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From the Field: It Won't Mean a Thing in 100 Years

15 February, 2019

It Won’t Mean a Thing in 100 Years ... Or Will It?

Where we were, where we are and where we are going

By Scott Burt

Happy New Year! You may have noticed that APC is proudly celebrating 95 years in publication in this issue. And what an accomplishment that is. Reflecting back on our industry during my APC tenure and over 35 years of slinging paint and watching the world evolve around us, it’s really interesting to ponder what 95 years for a print publication—or really, anything—actually means these days.

By Way of Perspective

APC launched in the “Roaring ’20s,” a time of massive cultural leaps such as:

  • The introduction of washing machines, vacuum cleaners and electric refrigerators.
  • The boom of radio broadcasting (you know, AM/FM) and movie theaters.
  • The popularity of the Ford Model T (at a $260 price tag), service stations and roadside motels.
  • The prominence of Colonial and Tudor style homes.
  • The Jazz Age took hold.
  • The first issue of Reader’s Digest magazine was published.

And at the risk of totally sounding like Billy Joel in the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” we had Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, Duke Ellington, Ernest Hemingway ... Fenway Park and Wrigley Field were shiny new in the ’20s. Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore were the leading paint manufacturers. Oil-based enamels in deep base colors were the product trend of the day.

And American Painting Contractor magazine was launched into an industry in which painters were well-respected craftsmen and the acronyms of DIY and HGTV hadn’t yet been hatched (in part because TV didn’t even come along until the ’50s).

It remains a goal for everyone in the industry to work toward bringing the paint industry, and the trades as a career category, back to the respected level that we all know it really is.

I’m fortunate to have contributed to APC for 11 of its 95 years as a columnist and, in recent years, on the editorial staff. That’s just one decade out of 10. When I think of how much has changed in just my time, my head spins as to the reality of our industry history.

Who would have ever imagined the radical changes that have snuck up on the paint industry in ten decades? More important than the historical significance of the “roaring” era in which APC launched, is the fact that APC is still going strong. APC Editor Emily Howard and Publisher Andrew Dwyer believe that it is important to survive, but more fun to thrive. And everyone involved with APC appreciates the truth that great readers make greatmagazines.

Devices and Social Media

But it’s not just a magazine anymore. Print publications that have survived just the past two decades have had to shift their models to also be available to readers online, and to communicate with the industry via social media.

We live in a time now where everyone is constantly connected with everything or everyone that they want to be. However, good print magazines are always a cool thing to have around. There are times where you just want to flip through a magazine.

For me, there is just something about the brutal honesty of an actual magazine in my hands. I think all of our eyes get tired of devices and the information overload that feels like drinking from a fire hydrant. At that level, good magazines are tactile eye candy that we can consume at a leisurely pace.

In recent months, APC has taken a particular interest in making sure that all painters and paint contractors appreciate the possibilities of the “painter’s lifestyle.” I know it to be true that the very best of paint contractors consider the print copy of APC to be a convenient part of that ... something to look forward to and enjoy.

At some level, it comes down to the simple matter of what we feed our brains. There is junk food, and then there is good old-fashioned meat and potatoes, with Caesar salad and well-executed crème brûlée. The team that Emily and Andrew have assembled to carry the industry coverage and reality-based knowledge forward has all of the delicacies covered.

Will It Mean a Thing in 100 Years?

This is a rhetorical question that I use often both personally and professionally to keep things in perspective. As a contractor, it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of every little detail. That is what makes the best of us great at what we do.

That sentiment comes from an aptly titled song by Blues Traveler, a band that I was fortunate to see live at Planet Hollywood in Chicago a few years ago while teaching there.

To paraphrase the band’s lead singer John Popper, I would say that it could happen because it has happened ... and is about to happen. APC will make it from here to 100 years in just five years. And every bit of it has had meaning to different people in different ways, depending on the stage of business growth each is in.

Changes Aren’t Permanent; Change IS

And this is why we emphasize so much the whole product and tool side of the paint industry. I have written numerous times over the years about how product drives process. That is unlikely to change. But the products change every year.

As an industry, there has never been a more important time than now for communication and feedback regarding what is working and what is not; what is efficient to implement and what is not.

Because that all translates very quickly to what is profitable and what is not, for those of us who make our living improving spaces. So, make some noise in 2019 and let us know what is working for you and what helps your business move forward.

What Next?

Well, I have been predicting for 15 years that there will come a day sooner or later where the paints we spread will somehow be chip encoded. You know, with an app. So that if the customer wants a slightly different tone or sheen, we can “click here” to change it right on the wall.

Imagine what we could charge for that superpower?

Seems absurd, but painters who tinted their own bases 95 years ago never would have imagined what we take for granted these days by way of computer-generated color matches.

We don’t even have to go pick up our paint anymore. A good supplier will deliver it right to the job for us.

It might be the fascination with what could possibly happen next that keeps us all getting out of bed every day.

So far, everything has not been done under the sun, and probably never will be, in so many of the important angles from which to view the paint industry. And speaking just for me, I look forward to working with all of the forward-thinking painters and paint contractors in our industry in 2019 and beyond to keep raising the bar of respectability and opportunity in our industry.APC

Scott Burt is a freelance writer and owner of Topcoat Finishes in Vermont. He enjoys communicating with paint contractors at topcoatreview.com

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