Valspar Corp. got its start all the way back in 1806 and today is the world's No. 6 paint and coatings firm by size. It's no wonder, then, that the Minneapolis-based manufacturer is an instantly recognizable name among consumers and cabinet and furniture makers alike. The success that has sustained it and allowed it to thrive for two centuries is grounded in its people, according to Carl Gaynor, business segment director of the company's North American Wood Coatings Group.
“Valspar has a history of hiring the right people that hit on our values: ethics, safety, innovation. These are just some of the key areas,” explains Gaynor—whose responsibilities include overseeing the firm's distribution channel, its conduit for reaching small- and mid-sized kitchen cabinet and furniture makers. “We focus on people that fit that style and, with that, they can fit into the culture here very well.”
By the same token, 200-plus years in the industry and employee longevity have graced Valspar with the know-how to remain competitive as knowledge is accumulated and passed down through the generations. “When you look at it—the depth of our team—we have hundreds of years of experience across our sales team, our technical teams, our applications engineers, all the way through our production,” Gaynor notes proudly. “There are just years and years of experience that I think provide a certain uniqueness to our organization.”
Technology and innovation also are a big part of what drives Valspar, adds Gaynor, who says the company strives toward an ongoing mission to improve its products for its customers. “The ways that we look to innovate on that,” he continues, “is through performance, No. 1, as well as efficiency of the products. We also try to be more and more sustainable with what we produce. Additionally, we know that cost always plays a factor on some level of the supply chain, so we try to provide the best value solution for customers on an applied-cost basis.”
From Gaynor's perspective, Valspar's commitment to deliver a better product to its customers is also seen in the care and consideration it shows to distributor partners. “There are a lot of technologies that are developed and there's a lot of learning to be gained working with major manufacturers,” he asserts, “and what we realize is there's also an opportunity to leverage that technology to provide solutions to the small- and mid-sized shops that are out there. We look forward to sharing those opportunities with them, and that's where it plays into the distribution channel.”
Gaynor identifies distribution as a part of the business where, like other aspects over the years, Valspar has had to transition from the “then” to the “now.” In order to meet distributors' growing need for fast solutions and greater flexibility, he says the company has had to abandon what once was a cookie-cutter approach in favor of much more creative strategies. “We have realized, for instance, that there's a market that we serve very well directly; and there's a market that our distributors serve well directly,” Gaynor cites as an example. “However, there are some customers that fit in between that; and we've actually partnered with our distributors using different models in order to provide the best solutions to those mid-sized customers.”
Valspar also works with distributors through its long-time membership in NBMDA. Gaynor says the firm considers the group to be an invaluable resource not only for networking with its own partners but also for picking the brains of those it does not serve. Doing so, Gaynor believes, allows the company to glean a deeper understanding of what is happening throughout the distribution community as a whole. Being tuned in to those undercurrents, in turn, “gives us greater insight about how we can create more value for our existing customers and future customers,” he explains.
For these reasons and more, Gaynor ranks NBMDA among the best trade associations that Valspar belongs to across the many different markets it serves. To demonstrate just how much so, the manufacturer recently opted, in Gaynor's words, “to step up our game” and support NBMDA at its highest level: as a Gold-Level Education Donor. He considers the investment a way to simultaneously affirm the value that Valspar places on the organization and to take advantage of all that it has to offer while also helping to fund many of the activities that the company would be engaging in, anyway. “There definitely are many advantages to a higher level of commitment,” Gaynor declares, citing discounts toward the spring and fall conventions—perhaps the most utilized NBMDA events for Valspar—extra recognition, and sponsorships, to name a few.
The benefits of membership could prove priceless as Valspar and other companies look to navigate the hurdles that lay ahead, including the escalation in raw material and labor rates. The former is largely an accepted reality—the cost of raw materials historically climbs over time, with falling prices serving as the exception rather than the rule. However, rising labor rates, Gaynor explains, are the product of a dearth of industry insiders with the right talent for the job at hand. The upward trend there, which he says experienced a bit of relief recently but has started to creep up yet again, creates the conundrum of “how do we continue to develop products more efficiently at a cost that outpaces those cost increases, and be able to provide value with those?” That's a challenge, for sure, but Gaynor also considers it an opportunity on the product development side of the business. “Those who come to market with a better solution faster will ultimately continue to gain market share and provide the best solutions to the market,” he concludes.