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Creating paint on demand

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Posted: Saturday, September 25, 2004 3:38 am | Updated: 6:23 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A Gilbert start-up company has come up with a copier-sized machine that industry observers say will revolutionize the retail paint industry.

The technology allows retailers to create the exact finish, type and color of paint, such as an interior, semi-gloss paint in robin egg blue or an exterior, flat paint in eggshell white, on the sales floor, eliminating the need for retailers to carry an extensive paint inventory and stock gallons and gallons of paint cans.

Mike Matthews, editor of The Paint Dealer, a national magazine that is standard reading for those in the retail paint market, said the technology is poised to have a big impact within the industry.

"It's a very, very big deal," Matthews said. "Think back to the one-hour photo labs that are everywhere today. Before that there was nothing like it. And MicroBlend is the only one doing this." Paint Dealer publisher Chris Mugler said the system is one of a few real breakthroughs in the industry. While they may not be advertising their interest, the technology has the attention of large paint retailers and manufacturers, he said.

"The big guys are kind of looking at it with squinty eyes, but everyone's trying to copy it," Mugler said.

The MicroBlend system is comprised of a device that is about the size of a large copy machine that uses five liquid components — held in large, sealed tubs — to create paint in any finish, type and color.

The device sits on a sales floor and is operated through a touch screen. It pulls the liquid components, stationed either near the device or in a back storage room, through tubes and mixes the product before dispensing it into gallon or 5-gallon containers, said David Philbrook, vice president of sales and marketing.

Customers choose a desired finish, such as flat or high-gloss, select from a host of pre-programmed colors or can use the device's electronic eye, called a spectral photometer, to scan and replicate a color to create a paint to fit their needs.

The system is being marketed to independent retailers, such as small hardware and home improvement stores, who can not spend a good deal of time and money keeping an inventory of paint, Philbrook said.

"These folks typically embrace innovation. Our technology will level the playing field where they can compete with the national paint companies and big box home improvement stores," Philbrook said.

This summer, the company — which began as Coatings Management Systems in 1998 in Mesa but changed its name to MicroBlend in 2002 — moved its sales and administrative staff from Los Angeles to Gilbert's West San Pedro Street. While MicroBlend can be found in a handful of stores across California, Bella Home Show will be the first Valley retailer to use the technology, Philbrook said. The store is now under construction on West Broadway in Mesa.

Michael Strubhar, Bella Home Show co-owner and the owner of a painting contracting business, said he has used MicroBlend paint and compared the new technology to the making of beer.

"You can go to St. Louis, Mo., to the Budweiser plant or you can go to a microbrewery here. We can make the paint ourselves just like a microbrewery," Strubhar said.

The technology, Philbrook said, can help retailers in several ways.

First, it frees employees from paperwork through an electronic tracking system handled by MicroBlend that automatically ships a supply of any depleted liquid component.

More importantly, however, it eliminates the need for an extensive paint inventory — the metal cans that must be pulled and mixed individually for customers — that takes up both cash and valuable retail floor space, Philbrook said.

Paint Dealer's Matthews said that a retailer's "credibility is being able to provide a product on demand" which means that a store must carry an "enormous depth" of paint in various finishes and brands. MicroBlend eliminates that, with the inventory being only the five liquid components, Philbrook said.

The need to carry such an extensive inventory was one issue behind Bella Home Show's selection of MicroBlend, Strubhar said.

A lot of times "you either over-order or under-order. We can get what we need on demand without us having to carry the inventory," Strubhar said.

While a single Los Angeles firm, Morewear Manufacturing, is now under contract to manufacture the liquid components, MicroBlend is expanding that base, working to add manufacturers nationwide, Philbrook said.

He declined to elaborate about the makeup or qualities of those liquid components — affectionately called "sauce" by he and other executives — citing proprietary information.

In addition to expanding its manufacturing network, the company has just established a formal relationship with DuPont to place that company's logo on a line of MicroBlend products, Philbrook said.

Jim Forte, DuPont's global brand and intellectual property licensing manager, said a set of MicroBlend products assessed by DuPont had achieved high marks on a series of industry-standard performance tests.

"We absolutely believe that the products dispensed in the store that have the DuPont name will be high quality products. All the colors and gloss levels within that (MicroBlend) product line will bear our logo," Forte said.

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