When the pandemic quarantine period kept millions of people looking at the interior of their homes, renovations around the house that would normally be placed on the back burner finally had their moment in the sun.
More than a year later, renovations remain strong as lingering effects of the pandemic have popularized the work-from-home model, in addition to other reasons as to why Americans may find themselves with more time and funds to allocate to home-office upgrades.
Across the country, paint suppliers are struggling to keep up with increased demand as products fly off the shelves with more customers taking on residential and commercial projects, and South Carolina is not the exception.
Jimmy Brooks is the owner of the 360 Painting Columbia franchise, part of a national brand with 133 locations across 40 states and D.C.
For Brooks, a customer placing an order could mean a slew of follow-up phone calls to other stores to see if they have the specific paint in inventory.
“I can call my rep and say we need 30-40 gallons of paint, so she’ll get on the phone, and we’ll start looking around, but now I’ve got to drive from Columbia to Aiken or Rock Hill or Camden, or just go to four different stores just to round it up,” Brooks said. “Generally speaking, we can find the paint, it’s just a lot of time in order to get there.”
Brooks said prices have increased too. Since Sherwin Williams, partner of 360 Painting, has been charging a 15-20% uptick for materials, that same price raise had to be passed on to the customer, Brooks said.
Brooks said that hasn’t deterred patronage, though.
“The products have been harder to get recently, but since the pandemic, we’ve seen good business during that period of time,” he said.
Dave Rychley, president of 360 Painting, agrees that lead times in obtaining products have gone up. Whereas customers could’ve picked up product orders or had them delivered with a 24-hour turnaround in the past, it can now take up to two weeks as providers must more frequently contact other vendors to confirm stock when they themselves have run out, he said.
“It’s never been more critical in my time in paint, and what I mean by that is there’s a lot of problem-solving that our local sales reps are doing all over the country, and certainly in South Carolina to help ensure that our franchisees and our customers have all the product that they need,” Rychley said.
Rychley said the company is up 40% on client inquiry leads and paint estimates. This parallels national numbers as international industry market research company The Freedonia Group reports a 39% national spike in home renovation activity in 2020. Consumers surveyed credited these home improvement projects with changes associated with the pandemic.
Despite increased efforts to refill rapidly emptying store shelves, Rychley said 360 Painting is already fortunate to have a partnership and relationship with national brand Sherwin Williams. For smaller companies who don’t have this kind of support, it can be even more difficult to find the necessary products that customers are asking for or to even stock up for a little more than immediate demand.
For Waylon Cain, owner of West Ashley True Value in Charleston, his crew of eight employees are working hard to meet orders, for paint and for other hardware requests that come into the store as well.
“I spent four nights past midnight here (at the store),” Cain said, adding that as a small business “I can’t compete with the big buys with employees. I don’t have the night crew to do it for me.”
Because West Ashley True Value functions as an independent store, Cain said he buys from multiple vendors. While costs have gone up, he’s tried his best to keep prices low for his customers.
“We’re trying our best for finding smart ways to purchase,” Cain said. “Our goal is to keep the community. This is my neighborhood; I take care of it.”
Cain said he is learning as he goes about maintaining that balance in keeping customers happy and mitigating rising costs. Cain said he spends about $300-$500 a week at Lowe’s or Home Depot, which he said generates him little profit at the price that he charges, but at least he has that inventory on hand when it’s needed.
“Things are going up so much in cost that my previous retail price is below the actual cost of my product, and unfortunately, I’m finding out the hard way, but I’m trying my best,” Cain said. “Hopefully things will bounce back after people come back to work and we start putting value back in the dollar again.”