Caring in Colour

posted on 8th October 2019
Caring in Colour

Sherwin-Williams launched a new colour range at NBAA-BACE 2018, based on two years’ research. It’s been well accepted, but represents only a fraction of the customer support the company offers, as Global Marketing Manager Julie Voisin explains

Julie Voisin, Global Marketing Manager at Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings, often spends time with airline customers, discussing fleetwide livery changes, special finishes and colours matched to carefully designed brands. Behind her there’s a tried and trusted product, backed up by teams of technical experts. It’s their role to train MRO paint specialists, engage with design departments and provide advice on every aspect of employing Sherwin-Williams’ products, right down to optimal spray gun pressures.

Given her worldwide aerospace remit, business and VIP aviation also falls under Voisin’s gaze. It’s a market she regards as extremely important; at Sherwin-Williams it attracts not only the same levels of customer support as the airlines, but far greater involvement at the individual customer and even project level. It’s an impressive fact, especially considering the differences in scale between, say, a fleet of widebody airliners and a Citation XLS.

“The support is more intensive,” she says, “because the quality and service required by business and VVIP jet customers is even higher than that demanded by the airlines. It would not be uncharacteristic for us to sign a non-disclosure agreement for a project for a high-profile client, perhaps for a BBJ operator, or celebrity or government customer.”

Voisin believes the best position is when the company is brought in early on a project, perhaps as much as two years before the completed aircraft is rolled out. She says Sherwin-Williams works with individuals and organisations throughout the process, from the owner, through designers to the painters at the MRO facility. “We’re usually involved in colour creation and we can even have people on-site during the application. Sometimes we get involved just a week before completion, but we prefer to work ahead as much as possible.”

A good deal of understanding, not only of the product, but also its behaviour under different conditions, is also required. Voisin explains there’s variation in painting facilities around the world, with some more technologically advanced than others. Customer’s naturally expect that a coating will go on just as well in the heat and humidity of Singapore as it might on a winter’s day in Duluth, Minnesota. In fact, Sherwin-Williams has products specially formulated to cope in hot, humid conditions, but it takes expertise to recognise those conditions and identify the optimal solution.

Remarkably, there’s potentially a stage of Sherwin-Williams involvement long before an aircraft is even painted, since the company is keen to work with MRO’s building or extending their paint shop facilities, offering advice on environmental control, equipment and the latest technologies. “When someone tells us they’re building or expanding, we can bring paint shop experts and paint booth companies in, working with them to design their optimal situation. And once the paint shop’s in business, we’d want to continue our consultation through a few completed planes, just to be sure they were getting the best results possible.”

Customer Definition

Voisin frequently speaks about paint shops, operators, owners, designers and OEMs, referring to all as ‘customers’. It’s therefore not immediately obvious who the customer really is. “All of them,” she says. “We work at all levels. If the owner wants our product, the MRO needs to be able to use it. If the designer isn’t aware of us or can’t get the colours they need, they won’t select us for the drawings. And the OEM plays a part too, when it presents customers with colour options for new aircraft. There are lots of decision makers in the process and we have to have relations with all of them, ensuring they know about our products and services.”

It remains true that the majority of business and VVIP aircraft schemes are anonymously conservative, perhaps with the addition only of a personal stripe or other modest device. But there are those who choose to make a statement with their aircraft, or rate anonymity at the airfield less highly. Voisin has equal time for both requirements, and the quality products to ensure a fine finish regardless of colour. “Whatever the design, customers expect a mirror-like finish that’s durable and going to last.” But there’s no doubting the more exotic schemes are more fun.

For those looking for something more expressive, Sherwin-Williams has a wide range of colour and special finish options. Voisin explains: “We consulted and visited with designers worldwide on interior and exterior colour trends and where they were going. The result is a carefully defined selection specific to the aircraft market. Sometimes, more colours isn’t necessarily better when owners are trying to choose, so we picked the colours and types of colour that we know will look good on an aircraft. And then we’re ready to custom create anything required beyond those defined colours.

“We made the decision by asking designers what colours they were working with, what they liked, what they didn’t and what they wished we had. We took that input and used it to analyse the colours we were offering, then went back out and asked for opinions. So, when we printed our latest colour book, ready for NBAA-BACE 2018, we didn’t just print all the colours we’d been using for the past 20 years, we issued a new set based on two years’ research and analysis.

“We have a colour selector book containing chips of opaques, metallics and micas in 333 colours, plus a further set of interior colours. Then there’s a fan deck of the same finishes and colours in larger chips that customers can use to see colours side-by-side. It’s been very well received and fun to see what people are doing with the new colours – we’ve had designers say they used a new colour, it looked great on the aircraft and they’re going to recommend it again.”

Colour and finish aside, sometimes a customer will request a scheme so unusual or dramatic that paint shops will come direct to Sherwin-Williams for advice. Thanks to the non-disclosure agreements she’s signed, Voisin struggles to provide examples, but acknowledges a request to include 24-carat gold in a finish, bringing in special pigment to meet a VVIP customer’s colour match needs, and even to considering a scheme that was to include gold leaf.

“We’re seeing a trend now for semi-gloss and flat paints. They’re appearing in the motor industry, especially on high-level sports vehicles, but there are possible durability issues in aerospace applications. Sometimes people acknowledge our concerns but go with what they want anyway, while others will reach a compromise for durability’s sake.”

It has been said in these pages before that the business and VIP aviation industry is a small, global community. Connections are made and frequently maintained for decades and Voisin says news on Sherwin-Williams products, tips on techniques, gets around the industry quickly, passed from shop to shop. For a global marketing manager, it means word of mouth actually plays an important role, although Voisin and her team are also busy attending shows, NBAA-BACE 2019 among them, and engaging through posting white papers and editorial trends, engaging in industry sponsorships and social media but, she believes: “The best advertising we can do is to provide the finish for a great-looking aircraft. The owner will tell others about it and which MRO they used, and that ultimately leads back to Sherwin-Williams and our carefully defined business and VIP colours.”