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This newsletter is a bit different, I just spent 3 days on the road getting educated, and the most enlightening part, where I learnt a lot I didn't know, was down in Wimborne, Dorset.
Farrow and Ball - some perspective
I was fortunate to be invited to spend a day with Farrow and Ball, along with a dozen or so other decorators and a supplier or two. Apparently, they wanted to let me see what they are about because I have displayed a lack of faith in their products. That is fairly accurate, pre 2010 I was quite the fan, but the TP blog is not exactly a Farrow and Ball fan boy compendium these days!
The day comprised a tour of the F&B paint factory and we also got to see how their wallpaper is made. The tours were mixed up with Q&A's, a talk on their colour range, a run down of what is in (their) paint, a chance to use some of their lesser known paint, and plenty of hospitality and informal chat rounded off a great day. They looked after us, much appreciated, but unlike some corporate bods, absolutely not a single word was uttered asking us to reciprocate by writing favourably about them, so hats off for that.
The various members of staff from the chemists to the marketers and in-house painter took some tough questions and didn't seem to duck any. Not all answers were what we wanted to hear, but to be fair, I thought it was an exemplary mix of PR and genuinely interesting perspectives and insights into the closed shop, we can do no wrong company.
They are on a journey, working in 5 year cycles, doing many things right, a lot of things not so well, and they did want to hear the good, bad and ugly from trade users, who, historically, they don't normally have much to do with.
A few things jumped out over the course of the day - but primarily, there seems to be a disconnect between the factory side of F&B and the public view of F&B.
Their product range is made by passionate artisans, and the back room office folks seem very professional. This is not how the company comes across at the front of house, so to speak!
ie I'm not saying the complaints department is unprofessional, but I would say that there is a huge disconnect between the only face of Farrow and Ball that I and many trade users ever normally have any experience of, and the team we saw, tucked away in Wimborne.
The overall feel is quite "family", very friendly, and as a company they seem to be really into the job of producing paint and wallpaper for their target markets (which may well not be you!) As I say, it was obviously part PR exercise, but I would be saddened to think they all put on a show!
Although the paint is "mass produced" compared to what an artist would make in their studio, it is not a faceless robot operation either, and in the scheme of things, produces 130,000 litres a week. (This isn;t a lot in the scheme of things, apparently, as all the well known UK premium / designer paint brands combined account for just 2-4% of the market, which gives an idea of how small F&B is compared to a Dulux and co.) And although the wallpaper is coming off the conveyor belt at quite a rate (I can't remember numbers, so I won't hazard a guess), it is produced in miniscule quantities compared to the main players in wallpaper.
The F&B factory is really quite basic, a collection of industrial units taken over piecemeal, as they have expanded. It reminded me of the old Morgan cars factory, way back when John Harvey Jones did his Troubleshooter show.
The paint factory, which from memory is one shed for emulsion, one for woodwork paints? could not be described as a sterile bottling plant type environment. Having said that, the air did seem very clean, and they said the water is treated very carefully, and they go to great lengths to prevent the introduction of bugs into the paint-making process, as that would ruin a lot of finished product.
There are real people at every stage doing their thing, too. It is a hive of industry, actually - a couple of workers at the can-filling stage, wiping off the last drip and putting on lids; a string of the 1.1 million sample pots a year on a conveyor; the head paint guy is in a well worn boiler suit overseeing the addition of ingredients from all over the globe. There was a lad in painty overalls stood there pressing buttons on a keyboard, watching a slow flow of Elephants Breath (or whatever was on the schedule for the day) filling a vat.
The small batch sizes was surprising, but they operate a Just in Time policy, feeding relatively small orders from showrooms, as and when. The biggest vat in the building is for Pointing Estate emulsion.
They produce 130,000 litres a week, which is a huge improvement from even a few years ago, and even as they are set up now, they can double current capacity simply by adding another shift. That would come with the slight headache of working out how to store twice the raw materials, twice the waste, twice the stock... Quite a challenge, but all do-able apparently on that site, where they seem determined to stay and protect their Dorset roots.
In the wallpaper factory, it is a very interesting mix of humans and simple machinery, with 3 different printing processes. The stripes are formed using hand cut foam blocks that need changing every few rolls. The production runs are monitored, the ingredients added and final rolls checked by colourists at the beginning middle and end of a run.
On the block printing section you see the pattern maker moviong methodically to and fro, up and down, and the paper moving along one length of the pattern maker at a time. There is a 1mm tolerance plus or minus. They do match samples as part of quality control, and I think they said they do lay out a full length roll and check the matching, but that is obviously a sample, so if you hang a paper where the pattern gets lost on a long drop, it's an accumulation of 1mm tolerances in the wrong direction. It is the nature of the artisanal printing beast. They also have spotters / colourists who they say they have working on a rotating shift, and literally stare at every inch of the wallpaper coming off the final roller, checking for colour issues, shade differences, blemishes.
Farrow and Ball use their own paint for the base colour on their wallpaper (as well as for making the patterns.) Stage one they take a huge roll of blank "lining paper" which is unrolled and coated up with the colour of the day, and while still wet, the paint is swiped with a pair of Hamiltons paperhanging brushes, to give it a bit of texture for interest. They are then dried and rolled up and put on a shelf ready for use on a run of wallpaper. This is all automated of course. They have over 300+ patterns as well as the archives.
I don't think I am telling tales out of school, they have a large skip outside for the wastepaper, a lot of waste, which is then recycled. Some goes to college for the students. I have to say, it was quite an eye opener to hear that 25% of paper is wasted, At the moment, they lose the equivalent of 7 rolls of paper to swap over to a new colour way, but they said they are hoping to introduce a new element in the process, literally a heating element that turns off instantly, which would mean they could stop the conveyor straight away and swap to a new colour way, minimal waste.
Despite the odd rumour, they assert that every drop of paint and every roll of paper with the famous F&B label anywhere in the world, comes from the factory in Dorset. 200+ are employed on the unassuming industrial estate and another 250 are employed in showrooms and elsewhere around the world.
It is a British company with a lot going for it, especially their colours. I believe they own that sector - the Hoover of colour - their colour card is the first point of reference certainly for our clients.
Having listened to Charlotte of Charlottes Locks, a colour consultant and the chemist, they obviously have quite a well constructed colour range (which is not nearly as complex or arcane as some commentators have made it out to be.)
The columns are basically arranged in accordance with the colours of the rainbow and they have 6 colours in a column, because the printers say so!) The first half dozen rows on the left (ie the neutrals) are the biggest sellers, as are the darkest colours farthest right. After 18 months of creative to-ing and fro-ing to produce the essential F&B colour card, the marketing department then let rip, as only they seem able to do.
The names of the colours are a mix of names of designers, important properties or names of employees and friends of Farrow and Ball. Joa's White is for Joa, a designer; Savage Ground, is dedicated to a Mr Savage from the wallpaper shop. They wouldn't comment about the origins of Elephants Breath!
As mentioned at the start, this was a day for Farrow and Ball to find out what the trade would like to see to make things better for all concerned. Here is one take-out point that may bring F&B and its trade customers closer - and no, it's not a discount...!
The typical scenario is: F&B market emotion to their retail customers, so they become known for making paint in lovely heritage colours with a unique look and depth, plus it is quite expensive compared to some trade paints, therefore the assumption on the retail side is - Farrow and Ball is "good" paint, without going much deeper than that into the technicalities of "good paint".
On the other side, the typical trade's idea of a "good" paint is not an emotional attachment, but a need (not a want) for a paint with high opacity, that touches up easily and won't mark at the drop of a hat.
ie a lot of the trade are destined to be at loggerheads with F&B over Estate emulsion!
F&B then say, if you don't think chalky wall paint that marks easily is the right solution for your job, go for the Modern Emulsion, which is more durable, wipeable and practical in higher traffic areas.
And then the trade (rightly in my view), says that Modern Emulsion is too sheeny and not very "Farrow and Ball". To boot, it requires a primer coat plus 2 tops, so doesn't meet many criteria at all from a tradesman's point of view.
Then we hear that the Farrow and Ball marketers don't seem to think the Modern Emulsion has much of a sheen, which us trade find hard to accept because we know about Little Greene and Mylands who both do a much flatter and tough equivalent.
Then the chemists say they designed the paint system around one primer and 2 tops, for emulsion and woodwork paints to ensure the F&B look...
so it gets very hard for technical minded tradesmen to justify the 30% extra paint and 30% extra labour and extra sheen of F&B's solution for modern living paint, compared to the ease of using other heavily pigmented chalky but durable premium "heritage" paints. If they bridge those gaps, they may be on to the trade!
A trip to their HQ obviously can't change my opinion of how I think Farrow and Ball paints perform in certain scenarios, especially those applicable to say, kitchen refurbishments, where we need to use primers that F&B don't seem to do. (Although they admire Zinsser, they don't endorse the use of their primers, because they have no control over how they are used or their formulas.) However, the day I spent there did reinforce that what is obvious to F&B may not be obvious to outsiders / doubters ie if you buy into the F&B story, then F&B do have the right products for you. But if you require a paint that F&B don't do, they will be a bad match for you!!
The more trade they can talk to, and explain almost the limitations or specificity of what they do, the better they will be viewed, I'm sure, and as a competitor said, if they could find a magic bullet to up their game technically, they would clear up, because they already have most of the other balls lined up.
PS The formula for Estate emulsion hasn't changed in 15 years, and isn't likely to change either, by the sounds of it, and is their best seller! So work out what it is intended to do, and get used to it :)
Fox Brushes hold too much paint!
MypaintBrush are cracking the whip on the Fox brush, which is coming to independent merchants near you very soon.
The in-store display will look rather fetching, and you can be confident that the brushes, British made, will really surprise you, if you haven't already had a run out with one.
We didn't stick our name on these brushes for vanity or money up front, neither apply. They were developed by Martin Guest, and we know they already work really really well in emulsion, and water borne trim paint and oil based primer and shellac and oil based eggshell, and so it goes on. They hold huge amounts of paint, down to the design, which is very advanced compared to any of your favourite brushes, honestly.
Kitchens and furniture are being painted with Foxes as we speak, the sash brushes are blowing painters away with what they can do. The latest observation, a size 4 sash brush fully loaded is almost like a sword liner for cutting in.
And every criticism is welcome, not every brush suits every painter in every scenario, but observations are logged and ongoing developments and models will tick more and more boxes, so you really will be able to turn to the Fox range and find one that suits your hand, your style of painting, your paint and type of painting work. Simple!
Store and Go award winner in Europe
Jop Timmers designed the gel based paint brush storage system from Hildering, and Hildering was rewarded with a top prize
On March 20, 2014 Store and Go has won the award for the most innovative product in the category ‘Décoration’ on the 9th Congress of Groupe Socoda in Paris..
You may have read what it does, and if you haven't, check out Neil Callender's excellent resumé.
A different newsletter and next week, back to it. Have a good week and watch out for more case studies on the blog, and see what we get up to via FaceBook and Twitter
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