The changing landscape

Jamie Barber discusses the challenges and opportunities facing the UK painting and decorating sector

The first ever Skills Spending Index released this year confirmed that British consumers are collectively spending more than £72bn each year on skilled tradespeople. A major proportion of that spend includes residential decorating jobs that are serviced by the professional painter and decorator sector. However visit any DIY multiple around the nation on a weekend and chances are you will see that Britons’ penchant for DIY has not quite resulted in the slow death of DIY that some analysts have suggested. The tills are still very much ringing in the DIY sector.

But while the DIY market continues to be fairly static, trade has become increasingly brisk over 2015 in the ‘do it for me’ (DFM) market. Evidence suggests that time-poor individuals will certainly look to professionals for larger scale residential jobs or for specific projects that require professional application and a high standard of finish. Getting professional painters and decorators in to do a job is often seen as quicker and hassle-free. Consumers are also keen to follow interior design, colour and painting trends such as the ombré inspired paint effect, which Dulux Trade forecast as a key look for 2016. Consequently, the trends indicate that Brits are leaving complex specialist interior paint techniques to a professional.

The professional paint market has seen significant growth in 2015 – driven by both domestic and commercial markets and growing to an output of 174.9 million litres. The commercial market in particular has benefited from sales in the house building industry, for which a broad breadth of colour and superior opacity is crucial within the paint ranges specified. Similarly, growth in the commercial market has also been fuelled by the education sector as specifiers for schools, colleges and universities tend 9to choose high performance durable products to cope with the demands of high traffic. But rather interestingly, we have also seen an increasing blurring of lines between the domestic and trade paint markets as consumers who would traditionally purchase from retail channels are purchasing trade paints from specialist merchants. This is due in part to the quality of trade products, increased consumer decorating knowledge as well as a much better in-store customer experience and service, provided by merchants. Post-recession, the commercial paints market has cautiously regained its sense of confidence, reflected by activity in the construction industry rising for the tenth consecutive quarter in Q3, 2015 . Vigour in the housebuilding market has also fuelled double digit growth of ‘2nd quality emulsion’ segment, which in our case represents our lower quality paints that offer less durability, cover and opacity.

The painting and decorating industry is also seeing an increasing demand for value add services, which is reflected by a general trend throughout the construction industry and other sectors. Manufacturers are incentivising their customers with services that not only help their customers but ultimately the end user. Services increasingly being offered by brands such as Dulux Trade range from design services for both commercial and residential customers, project management and consultancy to the creation of digital platforms that connect an approved decorator to consumer or commercial customers. These value added services offer efficient methods that not only help to further professionalise the industry and add weight to our customers’ businesses but enable our customers whether commercial or retail to transform their environments into beautiful living spaces.

All of this good news however does not hide the fact that the painting and decorating industry, like other critical sectors including the housebuilding industry, is facing a profound skills shortage with a lack of newly skilled trainees coming into the decorating profession. A growing number of large suppliers to the construction industry are vocalising their alarm at the shortage and depletion of skills – recent analysis of the situation suggests a shortage of 33,000 tradesmen in London and the south-east alone, while two thirds of construction firms claim they have turned down work because of a lack of resources. We are one of a few large companies who are taking the initiative to help prevent a situation where demand outstrips supply. We recognise that a shortage of skilled and professional decorators could exacerbate the UK’s housing shortage. So, we have opened a new academy in Slough, which will not only train those new to the industry but also develop and enhance the skills of established painters and decorators, in an attempt to reverse the reduction in the number of quality tradesmen in Britain.

One of the painting and decorating industry’s challenges is to transition building contractors and professional decorators who have traditionally used solvent-based paints to water-based products. There are encouraging signs that the non-traditionalists are bought into environmentally friendlier high performance products, reflecting consumers’ increasingly green consciousness. Lack of odour, the speed at which water-based products dries and their durability are key attributes of water based products. The finished results from using water based products are as good as solvent based products including the high level of gloss that can be achieved without the brush marks symptomatic of some solvent-based paints. We are hopeful that the painting and decorating industry will embrace the trend for water-based products, reflecting our desire to push the sustainability agenda even further forward.

Growing professionalisation and the development of new technologies that enable painters, decorators and building contractors to meet customer demand quickly, cost-effectively without compromising quality mean that this group are reviewing their jobs through a more commercial lens. It is up to the industry to pull together and the responsibility of individual manufacturers to help the industry along, particularly to meet the challenges of a skills shortage. We are optimistic however that the challenges can be met head on and remain absolutely committed to doing our bit to help the industry continue to be fit for the future.

Jamie Barber is Senior Marketing Manager at Dulux Trade. One of the UK’s leading paint brands in the professional market and a champion of colour, Dulux Trade offers a comprehensive range of premium quality decorative finishes, exterior and specialist products. The company is committed to delivering brighter futures for its customers and industry by offering a range of innovative products and integrated design and specification services.

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