Parking garage striped with white paint

A Marketing Dilemma for the Striping Paint Industry

Last week, we hired a contractor to spray a thick coat of tar on the small parking lot we share with a neighboring business. The prep work was substantial, as the two lots had fallen into disrepair under previous owners. Weeds had taken root in small cracks and in the crevices that mark where the original macadam was laid in sections. We completed the necessary pre-work, applying a bay-safe herbicide to kill the weeds at their roots, and scraping away the dead remains of the weeds. The new tar adhered beautifully, and provided an even black surface for the entire lot. Unfortunately, it also covered all of the parking lines.

We had chosen to re-stripe the lot ourselves, and multiplying the number of lines by their length, we calculated how many linear feet of paint we would need. Consulting the manufacturer’s yield, we purchased the number of spray cans the job would require, plus one.

We followed the manufacturer’s recommendations for application precisely, and when we ran out of paint (including the “extra” can), we were exactly half way. Then, suddenly it occurred to me: the paint we had used to prime and topcoat our office walls took far more than the manufacturer’s estimate, and the paint we’d used on the exterior trim also ran out before the end of the job.

Back at Home Depot, we checked the yield rates for other manufacturers’ striping paints, and coincidentally, they all claimed to cover exactly the same area. So, as we were only half way through the project, we purchased exactly the same number of cans, from another manufacturer. Magically, they were barely enough to stripe the other half of the parking lot. Both brands of paint had overestimated their yield by almost 100%.

How these companies arrived at their yield estimates is irrelevant. It could have begun with one manufacturer stretching his yield estimate, just by a few percent. The marketing departments at competing companies would surely insist on matching or besting the new, higher yields, and eventually, the promises would reach a point where no manufacturer would be comfortable with the claim, but none would dare be the first to retreat from the number.

And that’s a marketer’s dilemma. Is it better to risk your brand’s reputation, by promising coverage rates you’ll seldom hit? …or to lower your coverage rates to a more probable number and appear to be a much more expensive alternative, based on yield?

Happily, this sort of problem solves itself in the marketplace. Consumers learn that none of the manufacturers’ estimates are right, and coverage stops being a differentiating factor. It also creates an opportunity for a challenger brand, who could expose the sins of the industry and dare to “tell it like it is.”

But as of Saturday, that hasn’t yet happened to the striping paint industry.