Rolling the Difference

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Feature

Teach your customer why rollers matter.


A media day at a PPG facility played a little trick on some of us magazine folks. They showed us various paint rollouts and asked which we thought was the best paint of the bunch. There was some differing of opinion, but some of the paint looked decidedly cheap. Turned out it was all the same paint—only the rollers were different, yet there was a huge variation in the final look of the product. It really drove home the point that rollers make a difference, and the wrong roller can set back even the best coat of paint.

Rollers were developed for various special purposes earlier in the 20th century, but credit for inventing the modern tool goes to Norman Breakey of Toronto, ON, who put together this “why didn’t

they think of this 1,000 years sooner?” product in 1940. He didn’t have the funds to get production underway, and worse for him, he didn’t patent. Others tweaked and improved upon Breakey’s breakthrough and the first U.S. Patent was awarded to Richard Croxton Adams, an employee of Sherwin-Williams and a descendant of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. It’s a well-known history that some painters and painters unions fought against these tools, and resistance was still rolling into the 1950s.Still, compared to a brush, it’s less expensive, and many may think it’s more of a commodity—you can use a brush for many (many, many) paint jobs, whereas a roller, not so much. So why pay more?

Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to show customers that rollers are not one-size-fits-most. How? The usual. Know the benefits of your products and show how a premium quality roller makes a home into a better place to live.


“A better quality roller sleeve always helps,” said Ben Waksman, president of Tampa-based Corona Brushes. “We have seen a move to using better quality synthetic roller covers, whether the woven white covers for fine gloss enamel work, or eggshell on walls, or our high production covers. Painters have become more sophisticated in roller selection because they are looking for better production and a better finish.”

You can get your DIY and pro customers to take rollers seriously by having a serious selection, he continues. “Make sure to offer and promote good quality covers,” Waksman urged. “Painters are smart guys. They will learn the difference quickly.”


Are You as Smart as a Painter?

Painters are smart, it’s true, and DIYers are getting smarter every year. But they aren’t pros and they still might think “a roller’s a roller, so I’ll get this bottom feeder…and save!”

“Professional roller covers make all the difference in the world on the quality of the paint job,” says Carl Rumpf, VP sales at Premier Paint Roller. While you know this, they might not. Most likely they won’t think it’s the roller’s fault even if it is—so they’ll make this same mistake coat after coat and wonder why you can’t sell them a good pot of paint. “When consumers come back to complain about the result, they always blame the paint, not the applicator,” said Carl. “Upselling to better roller covers eliminates many problems, such as shedding and poor coverage.”

It comes back to educating your consumer—before they come back with some spicy language about your second-rate paint. “I believe most consumers will listen to paint store professionals once they take the time to explain the difference in the products,” said Rumpf. “Where retailers run into problems is when they let the customer choose the cheapest roller on the shelf without telling them that they are buying premium paint so they should use premium applicators as well.”


Commodious Accommodation

While applicators shouldn’t be viewed as commodities, Mark Francazio, category director, paint & paint sundries, World and Main, says that in many instances this is already happening. “I think rollers and brushes are both becoming more commoditized in the industry,” he observed. “This creates challenges, but it also forces companies like us to look at better ways to service our customers. Whether that be through better innovation, design, branding, service levels, or other factors, it’s important that we find ways to break from the norm,” he said.

Your way around this, he notes, is to ask a few questions of your customers to make sure they get the roller they need. Remember, as coatings change, so do rollers, so that 10-year-old product in your customers’ tool box might not be the best idea any longer.

“With the improvement in coatings, retailers are seeing the need to offer and sell the best covers for the job,” said Francazio. And it might be taking hold. “We’re seeing selling prices for both brushes and rollers increase year over year, which tells us that there’s an increased demand for improved products in both categories.”


Not a Cheap Dip

As paints increase in price—upwards of $50 a gallon—you might have an easier time matching the premium roller to the premium paint. Given that price point on the paint, an investment of a high-quality roller cover is relatively small. “Explaining that will make it easier for consumers to understand that roller cover selection is just as important as brushes,” said Francazio.

Finally, he adds, you might incorporate some roller demos during workshops or other customer events, and show them the differences in product quality. “Scheduling workshops or demos during high traffic times adds value without the complexity of executing demos on a consistent basis,” he said. You’ll learn a lot about your customers as well, he points out, and know better how to market and sell, which will help them make a better purchase decision.

Because it’s not 1953 anymore.