-A-Finish, with its eight colors, restores the existing finish without removing it, while bringing out the original color and depth of grain.”
Sometimes, he continued, your finish might be beyond restoration, in which case you’ll need to strip and stain—or just get something new, but that won’t get you any business. “The more you can educate the potential customer about the options available the better,” said Eric. The more options available in your stain aisle, the more likely you’ll make that sale!
Techniques for Antiques
This is an even more specialty subset in the stain sector so the obvious question is, “How in the heck can I merchandise this as well?”
Let’s begin with a little history. “Howard Products, especially Restor-A-Finish and Feed-N-Wax,” he narrates, “have been very popular in the antique industry for decades. Because of that, these products found their way into more and more paint dealerships across the country. With everything from word of mouth and TV shows to magazines discussing how to restore older finishes rather than strip, sand, stain, etc., more people became aware of Howard Products and restoration products in general.”
As the popularity for collecting older and antique items grows, so does the niche for products to maintain them. “Collecting old wooden items ranging from antiques to old homes to pianos, even old wooden tools, has become very popular. People are interested in learning about restoring and preserving old wood finishes. Howard Products manufactures an entire line of specialty restoration products to fill that demand and interest,” said Howard.
“With most older or antique finishes, attempt to restore them rather than strip and re-stain,” Howard recommended. “That said, however, not all finishes can be restored. Sometimes it comes down to the item, project, or finish itself.”
My own experience shows where that decision was ill-made: I had a beautiful 1960s Fender Strat guitar come into my shop a few weeks ago, owned by a well-known local musician. All of the parts were original and it sounded great, but upon further inspection, I realized with my eagle eyes that the body of the guitar had been refinished. He must have not liked the worn look, different color…whatever it was, he refinished it. My heart sank. What would have been a guitar worth upwards of five figures was immediately downgraded to a few thousand dollars, placing it firmly in “player’s grade” and out of the lucrative collector’s realm.
Also, warns Eric, everything is not what it seems. Watch out for products that claim to “restore” when in reality they are mild acetone-base varnish removers or strippers simply called re-finishers. “A re-finisher does not restore, it basically strips off all the patina or clear coat, leaving the stain,” he said.
Another thing he says to look out for are “temporary shine” products that cover an existing finish in silicone oil or a thin film of polyurethane. “They were never popular in the antique industry,” he said. “They can ruin an antique finish and never develop patina or that rich glow of a waxed finish.”
That part is true, I personally have had a heck of a time with instruments that have had silicone polishes used on them. It simply gums everything up if you’re doing a refinish or even a drop fill to do a ding repair.
Bringing all this to the restored or refinished table, you can help your customers make an educated choice on the best course of action, and hopefully you’ll have that course of action for sale. But even if you don’t, they’ll know you know your stains and finishes.
“Great results from one restoration project can lead to an increase in repeat purchases and even new customers for you stain aisle. The store that designs its stain aisle around their customer’s needs and offers the right specialty product mix will succeed,” Howard concluded.
I couldn’t say it better myself, but thanks to Eric I don’t have to.