Spokane Journal of Business

United thrives without paint

Spokane Valley coatings maker targets international markets, expands Southwest U.S. operation

  • Print Article

A bold decision three years ago to close its retail paint stores and concentrate on industrial coatings apparently is paying off for Spokane Valley-based United Coatings Manufacturing Inc.

Since the shift, the venerable manufacturer has seen its sales grow an average of 8 percent annually, says Terry Cossette, the companys executive vice president. In its current fiscal year, which ends April 30, United Coatings revenues should total about $20 million, he says.

The company, located at 19011 E. Cataldo, also has ramped up its international sales, and now does about 20 percent of its business overseas and in Mexico and Canada, Cossette says. It recently finished supplying its Elastuff polyurethane coating to contractors working on the first phase of a $12 billion port-construction project near Shanghai, China, says Bill Mann, Uniteds vice president of international sales.

That single Chinese contract was worth about $3.5 million to United Coatings, and thats why the company is emphasizing its industrial business, adds Cossette.

Some jobs are huge jobs that do as much business as five paint stores would do in a year, he says. Its hard to build the kind of volume we need one house at a time.

Founded in 1919

United Coatings was founded here in 1919 as a paint and hardware store, and began manufacturing paint in the 1920s. Formerly called United Paint & Coatings Inc., the company ran into rough times in the early 1980s and filed for protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Shortly after that filing, United Paint was acquired by two of its largest customers at the time, who began a seven-year effort to turn the company around. It emerged from Chapter 11 in September 1989.

Today, United Coatings employs about 80 people in its 90,000-square-foot plant and headquarters here, and about 20 others nationwide.

Besides its Spokane facility, United Coatings has a manufacturing plant and office in Tempe, Ariz.; a sales office in Indianapolis; and warehouses in Sacramento, Calif., Louisville, Ky., and Fort Worth, Texas.

The company makes products for four markets: industrial, roofing, architectural, and retail.

Roofing products account for the biggest chunk of United Coatings annual sales, mostly because in such applications the material goes on so thick that it takes a lot to cover a roof, Cossette says. While a house typically is covered with 3/1,000ths to 5/1,000ths of an inch of paint, a roof covered with one of United Coatings products requires 40/1,000ths of an inch of material to protect it adequately, he says. Such products typically are sold for commercial applications.

United Coatings industrial line includes a product called Elastuff, which is sprayed on pipes, tanks, dams, fountainsanything that comes into contact with liquids or chemicalsto protect against corrosion and abrasion. The material cures immediately, Cossette says. In the Shanghai project, Elastuff was used to coat 3,000 pilings that were to be sunk into the ocean floor to support the ports deck, he says.

The architectural line centers on Canyon Tone stain, a colored, water-repellent stain thats used on concrete. In addition, the company makes Marathon CWS, a high-performance, acrylic paint that provides a 20-year finish, Cossette says. Marathon is sold for commercial applications through contractors and distributors.

United Coatings retail division sells In-Wood stain and In-Log acrylic chinking compound for building log homes. Both products used to be sold through the companys own retail stores; now theyre distributed through home-improvement stores.

Doing more in Arizona

United Coatings recently bought a 40,000-square-foot building in Tempe and is remodeling that facility so it can move its Arizona plant there later this month, Cossette says. Uniteds 9-year-old Tempe facility has gotten too cramped, he says.

The move also will enable United Coatings to shift some production there from its Spokane operation, which will shave the companys transportation costs.

Currently, the Arizona plant only makes roofing products, which means that all of the other products United Coatings sells in the Southwesta big market for the companyare shipped by truck to Tempe as inventory, then shipped again when theyre sold. With a larger facility in Tempe, the company also will be able to begin making United Coatings architectural coatings there, which will save on transportation costs.

The expansion should result in the addition of a couple jobs there, bringing employment in the Tempe facility to eight, says Steve Sauser, Spokane plant manager. Employment at the Spokane plant should remain stable, he says.

Currently, United Coatings ships about 14 million pounds of product a year from the Spokane plant, Cossette says. More than 95 percent of that goes outside Washington state, he says.

Mann, the vice president of international sales, says Spokanes easy access by truck to Seattles international port makes Pacific Rim markets a natural fit for us.

Besides its work in China, United Coatings has sold its products in Korea, Japan, Guam, and Saipan, and is looking for distributors in Southeast Asia, he says. Mann says hes also exploring joint-venture opportunities in China, so that the companys products could be made there under license.

United Coatings also does a good deal of business in the Middle East, and recently finished supplying material for a power plant in Saudi Arabia, Cossette says. With sales in Europe, South America, and Africa, the companys business spans the globe.

Almost solvent free

Of all United Coatings gains in the recent past, Cossette says the company is most proud of its environmental achievements.

The company received awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1997 and 1999, among various other environmental accolades.

Cossette says United Coatings nearly has been able to eliminate the use of solvents in its production processes. That not only saves on state workers compensation costs, but also the insurance people like you and the safety people like you, he says.

The elimination of solvents wouldnt have been possible if United Coatings hadnt carried on research-and-development activities at its plant, Cossette says.

Were one of the few people who have a complete development lab, he asserts. We still do basic research here.

United Coatings also just went through the lengthy process of becoming ISO 9001 certified, which means it meets a set of international standards for quality management.

Cossette anticipates United Coatings riding out the current down economy, and continuing to boost its sales.

It might slow new construction, but a lot of our materials are used in renovations, he says. We expect to do pretty well.

  • Addy Hatch

  • Follow RSS feed for Addy Hatch

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list