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Landmark B.C. paint business stares down pandemic

Cloverdale Paint has been in business since 1933 and employs hundreds
Cloverdale Paint marketing manager Kevin Skelly: “with COVID, retail has gone through the roof, what with people at home and they may not have noticed all the scratches on the wall” | Rob Kruyt

One of Surrey’s largest employers is squaring off against familiar foes – or business challenges – that have only been emboldened by the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

Cloverdale Paint’s marketing manager, Kevin Skelly, says the company remains well positioned to square off against the likes of Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN) and big-box multinational retail companies, as well as adapt to environmental concerns and stickhandle through tense international trade politics.

Cloverdale Paint employs just over 1,000 people, including about 400 in B.C. It owns 70 stores, mostly in B.C. and Alberta, and has independent dealers supporting the sale of its Canadian-manufactured paint and coating products.

The company was founded in 1933 by German chemist Rudy Henke in Langley, alongside businessman Hunter Vogel, whose family remains the private owner – grandson Tim Vogel is its CEO.

The company made and sold paint from a farm as the Fraser Valley boomed with new developments.

There are some things that cannot be replicated by large retail stores or online distribution giants, and paint is one of them, said Skelly.

“The challenge with buying paint online is colour. The digital world is not remotely close to displaying or showing colour. It really demands a human being’s eyeballs to look at a colour. The people in my house all look at colour differently, but we have to agree [as to whether] that colour is the right one. If you don’t have the paint chip it becomes questionable. So we’ve created our own online e-commerce store, but we suggest swinging by the store and getting colour chips.” .

So the root of the business has always been personal interactions with customers, and this has buffered the company from encroaching mega-companies and online retail giant Amazon, which has seen its profits soar since March.

“The number of regional paint manufacturers across the world, but especially in North America, has, of course, plummeted in the last 50 or even 20 years, even. There’s a huge divide between huge, public-traded multinationals and regional paint companies, where Cloverdale would fit. But we’re competing and winning,” said Skelly.

Cloverdale Paint derives about 45% of its business from commercial and residential contractors and another 45% from industrial manufacturers of various products, such as appliances.

The retail aspect is only 10% of the company’s business, which focuses primarily on manufacturing paint at one of seven plants, including the main one on King George Boulevard in Surrey.

“With COVID, retail has gone through the roof, what with people at home and they may not have noticed all the scratches on the wall,” he said.

The company has kept the term “local” in mind, with a new, innovative line of paint called Guardian, which is less sensitive to cold, humidity and rain – good for painting in covered, outdoor settings across B.C.

The pandemic has altered some of the company’s business opportunities, although not by much, said Skelly.

By and large, save for some early hiccups on the industrial side, the construction industry has also been able to continue at its regular pace over the past six months.

“Now we’re well into the pandemic in terms of protecting employees and customers, what with curbside pickup,” Skelly said.

The wholesale export division is adapting, he said. Most of the raw materials are sourced from the United States and Europe, if not Canada. But Cloverdale Paint has also been expanding its sales in China.