Learning Curve

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Feature


Reschooling Customers on Primer


It doesn’t take long in this industry to realize that “watching paint dry” is, actually, exciting! More so than the Super Bowl, Wonder Woman, or even the Slovenian hockey team. Now that paint and primer have largely gone odor-free, you can turn a chair to the wall, crank up a few tunes, and before you know it the party’s on and you’re ready for the next coat.

The primer segment has undergone a huge revolution—Paint and Primer in One is a game changer—but for this article we wanted to go old school, to where primer was primer, paint was paint, and the two-point conversion was a last-gasp college football game ender. But as you’ll see, the rules are changed and we’re not going back. Throughout TPD’s quarter century of publication, we’ve talked about educating customers as to the importance of primer—have we succeeded? Jerry Morgan, Brand Manager at Rust-Oleum (Zinsser), says we may need to start fresh. “There is still plenty of work that can be done, especially with the DIYers, as Paint and Primer in One has raised questions and, in some cases, caused confusion,” he said.

Not only that, but DIYers, and especially novice painters, are still in need of guidance. “Our message to them is the same as it is with professionals,” said Morgan. “Primers promote adhesion, help solve problems (i.e. hide stains, seal odors), prepare the most difficult surfaces for a topcoat, and help the topcoats perform to the best of their abilities. Rust-Oleum works to get its message out through product labels, as well as sharing end-user stories through social media and print media.”


Higher Education

Brian Osterried, PPG Product Marketing Manager, Interior Paint, believes that this new product category has influenced customers’ perceptions on what it takes to get a good paint job. “While many pros and DIYers want to use Paint and Primer in One as often as possible, there are still many situations where you need a standalone primer to get the job done right,” said Brian. “Primers deliver features and benefits that some Paint and Primer in One products cannot. Primers block the toughest stains and adhere to the most difficult surfaces, for example, wallpaper. In addition, primers block odors from smoke damage and other sources.”

Osterried notes that PP-in-1 options have definitely eaten into people’s desire to use a dedicated primer and topcoat system. However, sometimes old school is best, and if they need to throw on some Hank Williams or Temptations to go back to those years, well, OK fine; call it odor-free nostalgia. For example, with certain color choices, starting off with tinted primer may serve them best—and save time! “As consumers’ color choices drift toward vibrant accent colors, tinting the primer is now recommended more often to achieve true, deep color on the top coat. 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 accurate,” he advised.



Pay Attention!

This is a time for the classmates to let their eyes wander—stare at the ceiling to check out the substrate. “The importance of primers is determined by the substrate or the solution to the existing problem,” said Dan Cohen, Executive VP at ICP Construction. “Contractors need to become better aware of unique performance primers and not be so dependent upon the universal primer as a quick fix. ICP brands (California Paints and FixALL) produce a multitude of primers based upon surface and solutions.”

For example, says Cohen, advise your painters to use a wallcovering primer under wallpaper, a stain killing primer over a stain, a DTM primer for metal, a bonding primer over hard to adhere surfaces, etc. “Primers are the most challenging category as there are a lot of mixed messages. We at ICP suggest using the specific instead of a one size fits all universal primer approach.”

His colleague Joseph Cassidy, ICP Construction’s Technical Service and New Product Support Manager, suggests that it’s not quite time for recess; that new kid on the block is distracting his classmates. “Because of Paint and Primer in One, most customers believe they do not need a primer,” he said. Cassidy has 10 years’ counter experience, so he’s literally been on your side. He suggests winning your customers over by investing yourself in their project as if it’s your own. Ask as many questions as possible. “If a customer says, ‘I am painting my ceiling,’ ask questions: how old, what type, are there any stains up there? If the ceiling is really old or a ‘popcorn’ ceiling, we recommend an oil base primer to seal the surface. If there are water stains, recommend they get a quart of oil base primer to spot prime those areas. Make sure to educate your customers on why.” If they know why, they’ll be more inclined to trust you.



Standardized Testing

Jeff Spillane, Benjamin Moore Senior Manager-Product Training Implementation, adds that it’s smart to see how educated your customers are so you can tailor your talk to their level of schooling. “Both DIY consumers and contractors have bought into the ad campaigns that promote paint and primer claims,” he said. “This is where you as the paint retailer comes in—your education and background allows you to inform your customers on what they really need for their projects.”

Spillane even gives us some credit for getting the word out! But we can’t do it alone. “Resources such as The Paint Dealer have done a good job in educating people about the importance of primers; however, we need to continue to reinforce this information.

A common misconception, when consumers hear the phrase Paint and Primer in One, is that they immediately disregard the need for priming and even believe that the phrase means you only need one coat. In most cases, you will get a better result by using both quality primer and finish.”

Along with that, send them to the internet. “The Benjamin Moore YouTube channel features several how-to videos for a variety of products and projects,” Spillane tells us, and many other paint and primer companies do the same. Take a look yourself, so you can learn a product’s selling points and discuss options with customers who have reviewed them.

“Rustoleum.com has videos on how primers help solve problems, as well as detailed information on every primer in the family and how it can help prepare your surface prior to applying a topcoat,” says Jerry Morgan. “The home page of each primer also lists bullet points that identify its particular uses.”


Johnny Told Me To

People talk, and if one homeowner finds a great way to cut corners, they’ll tell all their friends at book club. Soon everyone’s cutting that same corner. Painter chat rooms have a lively exchange of ideas as well, so make sure your painters have the right info to pass along!

“I think residential repaint contractors try to minimize the use of primer the most as a group,” observed Cohen at ICP. “Many will utilize general primers or try to second-coat as opposed to using a systematic approach to the substrate. Most companies will publish specific primer information detailing the difference in their primers. The company websites are great ways for people to educate themselves on specific performance-based primers,” he said.

If your customer isn’t wearing a painter’s outfit, you may have your work cut out for you, Joseph Cassidy added. “I would say the average consumer is the least inclined to use primer,” he noted. “While most paint contractors know when a primer is needed or not, many consumers believe that Paint and Primer in One has eliminated the purpose of primer. The best way to get the message out is at point of sale. Invest yourself into your customers’ projects,” he reiterates, “and educate them every step of the way.”

Cassidy shared an experience from his time as a retailer. “When I was behind the counter, I had a 2’x 2′ piece of drywall, primed white on one side, with a mid-tone gray on the other. I then took a deep red and dark blue and applied one coat. With the mid-tone gray, you could almost get away with one coat, with the white, one or two coats would be required to achieve the coverage needed.”

He had another demo with a ceiling tile—find one with a water stain, then show one side with “just paint” while the other side is primed and painted. “The side that’s only painted side will still show the water stain. Waterbased products do not block water stains,” he said. Since you’re about to take your annual trip to the National Hardware Show, make sure everyone else at your store knows this so they can help when you’re gone. “Give your team proper talking points and educate them so they can educate your customers,” said Cassidy.


Resource Library

PPG’s Osterried says to make sure to use your best and most competent resource—you. “Independent dealer retailers and their teams behind the paint counter are excellent resources for both pros and DIYers,” he reminds us. “Always ask questions and gauge the full scope of an individual’s project so that you can tailor an answer and recommend specific products based on the customer’s situation and project.”

And while display is often important, in this category, says Spillane at Benjamin Moore, the resource of “you” matters more. “Displays do not sell primer, sales professionals do,” he said. “If you ask the right questions about a project, you can make a proper recommendation and explain why.”

Jerry Morgan adds that you should make sure your display shows available options to get the convo started. “Core primers such as BIN, Bulls Eye 123, and Cover-Stain® certainly drive a large portion of a dealer’s business. However, as primers become more specialized, it is important that a display shows all the primers you can provide. I would not want to have a customer walk out because I had a product in the back that they couldn’t see on the shelf. If space is limited, Rust-Oleum has a wide variety of POP pieces that can help you convey their selection of products.”

Cassidy at ICP mentioned how you can have a library’s worth of resources; don’t just put out product, but coddle it with all the reasons people need to take it seriously. “Primer is a big part of most paint jobs, and should be displayed as such,” he reminded us. “I always had some extra demo boards and pamphlets in that section to further explain the need for primer. When speaking with your customer, it is always nice to be able to bring them to that section, and show them the visual aids. Having a primer display shows the importance of why you should prime.”

And of course—literature! If watching paint dry is as much fun as we say it is, then reading about it has to be a close second. “Consider having a guide to help illustrate all areas of the project from primer to topcoat,” Osterreid suggests. “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.”

OK, class dismissed. Test tomorrow.

benjaminmoore.com, icp-construction.com, ppgpaints.com; zinsser.com