Bell Bottoms & Blockbuster: How Trends Affect Our Business

Being born in the late ’60s, I was fortunate enough to miss the “bell bottom revolution.” Yes, I have pictures of myself wearing bell bottoms, but I consider that forced compliance. It was not my choice; I was a child. Thanks, Mom! Imagine my fear when I started seeing women wearing bell bottoms as I traveled.

I also lived through the video craze that spawned Blockbuster. I fondly remember going to the local video store on Friday night and renting a movie. That being said, I have blocked out the memory of forgetting to return it and paying $15 in late fees. Even crazier, Blockbuster once had 9,000 stores nationwide and now has been reduced to a single store in Bend, Oregon.

There has been a resurgence of vinyl record stores; maybe video is next?

So how does this stroll down memory lane affect my business? Bell bottoms and Blockbuster were trends – one from fashion, one from technology. Offering the right trends helps you sell your product. Having the right blend of color, distressing, plank size, and wood species sells your product. Being late to market or not having the right trends has the potential to send your customer to the competition. Much like the fashion side of the business, not meeting the latest performance technology for wear, stain, and scratch resistance can impact sales as well.

It’s not too late to start understanding trends – not just the benefit of having the right colors and styles, but the financial benefits and environmental enhancements you can realize.

Rule 1: Fashion is always first. Never in my 20-plus-year coating career have I had a fashion designer come into one of our design centers and ask how to achieve a look like he or she saw on a floor, cabinet, wall, or piece of furniture for his or her latest clothing collection. Daily, interior designers and architects ask our team to match a look in a fashion magazine or the latest trend that was inspired by fashion.

Fashion design leads to wall coloring and furniture design. From there it goes to cabinetry and finally trickles down to wood flooring. Think about your own home. It is very inexpensive to keep up with trends. You can paint a room in a weekend. Buy new furniture, and in a day or two, you have added the latest trend to your home with little investment. When we start to talk about a new kitchen or changing a floor or refinishing a floor, we start to get into major construction and cost. Therefore, we have traditionally seen an 18-month to two-year lag from one segment to the next. Europe would be the first to adopt the trend and someone would see it while traveling and bring it to the United States. Today, the time is down to six months to a year thanks to the Internet. We can see trends from their infancy. Design teams are constantly researching color, attending shows, and scouring the market to stay ahead of the trends.

Examples of how fashion design trends influence color trends in finishes.

Fashion deals with colored fabric and multiple textures, including metallic. The translation to wood is a key element in bringing the design to life. For example, in 2019 the Sherwin Williams Color of the Year was Cavern Clay. Think about a terracotta flower pot and you are in the color space.

Not something you could sell for a floor. But take the earthy tone of Cavern Clay, distress it, add a brown stain and black glaze, and now you have a beautiful piece that could be part of your new earthen collection. The translation sells. Understanding translation is key to your future trend success.

While keeping up with the trends in color and style will help you stay ahead of the competition, not keeping up with technology trends can close your doors. Just ask Blockbuster. Blockbuster saw the trend in video taking off and capitalized their business model to match. Then Netflix introduced video by mail in the late ’90s when DVDs became the medium of choice for video.

DVDs were much cheaper to ship than VHS tapes and made the business more viable. Blockbuster did not attempt to adopt the model until 2004. Netflix won the battle because Blockbuster clung to an outdated strategy and failed to understand changes in the market. Many people attribute the rise of Netflix to video streaming, but they first won by adopting a new trend in technology and capitalizing on the value.

The Internet has made all of us smarter. Have you considered how the Internet has made it much easier to be informed? Your customers know more about your company, the products you offer, and how they compare to other products. They have seen pictures and possibly a video of your work and read reviews – all before they even consider walking into your office or showroom.

So how do you stack up? Do you have the colors they want? Do you have the performance (scratch, mar, stain) that is important to them? Restoration Hardware has set us all on a race to the lowest sheen possible. Do you understand the challenges and possible failures of a low-sheen topcoat? Technology today has allowed us to build products that will truly last a lifetime and have a great look and feel. If you don’t have this technology available today, could it be a new marketing advantage? Customers are demanding not just a good look and feel, but also a finish that will last and be safe in their home.

As homes are being built more and more “airtight,” indoor air quality has become very important to homeowners. Lawsuits over formaldehyde, isocyanates, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have made headlines for a few years now. Homeowners are demanding safer products. Architects and designers are talking to their customers about indoor air quality and the importance of demanding safer products. Are you taking advantage of the marketing potential of a new trend?

Staying in front of trends in color, style, and technology will keep your business healthy and viable for years to come. The way you have always done it will get you what it always has. Don’t be Blockbuster! The easiest way for a shop to keep up with trends is by working with a supplier that has extensive experience and offers technical support for new product offerings.

Leslie (Les) H. Smith is Market Development Manager for the Sherwin-Williams Company based in Cleveland, Ohio, where he is responsible for marketing strategy and execution for the Sherwin Williams Industrial Wood Division. He can be reached at 859.992.1574 or

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