Troubling Consolidations - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Troubling Consolidations

 In Flexner on Finishing Blog, Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Now, they’re all one company. Pin this!

As in so many other industries, the companies who supply us with paints and finishes are consolidating at a rapid rate. When I started in this field 40 years ago, there were all sorts of local and regional suppliers. Every store carried its own unique brands. Minwax was a very small player.

It was just announced that Sherwin-Williams is buying Valspar. In addition to its own brand, Valspar owns Cabot and Guardsman among others. Sherwin-Williams also owns Minwax, Dutch Boy, Krylon and Thompson’s Water Seal.

There seem to be three large global coatings firms slowly buying up everyone else. The largest is AkzoNobel, based in The Netherlands. With the addition of Valspar, Sherwin-Williams, based in Cleveland, will be close behind. The third company, close behind Sherwin-Williams is PPG, based in Pittsburgh.

AkzoNobel owns Cetol, Sikkens, Chemcraft, Dulux, Sadolin (which my shop used in Denmark in the 1970s), Interlux and ITI, among many other companies. PPG owns Glidden, Sico, Olympic and Devoe, in addition to its own PPG brand and many others.

I can understand the business reason for these large coatings suppliers to continue to consolidate, but I don’t think it serves us, the consumer, well. Slowly, formulas and even labels also consolidate to rationalize expenses. The wide variety of products we once had access to shrinks.

Just look at what’s happened in the airline industry in the last decade. Have you flown recently?

— Bob Flexner


Editors note: Bob Flexner’s blog will be on the PWM shop blog until the end of March and will then move to the Flexner on Finishing blog here…

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Showing 12 comments
  • Kevin Mello

    I thought monopolies were illegal in this country, for just this reason.

  • Hoosiershopbot

    Valspar is certainly a very large acquisition at $11 billion. Working in the wood coatings industry for 38 years I’ve seen many buyouts. One thing is for certain, people will lose jobs during a process of consolidation aimed at efficiency and cost reduction. Regardless of promises made during the acquisition, plants will close, people will be laid off and products will change.I watched as Lilly Industries purchased Guardsman then as Valspar bought out Lilly Industries. Plant closures, layoffs and product consolidation followed.
    SW owns an impressive array of coatings companies aimed at supplying the small and mid-sized shop, The Becker Acroma and ML Campbell brands come to mind, as well as the aforementioned consumer brands. Valspar sells it’s branded product through distribution thus reaching the pro shop market. Valspar also maintains the Guardsman line of wood touch up product.
    My hope is that all those working for Valspar are well compensated in the event of a plant closure or downsize.

  • ailkader

    Is it possible to make any of these finishes from scratch? If so, why not develop and sell some recipes?

    • Bob Flexner
      Bob Flexner

      The whole trick is marketing. There are no secrets in finishes when it comes to raw-materials suppliers, or even companies that will sell you the completed product in train cars or five-gallon drums for you to put into cans, label them and market them.
      Think of General Finishes. They market to woodworking stores. You don’t find any Minwax products there, and you don’t find General Finishes in home centers. There’s nothing better or worse about either of these brands. For all we know they are buying the raw products from the same source and putting them into their own labeled cans. It’s all about marketing, getting your products into the stores or catalogues.

  • GRJensen

    Thanks in part to these consolidations, some products that have been mainstays in my workshop are either no longer available or are difficult to find. Case in point: I used to buy Deft Lacquer Sanding Sealer for about $14 a quart at either Lowes or Fleet Farm (a regional farm and home supply). Now the only place I can find it is online and the cost (before shipping) is $22 a quart.

    • Berp

      There are so many instances that have resulted in people complaining about consolidations not in the best interest of the “little guy”. Yet we are not prepared to pay a bit more in buying local, from a little guy who is trying to make a living by differentiating from the big guys with better quality, but can’t compete on price. The food industry is one of the best cases in point.

  • elithian

    As with everything change is inevitable. The recent consolidations offer an opportunity for consolidated competition which may increase product availability while reducing prices. At the same time it will enable others to create botique companies that continue to produce high quality products and a broader selection. This is the global economy and Information Age! We will have even more access to what we need in the future!☺️

  • gregj

    Unfortunately companies these days don’t care about the little guy. It’s all about the bottom line and profits. By consolidating they eliminate competition and prices normally rise.

  • Mitch Wilson

    Fortunately, up here in Central New York, we still have easy access to Bush Products, maker of Bush Oil, which is an oil/varnish wipe-on based upon the older, original formulation of Watco finishes, unlike the diluted versions that are presently offered. So my advice to others is to try and continue to support the smaller, independent companies, even if it means spending a few dollars more. Now more than ever they depend on you. (You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…)

  • cam1297

    Does the mean from brand to brand the finish is the same formula? For instance is the SW paint or stain the same as Minwax or Dutch Boy?

    • Bob Flexner
      Bob Flexner

      No. They are still different, but the ultimate decisions will be made by Sherwin-Williams in the future. For example, these are the brands carried by my local Lowes. Sherwin-Williams could raise the prices on all the brands by 10 percent so we can’t comparative shop. They make 10 percent more no matter what we buy. Just look at the airlines. Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him?

      • Johnlblack

        So true. I am just a beginner at woodworking and really don’t know too much about the various types of wood stains and sealers that have been on the market but I do know that the larger companies (in most industries) have gobbled up or put smaller mom and pop shops out of business. I can only hope that in the near future people will wake-up and see what is happening around them.

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