The Paint Department at The Home Depot is a dynamic place. It’s always changing and always busy. From improved paint formulations to evolving color palettes and even the cans themselves, a lot has happened in the Paint Department over the last decade.
No one knows this better than Chris Waits, Vice President of Merchandising for Paint. A 32-year veteran of The Home Depot, Chris first worked in the Paint Department in the 1990s, and now he’s back to ensure the department has a sound strategy for the future. Join us as we speak to Chris about that strategy and the role that innovation and sustainability play in the world of paint.
EA: Welcome to Eco Actions, Chris. What is it like to oversee one of the busiest departments at The Home Depot?
CW: Personally, I think Paint is the most fun department at The Home Depot because customers are excited when they come into the department. Painting is the quintessential DIY project – it’s accessible, emotional and personal. Paint is all about color, and color has the power to change a room, make it yours and transform the way you feel when you walk into a room.
Unlike other departments that can be a little more self-help, Paint is very hands-on, which means that our associates play an active role in the paint buying experience. Whether it’s helping homeowners choose a color or find the right finish (and all the tools to get the job done), associates do it all.
And everything that my team and I do is so that our associates can sell with confidence, and our customers can feel confident about the products they’re buying from The Home Depot.
EA: How much time do you and your team spend in the stores interacting with the products and shoppers?
CW: Personally, I walk our stores every Thursday. It’s important to The Home Depot that all merchants maintain firsthand experience within the stores and the departments we oversee. This is when we spend time talking to customers and associates to better understand how we can help.
The Paint Department includes more than paint, of course, and I have a group of merchants who work underneath me. Each one manages a segment of the business, whether it be liquid products like interior paint, exterior paint and spray paint, or sundry items like applicators, caulking, construction adhesives and tape. They also visit the stores weekly to hear from the stores and shoppers. Their job is to find the best products with the best innovation and secure the best price and value for our customers.
EA: What are shoppers looking for when they come into Paint? What are their big concerns?
CW: The biggest concern our customers have is picking the right color. The average shopper spends around 90 to 100 days to choose a color. It’s a very DIY-friendly project, but it’s a commitment. Color is subjective and personal. Plus, there are so many choices. Shoppers want to choose a color that’s on-trend. They want the right finish, and they want their project to go well. Most of the time, they will live with that color until the next time they paint.
We’ve really tried to take a lot of the guesswork out for the customer. For starters, we update our color palette every year with the most popular trending colors, such as BEHR Paint’s 2023 Color of the Year. Our 2023 color palette, for example, was handpicked by our trend design team who travel around the world to ensure our colors reflect current trends.
There are so many different variables that influence trends. We’ll see color trends start in fashion and textiles. Then they infiltrate the hospitality industry with high-end hotel and restaurant designs. Then they carry over into residential designs. When we introduce our color palettes for the year, we are doing the work for our customers so they can feel confident and inspired with the color and paint they buy.
EA: Does the paint team engage in forecasting to make DIY painting projects easier, better and more sustainable?
CW: Absolutely we do. One thing is for certain: Paint is constantly changing. If you haven’t been in the Paint Department for a year or so, you’ll be surprised at the new technologies and products that are available. The merchant team is constantly working with suppliers to keep a pipeline of innovation going from year to year.
Every year, we examine all of our products closely in cooperation with our suppliers. It’s our job and that of our suppliers to be true paint experts. We look to our supplier partners, companies like BEHR Paint, during that process to tell us what they are working on, whether it’s a new technology, a newly identified chemical of concern or a sustainability enhancement.
We know that customers expect us to be the paint experts, so it’s our job to take concerns off the table before they become concerns for shoppers. For example, all of our indoor paints are low- or no-VOC. Most customers don’t come in asking about VOCs. But we know that they can impact indoor air quality, and our suppliers know. So, we’ve worked together to remove them. We didn’t make that change because shoppers asked for it. We did it because it was the right thing to do, and because our shoppers count on The Home Depot to be the experts they can trust.
Ten years ago, we needed the Eco Actions certification to help identify paints that were low- and no-VOC. But these days, the whole category has moved to new formulations. So, it’s a nonissue when you buy paint at The Home Depot. That’s the way it should be. And we made the change so that it’s cost-neutral so that everyone can afford the sustainable option.
And now we are focusing attention on making the experience of painting better. The advancements in paint technology over the last five or so years are just unbelievable. We have one-coat coverage now. That’s a game-changer!
There’s also super-high scuff resistance and durability in paints. Remember how old flat paint would shine if you tried to clean a spot on your wall? Well, now we have BEHR Scuff Defense. You can scrub it with a Brillo pad, and it won’t impact the finish.
EA: Are there any other product innovations that shoppers should be on the lookout for?
CW: The big news in paint right now is the launch of BEHR Dynasty Exterior Paint. It’s the first exterior paint with 10-year color fade protection designed to withstand challenging UV conditions. Color fade is probably the biggest complaint for any customer who has their house painted. BEHR Dynasty will keep colors looking vibrant and new for longer. Plus, they have hundreds of colors to choose from within the specially curated Exterior Color Fade Protection Palette. It’s an impressive innovation for paint.
BEHR is an amazing partner overall. It’s no surprise to see that they are an Eco Actions Partner. They’ve recently converted all their cans to recyclable plastic, made from recycled material. All their products are water-based and high-performance. Also, we’ve been able to remove a lot of oil-based paints, interior stains and polyurethanes because BEHR has developed water-based formulas.
Every year, The Home Depot recognizes innovation among suppliers with our annual Innovation Awards, and last year’s overall winner was Glidden Max Flex Spray Paint. It was a big advancement for paint because Max Flex allows users to complete exterior spray paint projects faster, with an ultra-durable finish and on a wide range of surfaces, including exterior fabrics like vinyl, leather, rugs and more. Max Flex dries quickly with a factory finish no matter the material and makes it possible for anyone to achieve professional results. Like I said, there is always something new to see in the Paint aisle at The Home Depot!