In 1991, Mike Dunn was newly married with a job cleaning dog kennels when he dropped into the Devine Paint Center store looking for work. Apparently, Devine owner Robert McAdams liked what he saw.
“I walked in here when I was 21 years old,” Dunn said. “I needed a job and he hired me.”
“He was cleaning dog kennels,” McAdams laughed, “and thought he’d work here for six months, then get a better job.”
The two clicked, however, and Dunn stayed on at Devine for nearly two decades until McAdams offered to make him partner in the business. Today, as Devine Paint Center celebrates its 30th anniversary, McAdams is getting ready to pass the paintbrush to his younger partner.
“There’s a lot of new energy here,” McAdams said, standing in the recently remodeled Devine showroom on Lincoln Avenue at Main Street.
A paint and wall coverings fixture in Napa for three decades, Devine Paint Center has occupied the Lincoln Avenue location since 1987. Dunn became co-owner of the paint center in 2010 and will eventually take over when McAdams retires. The recent remodeling, Dunn said, was done to make the store more attractive to the do-it-yourself customer.
“We opened the store up,” he said. “It used to be really closed in with wall-to-wall stuff everywhere. Now it’s more of a showroom and more (do-it-yourself) consumer friendly. The professional painter doesn’t really care. He knows what he wants when he comes in.”
McAdams has owned the paint store since 1983, when he bought the business from Joe Devine.
“He said he had the best name in the world for a paint store,” McAdams said. “He had bought it in 1972 and the store had already been open for seven years prior to that. It started in 1965 by a guy named Jackson where the (Napa Premium) factory outlets are now. We moved here 25 years ago.”
According to Dunn, he and McAdams recently closed a second Devine location in Wine Country Square and consolidated operations at the Lincoln Avenue store.
“We had started that second store right before the economy took a nosedive,” he said. “We thought we could grow … but just splintered the business. It wasn’t worth the extra overhead to have two locations.”
Today, Dunn and McAdams have three employees. Dunn said about 60 percent of Devine’s business comes from professional painting contractors. And while big-box retailers represent the store’s biggest competition for the non-professional, Dunn said more do-it-yourselfers are attracted to Devine’s superior service and personal attention.
“And we’re very price-competitive,” Dunn said, noting that he and McAdams regularly price shop the big-box competition. “We have to be on top of our game with our pricing.”
Product knowledge and paint experience, Dunn said, are among the services that add value to Devine’s quality line of paint brands that include Pratt & Lambert, Glidden, Devoe and Ralph Lauren.
“You come in here, you’re going to get your color right,” he said. “If there is a problem, you’ll be talking to the people who can fix your problem, and we’re right there on price. The perception is that you go there (the big box stores) and it’s cheaper. That’s not necessarily the case. I mean, we pay more attention to pricing than anybody … and we pay more attention to what we’re selling than the big guys.”
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Dunn said that a common request is color matching for paint touch-ups or coordination with furnishings. While most of his big-box competitors have color-matching technology, Dunn said the Devine staff takes it a step further.
“We do more than just put it in the computer,” he said. “We actually eye-match and tune that color in right where it needs to be so you can touch up that spot in the middle of the wall. We’ll take anything (to match). I even matched cat fur one time. You bring it here and we’ll take care of it.”
In his three decades as a paint salesman, McAdams said he has witnessed a full palette of painting and decorating trends.
“We use so much more color now than we did 25 or 30 years ago,” he said. “Then it was mostly off-whites and wallpaper. Now it’s a multitude of color with very little wall covering.”
McAdams said his store used to carry an extensive line of wallpaper with a large portion of the store packed with sample books. Today, just a few dusty wallpaper catalogues remain in Devine’s showroom. Easy-to-apply specialty paint finishes, Dunn said, have replaced wallpaper for those desiring a textured or unusual wall treatment.
“You can do this,” he said, pointing to a color book with Ralph Lauren specialty finishes, “and if you don’t like it you can paint whatever you want over the top of it.”
Other changes in the paint world include more durable paints that are easier to handle and more environmentally friendly, according to McAdams.
“There are more soap-and-water cleanup products that do just as well if not better than oil-based finishes,” he said. “And overall, the transition to soap-and-water cleanup paints has been better for the environment.”
Although paints have improved in convenience and durability, Dunn said that occasional painters still might be baffled by complications during repainting. Helping DIY painters solve problems, he said, further differentiates Devine Paint Center from its big-box competitors.
“We’ll go out to your house if you have a weird paint thing going on,” he said, “like if you’ve been painting something and it keeps peeling. We’ll come out and take a look at it and try to figure it out for you.”
Asked how the current economy has influenced Devine’s business, McAdams shares insight gained through his 30 years behind the paint counter.
“When things are changing,” he said, “business is good for us.”
Dunn explained that home buyers commonly choose to repaint a newly purchased house as a quick, inexpensive way to add their personality and style to the home. A vibrant housing market, therefore, is healthy for the retail paint business.
“When there is a lot of turnover in the housing market,” he said, “that’s when people are doing things. The repaint is where we want to sell you the paint.”
Spending $50 on a coat of paint for a room, McAdams said, is much cheaper than, say, replacing window coverings.
“If you want to make your window coverings look different,” he said, “paint the wall.”
“We have this slogan,” Dunn added. “Nothing does so much for so little as a new coat of paint.”