The Big Three Paint Manufacturers Are Losing Out

Updated May 21, 2024 | Posted May 14, 2024 | Business, Professional insight | 2 comments

I’m only a humble Decorator at heart, but since getting involved with social media, I’ve become very analytical of the industry. Paints have changed a lot since the rise of social media. It seems to have accelerated the evolution of the products we use every day. It’s my view that the big three paint manufacturers are losing out because they’re slow to adapt.


Examples of Why They’re Missing Out


Bear with me on this because it’ll take a little bit of explaining. And I want to make it clear that the three big paint companies (PPG, AkzoNobel, and Hemple), are all impressive, even if they have left the door open for other brands.


Water-Based ‘Trim’ Paints

Because I spend a lot of time talking to Decorators on social media, I tend to see what Decorators are focused on at any one time. Rewind ten years, and a lot of talk was on water-based paint for interior woodwork.

Fresh from the memory of problems the 2010 VOC restrictions brought, a lot of Decorators were looking to change. Tradesmen were all searching for the “holy grail” of water-based paint, and there was a lot of frustration because none of the big three were offering a good option. What was more frustrating, is that the big three were offering alkyd emulsions (hybrids) and seemingly tried to hide the fact that the paint still contained alkyd oil.

Because the big three paint manufacturers didn’t respond quickly enough, they left the door open to new brands like Mythic Paint, Caparol, Benjamin Moore and a couple of others. Moreover, it completely changed the habits of Decorators. For the first time, we started ordering paint online rather than relying on physical stores for everything. All because it was the only way to get hold of the products we needed.

PPG were the first to respond with their Johnstone’s Trade Aqua Guard, but this wasn’t until 2020. By that point, new brands had already taken part of the market.


Adhesion Primers

Adhesion primers were the next reason that the big three paint companies lost out. We had been introduced to better water-based trim products, but there were very few good products to aid adhesion to old alkyd coatings. A lot of Decorators at the time were using Zinsser Cover Stain as an undercoat before applying a water-based topcoat, so still relying on oil-based.

This gave Caparol another boost. Their Haftprimer was far better than any primer most Decorators had used (it’s still considered to be a fantastic product now). Decorators would seek it out and use it as a base when using every other brand of topcoat.

Johnstone’s already had a product called Advanced Multi Surface Primer, which would have gone some way to slowing the growth of Caparol in the UK, but Decorators didn’t know about it. No one at PPG saw what was happening with the industry and worked on raising the awareness of a product that may have helped them retain market share.

At the time, Dulux Super Grip Primer wasn’t good enough for use over old alkyd coatings, and Crown’s PX4 Primer didn’t launch until 2020.

Adhesion primers have evolved further since then. Now we have water-based products that also block stains, stop rust, and outperform their oil-based predecessors. But it still isn’t the Big Three paint manufacturers who are pushing things forward. It’s Bedec with their All Prime and Zinsser with their BIN Aqua that take centre stage.


Low-Sheen Ceiling Paints – The Rise of Tikkurila

Something changed in emulsion about 10 years ago and I still don’t understand why. Once upon a time we could use almost anything on a ceiling and achieve a good finish. We then started experiencing issues with flashing and picture framing in light critical areas. This at a time when more clients were opting for open-plan rooms.

The only viable option to pop up was Tikkurila Anti-Reflex, which was soon named the best ceiling paint by Decorators we surveyed online.

The Big Three paint companies didn’t come up with any answers for years! At which point, Tikkurila had become a sensation. Dulux had Supermatt in 2013, but it was only a contract matt, and it wasn’t pushed as a “ceiling paint”.

Tikkurila as a brand did have more going for it, and Valti did a great job of introducing it to the UK. Everything about the brand is modern and clean. Valti noticed the discussion online and tapped into it. They kept the price of Anti-Reflex low and rode the wave.

The Big Three just kind of sat back and watched it happen (until PPG bought them out in 2021).


Do The Big Three Paint Companies Adapt at All?


The Big Three Paint Companies do adapt. Johnstone’s launched their Perfect Matt in 2019, which is a trade alternative to a designer paint. A premium emulsion like this may have drastically reduced the potential market share of Benjamin Moore’s emulsion paints. Decorators now have a “premium option” to offer clients, and we can get it mixed into any colour.

I know Perfect Matt only hit the market five years ago, but it shows that PPG adapted to what the market needed at that time. As a result, Perfect Matt has been a huge success.

AkzoNobel are doing a similar job with their Dulux Heritage range, but they’re going at it from a different angle. They’ve built up a whole persona around the range that is like Farrow and Ball’s. Now as Decorators, we have superior products we can offer as an alternative to Farrow and Ball when speaking to ‘that type of client’. Their Colour Picker is equally impressive.

Crown’s Clean Extreme Scrubbable Matt was regarded as the best on the market for years (it probably still is). They didn’t allow new brands to appear and use durable matt as ‘an in’.


Final Thoughts


I love Crown, Dulux, and Johnstone’s paints, so I don’t want to be too harsh. There is a reason those brands are the industry leaders when it comes to paint for Professional Decorators.

However, I stand by what I say in this blog. I think the big three paint manufacturers have lost out because they’re slow to react. This, in part, left the door open. Brands like Caparol, Tikkurila, Benjamin Moore, Mythic (which I know has disappeared), and others stepped in and took advantage.

Updated May 21, 2024 | Posted May 14, 2024 | 2 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.


  1. David Crossman

    Let’s not forget Benjamin Moore attained UK popularity with a hybrid alkyd trim paint – Advance.

    • Richard

      Hard to understand why Dulux trade tarnished their name with quick dry satinwood, most other brands better coverage and application

      It’s improved a bit but many including myself still tend to give it wide berth.

      Also hard to understand why Dulux trade let the cheaper Amstead become a better product than vastly more expensive Dulux in most cases..



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