The following case study of Sheboygan Paint Company was featured in PCI Magazine’s July 2023 issue.
In the ultracompetitive world of industrial coatings and manufacturing giants, is there still room for smaller and midsized family owned paint companies? While many of these companies have either closed their doors or been acquired, some have found a way not only to survive, but thrive and leave a legacy enterprise for the next generation.
All industrial coatings companies share a mission to beautify and protect the substrates they cover. How they accomplish that can differ substantially. Here’s a look at some of the strategies employed by Sheboygan Paint Company, a 100-year-old, family owned, fifth-generation paint manufacturer, and number 18 on this year’s PCI 25.
Commercial strategy involves a few key elements. The first is to understand what makes you great. What is unique to your company that delights your customers? “The trick is to find what you’re really good at, and build your business around it,” said Paul Krueger, Sheboygan Paint Company’s President and CEO. “Our customers are experts at designing, fabricating, and assembling their products, from truck bodies to railcars to farm equipment to industrial racking to waste containers.” However, OEMs may not have that same level of knowledge and experience when it comes to coating application and film properties. “We understand the paint that covers their component may account for less than 5% of cost of goods sold, yet it is the first thing their customers see. That makes its appearance and performance critically important,” Krueger continued. “At Sheboygan Paint Company our three pillars of performance come from a broad product portfolio, a high degree of custom formulation, and superior technical service. That is a powerful formula as we strive to delight customers in the general industrial metals segment.”
By being nimble and taking time to develop relationships, smaller coatings companies can really understand their customers’ business goals and operations. “When a customer comes to us with a need or a problem, we tap into our 100+ years of experience to advise everyone from the owner to the buyer to paint line personnel,” said Sheboygan Paint Company’s Vice President of Research and Development, Cynthia Baricos. “Starting with identifying their goals, we custom formulate a solution that marries their performance objectives to their application equipment, process and conditions,” she said. “Technology is at the heart of everything we do, and we use it to find the right solution for our customers’ products.”
Sheboygan Paint Company began in 1921 to produce varnish for the wooden chair industry. Over the years, the company evolved to meet client needs. From fulfilling government contracts for military equipment coatings during wartime; to piloting environmentally friendly coating formulations well ahead of federal VOC regulation requirements; to adding manufacturing plants and distribution centers as needed across the country; the company has learned to pivot based on demand and market conditions.
“Because we are a mid-market business, we can be flexible with our strategic planning and make changes to our go-to-market strategies quickly,” said Ann Roever, Sheboygan Paint Company’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “Quite simply, there are fewer levels and people, and thus, less red tape involved. That gives us more freedom to grow and take advantage of opportunities,” she continued. “It also benefits our customers because we can provide custom solutions quickly.”
Sheboygan Paint Company has evolved to formulate and supply custom industrial waterborne and solventborne finishing solutions across a wide range of chemistries to coat a variety of substrates for customers in multiple industries, including agriculture, rail, and waste containers.
When times are good, small and mid-sized companies often pull back on marketing investments. Likewise, when times are bad, marketing expenses are typically among the first to be cut. “We need to continually find new opportunities and fill the funnel from the top,” said Roever. “We can’t let up because we’re busy or because market demand is down. In fact, challenging times can be the most important times to make investments for the future.” She respects the company’s commitment to steady investment in sales and marketing efforts. “That said, there is a lot that companies can do to promote themselves on a tight budget, like sharing expertise through digital marketing and social media.”
Sheboygan Paint Company recently underwent a full rebranding process. By interviewing customers, employees, and even past customers, the company gained a comprehensive understanding of its strengths and opportunities for growth. The end result was a cohesive marketing program that communicates the company’s “customerization” motto, which refers to the attentive service they are known for, along with their commitment to delivering precisely what customers need.
Sheboygan Paint Company employs more than 100 people in its Wisconsin and Georgia manufacturing facilities. Operating multiple locations means investing in alignment and ensuring strong communication and team building throughout the company. “Our family owned culture is weaved into the way we think, work, and treat one another with dignity and respect,” said Esmeralda Garibay, Sheboygan Paint Company’s Human Resources Manager. She makes it her mission to make the company an “employer of choice.” “We work hard to make work fun!” she said. “Of course benefits and compensation are important, but people want to know they are valued as an important part of something bigger than themselves. We give team members the resources they need to succeed and reward them when they do.”
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