Color Matching and Customer Relations

Can a finisher match colors that exist in a client's mind, and make money at the same time? March 26, 2007

What are you doing about matching color? This has been an ongoing challenge for us. The customer wants a match to something they bring in or, worse, they want something "like this color only not as red." This whole shot in the dark for a color they have in their mind is making me a little crazy. What to do?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor G:
If you are matching something they brought in, that is the easy part. Matching their concept of a color is something else. I found the fastest way to do this is to have the customer there while you make the match - it always seems to get approved faster if they are there waiting.

From contributor D:
Contributor G is right on! Let them see the process and better yet, charge them for the match by the hour. Amazing how much quicker a decision comes to them this way.

From contributor T:
I agree with both of you. I even tired of having samples made up, as the costumer always seems to say they want it a little different.

From contributor J:
I found a sample color wheel at Sherwin-Williams. I get them to head in a direction. Then I give them two choices. Both the ones I want. At least I've included them in the process.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate your ideas, however in the real world it is not always so easy. We are already trying to sell people a custom product at a higher price than they can buy ready made products. We do charge a fee for a custom match when they bring us something and ask us to match it exactly. The problem seems to come when they are not sure exactly what color they want and you end up making several attempts to get something they like. Ultimately we want the customer to be happy with what they choose and not feel gouged by charges at every turn, however we still need to make a profit on the job. After all, customers are not a pain... they are the reason we have a business in the first place. If they feel gouged or overcharged we lose their future business. This whole color thing has just always been a challenge.

From contributor W:
I agree with you. However, with my experiences in dealing with the customer, I have made them (most times) give me a definite color that they want, whether from a color deck or picture. I try to match that with one sample. If they still can't make a decision, then I tell them that I must charge for time spent on doing what they can't make their mind up on. I also have a paint store that can match. This is one that knows about using the right tints for lacquers and such. I give them a swatch of color to go by and several days for them to work on it. I also buy most of my materials from them... For that service, it's a must.

From contributor N:
We have the customer bring in a part to match. Then I do the match and make up two samples for the customer to sign off on. If they sign off, the customer keeps one sample and the other comes back to me. There is a charge up front for a color match. For this price, I will match the part twice if necessary. If the customer still isn't satisfied, they are charged again for more matches.

From contributor A:
For custom matches, customer brings in a pillow and asks to match the color. I tell them it will take a few days. Call my stain supplier, sales rep stops by and picks up the pillow and wood samples and returns a few days later with a gallon of stain.

Before customer's in-home visit, I tell them to get a very good idea of color. Once at the home, we narrow color choice further. Once deposit is made, I make a stain sample strip with a few stain samples on the wood of their choice. They pick one. Then I make a final sample with glaze or whatever and they sign off. I invite them to the shop when we start glazing so they can give feedback on how heavy or light of a glaze.

Even if it's custom work, I'm going to direct the color choice to something that will work for both of us. And something they will be happy with. I also have in my contract that stain is going on wood and variations exist and are to be expected.

From contributor K:
Standard panel rate for small order, $18.
Colour match, $25.
If they are concept colours, $25 for each additional match.

You can charge more and keep suggesting that a stock colour is better. We match a lot of moldings for all kinds of floorings and stair nosings, etc. Once you do a few hundred you'll get the hang of it.

From contributor P:
Prepare a range of finished color samples for customers to choose from. This satisfies 90% of my customers who don't have a particular match color goal. The others pay $80 and up (in advance, or signed quote) for a custom sample. Or they can provide a sample to me. Every unique color/finish you do, also do a sample for yourself to build your collection.

From contributor R:
I try to keep it simple. My stain supplier (Becker Acroma) has supplied me with 72 different stain samples on maple. I get my customer to pick a color that is the closest to what they want. Then I'll buy the stain and make my own samples with variations of the stain I bought on the material being used on the project, usually light to dark, usually about 4 to 6 variations, and then show the customer. They pick one and I use that as a guide when applying the stain. I always show the customer them after clear coat finish is applied. It seems to always work for me and it keeps me from spinning in circles trying to get the right color. Of course I do this after I get the deposit.

From contributor O:
I'm finding that besides matching a color, I am also creating a finish schedule. With a shop rate of $50 per hour, are you guys getting paid for your time? Gun setup, cleanup, sample board prep, mixing, and ultimately creating the finish sample. I am averaging 4-8 hours, kind of new at this, but at that shop rate, that is $200-$400 dollars. Is it like estimating - you do a whole bunch of work for not so much money, banking on getting the job? I find that we are matching samples from other shops. I'm surprised they don't even take the other shop's logo off the sample.

From contributor A:
4-8 hours for a stain sample? Even an advanced finish with multiple steps should not take that long.

My clear gun is always set up with clear. Or if it's clean, I can pour clear in and be spraying in 3 minutes. When I'm done, have another cup of thinner and spray through the gun. I only take the gun apart as needed. I grab some scrap and cut it to size, sand 80, 120, check for mill and machine marks under a raking lamp, line with a Sharpie, label, and stain. Let dry. Two coats of clear. I might have 15 minutes in the initial stain sample by the time I'm done. Give the customer a choice of 5-10 stain colors. That's all. If we need refinement or glazing or whatever, we go from there.

From contributor Y:
$40 for customers that also buy their clears from us.
$50 for customers that do not buy clears from us.

We also do not have a standard rate for colors - we charge according to cost. A red or yellow color is going to cost a lot more to make than a brown.

From contributor D:
I think most of you are missing the point here. Yeah, the idea is to produce a color match, but there is a much more important marketing concept. That is the concept of skill/craftsmanship and client involvement that occurs when you have the customer present to watch the color matching process. We add a little red, we add a little yellow, a dash of Tabasco and presto! The artist has delivered yet another command performance. Rich people, the only customers worth having, love the involvement this process provides. This way they can tell their friends at the country club how they "helped" developed the custom stain used on their new kitchen. Puts a smile on their fat cat faces every time.

I had a girlfriend in the high end dress business in Scottsdale. She had a customer that fit perfectly into a stock size, yet she would fuss and fit her for an hour, supposedly, to get the perfect fit. She actually didn't do a damn thing - she took all of the pins out the second the woman left the store and sold it to her three days later in the exact condition it came from the factory in, since it already was a perfect fit. This customer thought my girlfriend was the only person on earth she could buy clothes from and tipped her hundreds of bucks a year when she could have walked into any store, ordered her size and it would fit perfectly. Why didnít she? Because the fashion goddess always made her feel so special.

Have any of you ever seen a Frank Klauz video? The "I am the master craftsman and you should feel privileged to have me show you something" arrogance this guy projects is perfect. People beg him to make them things. I've met Frank and he's a great guy and really is a master craftsman, but his presence with a customer is what makes him a god. We all need a little of that if we're going to make it in the high end market. It ain't just painting wood, guys. There are likely a thousand Mexicans finishing furniture in the Phoenix market and many of them are damn good at what they do. Theyíre all making $10 an hour. The customer interaction and perception of talent is what should make you worth more than that to a potential client. Yes, this is bullshit, but fifty percent of life is bullshit and on the high end, that jumps to 90%. Thatís just the way it is.

From the original questioner:
Sounds like something a lawyer once told me... "it isn't about truth, but what the perception of truth is that counts in the mind of the jury." I don't agree with this notion, but it seems to pervade our society. By the way, all customers are worth having... they are what keep us in business and pay for our machinery, paychecks, vacations, holidays, etc. Sometimes I would rather deal with the average customer who pays his bill than the rich ones who make you jump through hoops to collect what they owe you. The only times that I have been totally stiffed by a customer were the ones who had plenty more than I will ever have. As Rockefeller said when asked how much money it takes to satisfy a man he replied, "just a little more." I really value honesty in my clients and try to return to them the same. This is not a criticism of someone else's attitude, as I respect all of those in this trade who have worked to better their product.

From contributor H:
Working closely with the customer is not only beneficial to the customer. I'm always more attentive and satisfied with the projects that were decided on with the customer present in the spray booth (or "studio"). People love to see the finish schedule played out, plus it makes them more confident and content with their decisions after the product is installed.