Credit: Illustration: Matt Wood

A few months ago All States Windows & Siding, in Wichita, Kan., bid on a job that included replacing 18 windows and re-siding the home, which had a stucco exterior. Competitors submitted proposals that included removing the existing stucco, a labor-intensive process that might well have taken weeks. All States proposed a soft wash on the old stucco, re-caulking and re-sealing, then painting the stucco, plus installing the 18 windows. All States got the job. Other siding companies bid, but none were prepared to suggest a solution that involved painting.

Paint on Offer

Siding companies used to flinch at the word "paint." "Paint is the Antichrist," says Chris Ripley, CEO of Lifetyme Exteriors, in Boston. "And that's not overstating it." But as fiber cement, a product that requires paint, has expanded its share of market, paint is an option that siding companies will consider.

Bob Birner, owner of Amazing Siding, in Houston, says that the need for paint was one reason why his company waited before entering the fiber-cement business. "We had never been advocates of painting," he says. "But we had to adjust." And paint is not just for fiber cement. Sherwin-Williams makes a vinyl siding paint that has a 25-year warranty.

Companies are also reluctant to pass up any job in a recession. With siding sales soft for many, owners seek other ways to generate cash and service customers. That might mean using paint to help sell siding jobs. Or it might involve adding an upmarket coating category to the company's menu of products and services, even if temporarily.

A Different Kind of Sale

Ripley says that, for home improvement companies that elect to offer paint or coatings, the issue is "not capitalization but how you're going to approach your salespeople and your company as a whole." Scott Lemons, of Certified Contractors Network, a contractor group based in Maryland, agrees. The cost of a painting job, he says, is 90% labor, much of which involves prepping surface areas. That makes estimating that job very different from, say, estimating a window job where the cost of the job is mostly in the materials.

Lemons urges contractors who are thinking about adding painting to their services to create a painting division, with its own salesperson, manager, and installer. That's what All States Windows & Siding did. A year ago the company created a painting division that now has six painters on staff. In 2009 the company did roughly 100 painting jobs.