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  • Writer's pictureSam MacKinnon

Knook #40: Natural Paint Co.

Natural Paint Co Knook NZ
Natural Paint Co uses natural ingredients to produce high quality, sustainable oils and paints. Photo: Supplied

How much did you think about the hazards of painting last time you were refreshing your home’s colour?

Natural Paint Co uses natural ingredients to produce high quality, sustainable oils and paints, as good as or better than the traditional chemical products on the market.

“We think about the full lifecycle of the paint, bringing more sustainability to a historically bad industry, and contributing to healthier homes in the process,” say co-founders and couple James Mount and Grace Glass.

I asked James and Grace how they got started.

Says James, “The genesis of the business was actually when I left uni, needed a job and just fell into painting. Grace was nursing fulltime and we were making changes in our own lives to be more conscious about our impact.

“It’s fair to say working in paint was a bit of an eye opener. The industry hadn’t changed in 40 or so years, and was very reliant on unsustainable practices. A health report from the Environmental Protection Agency highlighted that for most of NZ, indoor air quality was 2 to 5 times more polluted than outside. Paint is a huge contributor to this as a host of chemicals are added throughout the paint process - as the paint releases chemicals over time, they get reabsorbed into furniture and continue to pollute the environments we spend the most time in.

“I started thinking that there must be a better way to do this.

“We started with a bit of market research by importing some natural paints from Germany - they started using natural paint as the standard in the 90s. While they were world leaders, we didn’t feel it was up to NZ standards - the paint was chalky, matte and hard to clean.

“We then began working with NZ stock paint chemists who were keen to make a change in the industry. We launched in 2015, but it’s been 7 years in the making to create a product that is sustainable and exceeds what's available, with no compromising on quality.”

Natural Paint Co Knook NZ
Natural Paint Co founders James Mount and Grace Glass. Photo: Supplied

Grace says, “James has focused more on the product side while I’ve been focused on getting our product out to customers, and creating a brand for customers to be engaged with. Our distribution is 100% e-commerce which is quite different for the paint industry - the normal model is through retail channels in hardware stores.

“We’re looking to break traditional moulds to provide a much better user experience. Our distribution model is key - we can get test pots to customers in one working day, and paint tins or buckets in two working days. We’ve focused on making our business very much customer centric, turning paint buying back into an experience.

“We’re really close to our customers - we understand their pain points, buying behaviours etcetera - and can address them through our site. Through all of this we can make it an enjoyable and exciting experience, and a way better journey than buying paint from a hardware store. The idea is that the whole customer journey is a great one - from looking on the site, buying and testing, to using the product.

“We’ve had to justify our ecommerce strategy (as opposed to going the retail route) with potential investors, but through ecommerce, we can better control the understanding of customers, explain the technicalities of paint, and represent the brand really well every step of the way.”

I asked James and Grace what challenges they’ve faced in this journey.

“A broad challenge has been committing to the long term of being in the business and enjoying the journey. Understand that you don’t start a business for the big payday,” laughs James.

“When we first got going, I was in the business fulltime and Grace was working on it every spare hour she had. We reached a point where we essentially had to decide whether Grace came on board full-time or we brought someone else in - but ultimately decided that we both needed to be in the business wholeheartedly.

“Another aspect has been brand awareness. Building trust in such an established industry is tough, especially on the trade side and getting professional painters to use and love the product. We’ve just had to be so diligent with looking after the brand and making sure the product is amazing. Most of the early trade referrals happened because a client insisted the painter they hired use our product. Word of mouth has been invaluable - but we also have to hold up our end by ensuring we’re experts at delivering what we’ve promised.”

I asked the couple what they saw as key factors to their success thus far.

“We’ve been diligent about our strategy,” says Grace. “We’ve validated the concept, we’re staying streamlined as much as possible, and now giving our strategy time to bed in and pay off.

“Our investment in our website, rebrand and e-commerce strategy last year was crazy in light of Covid but in some ways it was the perfect time to stay ahead of the curve. We had set our strategy in this space and now it was time to double down despite some of the uncertainty last year.

“Finally a key element has been staying tenacious. We trust our intuition, and realise that failure is part of the journey. Action creates motivation, not the other way around - so we keep moving forward even if something hasn’t quite worked out.”

Natural Paint Co has recently completed their first round of capital raising. I ask Grace and James what they’ve learnt from the early stage funding and capital raising.

“We were bootstrapped from day one - the advantage of being product-based is we could grow off reinvesting profits in the business. We’ve grown 50% year-on-year but the business is quite cost heavy because of how much stock we carry.

“In terms of the capital raise, it became a question of how do we grow. We’re at a point where we understand our strategy better, we’re confident in our own skillset running a business, and the market is ready for a stronger presence from Natural Paint Co.

“Our advice for anyone considering a cap raise is you need to understand when it's the right time for your business.”

I asked James and Grace what advice they’d give to someone starting their own venture.

“Validate your idea - put your time into doing the research, write a business plan, know how you’ll fund it, remember your mission,” says Grace.

“I think for us being partners at work and in life, we’ve had to learn to be kind and loving to each other. It’ll be hard and you’ll have arguments but stay as a team and remember why you’re on this journey. Remember to celebrate the wins and losses together.”

Says James, “I often think perfection is the killer of progress. Choose where your perfection lies - we have a number of core areas where we do not compromise - but keep moving.

“It’s also okay to realise that you can take time out of the business - the business is actually better off for it when you’re refreshed - so don’t be a martyr to being busy, and start reconsidering measures of success.”

I asked what’s next for Natural Paint Co.

Says James, “The main focus is scaling what we’re doing at the moment! The capital raise will help us build out our team, and continue to invest in marketing. And we’d love to start looking at an international rollout - our ecommerce infrastructure enables it. We’ll start with piloting Australia and can distribute from here.”

And for Grace: “Being digital is fundamental to our offering, and requires ongoing investment. And we will continue to build our brand awareness and get in front of every Kiwi so they know who we are and what we stand for. We want to be a household name, so we’ve still got a way to go!”

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