The recent biannual Coatings Summit was, as always, very illuminating. This event features only the CEOs of major coatings companies, both multinational and national. They address issues and trends on their corporate agenda and when they speak to those issues they are coming from a strategic place where C-suite dwells. They are not the usual ‘talking heads’ we hear from – time to time – or been on occasion ourselves, but leaders of large companies who must appeal to a higher power, yes, the shareholder. In order to do that they must look in their crystal ball, call upon the experts, as necessary, to inform or confirm strategic decisions for their respective companies. What we heard was truly inspiring, but one also knows their whole story is not on display. As mentioned, it is indeed strategic observations they provide, but there are competitors in the room. Nevertheless, many key points were made in terms of a company staying competitive in the 21st century.
One of the items on that list is the need for coatings companies to be environmentally- friendly, and have sustainable processes and products. A major part of that effort relates to the changing demographics we have all discussed at the dinner table but rarely call upon the numbers to support our discourse. For example, one must realize that millennial here to stay, in great numbers. No longer are the boomers the major buying power they once were, primarily because they have done most of their spending, while millennial are just getting warmed up.
How so? Total global millennial income doubled from 2013 ($8 Trillion) to 2020 ($27.8 Trillion), which is quite a jump. They happen to very have different views of purchasing and investing than the boomers had, as follows:
These variables are among the driving forces shaping strategic decisions in corporate boardrooms of major coatings companies along the value chain.
Coatings companies are looking to other industries for successful examples of how to address demographic challenges. One example pointed to was the clothing store Zara, which is a very different, but successful model. It changes their entire inventory every 3-4 months, remains very close to the customer and their preferences, introduce new products every two weeks, and have a strong online social media presence. They look for different value propositions, which can only be learned by staying very close to the customer. Millennials like this approach and they return more often to the store rather than search for products online.
A major multinational raw material supplier for the coatings industry as well as other chemical sectors offered another clear example of embracing change and being disruptive. It has accelerated innovation cycles greatly in terms of innovative ideas for product formulations. They have vastly increased the number of innovation experiences with respect to “trial and error” runs related to formulations by increasing such incidents from 20,000 to 2 million per year. This has produced significantly shortened lead times for new products going to market with that number increasing from 500 to 5,000 per year!
Another item on the corporate agenda is emerging markets. They provide significant growth opportunities for multinational coatings companies in terms of paint consumption per capita, which is impacted by age and disposable income per capita. The trend of growing income per capita continues in developing countries, making it more attractive for companies to invest and for growth shareholders want. It is also interesting to note that those same emerging markets are also now looking for more sustainable products including China. Given the growth potential, multinational companies need strategies for each market and it is clear from the Summit that they indeed have them.