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Published by the Paint & Decorating Retailers Association | January 2009
This Stain Has Got What It Takes

Jake Clark

Jake Clark, a fifth-generation paint-business person,
helped reformulate Armstrong’s about twelve years ago.

Armstrong’s Wood Stain uses two non-drying oils to offer a durable, long-lasting stain that is easy to use It sounds too good to be true. But, in fact, there is a wood stain available that combines the effectiveness of the drying concentrate of a typical stain with two non-drying oils, which soak into the wood and actually improve the condition of the wood. Plus, the best part is that this product also meets some of the most stringent VOC standards in the country as it contains 250 VOCs and is produced in California. The product is Armstrong’s Wood Stain and it is manufactured by Armstrong-Clark.

“I always wondered why there wasn’t a stain available that was longlasting, easy to apply, a breeze to maintain and could go over the previous coating without stripping,” said Jake Clark, president of Armstrong- Clark. “Well, we figured out how to do all of that and meet the California VOC standards. By January 2010, the EPA is increasing the requirement to 250 VOCs nationally, so you, as a storeowner, need to be prepared in terms of what products you carry.”

While the new EPA standards force dealers to reassess what products they want to sell, Clark also pointed to the difficult economy as another factor in how dealers sell. “During hard economic times, storeowners should look at reassessing their product quality. People are not taking vacations anymore. They are using that time to stay home and enjoy their outside living space. To do this, they are using part of the money they might have spent on vacation, and putting it toward highquality products while staying home and completing the job themselves.”

Innovation On The West Coast
Clark knows what he’s talking about as he represents the fifth generation of paint and stain people in his family. He spent 13 years on the manufacturing side of the stain industry and seven years as a painter who did roof restorations. Clark then took this knowledge between the two positions and now has spent 15 years developing the formula used at Armstrong-Clark. Being on the West Coast, Clark primarily worked on shake roofs, which is where his curiosity was piqued in terms of how to improve what was available to coat these types of roofs.
Wood Deck

Armstrong’s Wood Stain is great for use on a variety of surfaces, including wooden docks.

“It didn’t make sense why I was putting a dry coat on dry wood. The shake roofs would turn gray and cup. I knew the products needed non-drying oils in them,” he explained.

With this knowledge in mind, Clark was buying products from Jim Armstrong, who was selling roof coatings. Clark said he eventually partnered with Armstrong and developed his own formula while marketing it under the established Armstrong’s name. Clark bought out Armstrong eight years ago and has been servicing the stain needs of the West Coast ever since.

“We’re a regional company but we’re trying to get the message out. There is no other product available that does what Armstrong’s does. Once a dealer tries it, there is no going back. In fact, I’m so confident in the product, that I will send a free, four-ounce sample can to any dealer requesting one,” Clark boldly announced.

One dealer who doesn’t need any convincing is Don Bush, the store manager of the Kelly-Moore Paints store in Tualatin, Ore. Bush, who has been in the paint business for more than 35 years, said he has carried the product for the last seven years and never has received a complaint about it.

“The thing that I like about it over any other product is that it rewets itself. You can come back the next year and apply the product right over the previous year’s job. There is no stripping involved,” Bush said. “It’s a huge deal to have a product that provides a uniform finish without having to strip off the previous coat. It holds up as well as anything I’ve seen.”

Clark added that the products hold up even when users break the typical “rules” of using a stain. “Rule Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are to never paint or stain in the sun because the solvent will water and it evaporates too quickly. Well, you can do that with our product. Even if it’s 100 degrees outside, you can apply Armstrong’s to a deck with no problem. It’s not going to dry out because of those non-drying oils.”

The pictured redwood tone is one of the most popular sellers through Armstrong-Clark.

Product Offerings
Within its wood stain line, Armstrong’s offers its popular cedar tone and redwood tone, which are both halfway between a clear and a semitransparent. “A clear turns gray so we made it halfway between the two,” Clark said. “We are enhancing the grain yet adding pigment to reflect the ultraviolet light. This helps hold the color for a long time and enhances the fundamental beauty of the natural wood.”

Armstrong-Clark offers four colors in its semi-transparent line as well, which covers 95 percent of the colors people want, according to Clark. “The problem with offering bases to tint is that they are using universal pigments for tinting. When you have a base to tint, that base is all white, then color is shot into it. There is no way to get rid of all the white from the base.

“In contrast, we use transparent-oxide pigments. This way, you don’t have mistints and consequently ‘dumpstock.’ We hear from dealers all the time who complain about having to sell mistints at a fraction of the cost or, even worse, paying to have them disposed of properly. With Armstrong’s, there are no expensive mistints.”

Another thing you’re not going to get from Armstrong-Clark is a flashy can. Clark said the money and resources go into what’s inside the can, not the outside label. Sure, he has heard from a few dealers that the can needs to be spruced up or redesigned but Clark said customers recognize the Armstrong’s brand.

“We do not sell flash. We sell products through dealers and to customers who know a good product. We have a serious product in a simple can and we like it that way,” Clark added.

That product, however, does come at a slightly higher price than some of the national brands. Bush does not see that as a problem for customers.

The pictured redwood tone is one of the most popular sellers through Armstrong-Clark.

“When you consider the procedure behind what it takes to redo a deck with the others, then it’s easy to figure out that Armstrong’s is cheaper in the long run,” Bush explained. “You are eliminating the stripper completely, which eliminates a step in your procedure. So, it’s a lot easier to use for a second time. All you need to do is pressure wash the deck and add a coat. The product leaves oil in the wood and when you add another coat down the road, then that second coat is putting even more oil into the wood.”

Bush knows how well the product works because he uses it on his own deck at home. Bush’s deck features a difficult area to stain. That area is a two-foot wide strip that sits below an overhang of his roof. This area doesn’t receive any direct sunlight, which has caused his deck to have a two-tone look in the past.

“I kept thinking, how am I going to make this area look uniform with the rest of the deck. With Armstrong’s, all I needed to do was pressure wash the deck and restain it. The look is uniform and I didn’t need to strip off the previous coat,” Bush explained.

Regional Going National?
With such a great product offering, Clark is working toward taking the Armstrong’s brand national. But Clark wants to go national with independent dealers, not the giant boxes. Right now, Armstrong-Clark is establishing a distribution site in Michigan, so that dealers in the

Midwest and on the East Coast receive their orders quickly.

“We’re an independent company so I like the fact that we are selling to independent dealers. It’s a different attitude among independents. Independent dealers are part of the community and they take care of their customers, just like we do. We have had a great relationship with independents and don’t plan on changing that. In fact, I personally call all of our sales leads and talk directly to stores. I am convinced once a dealer brushes out our product on a board, they will carry it in their store,” Clark concluded.

PWNA Vendor Profile

by Allison Hester

Jake Clark worked seven years as a coatings contractor, helping teach guys around the country how to clean and preserve wood shake roofs. And for seven years he walked along wooden shake roofs, scratching his head, trying to figure out a better process.

Clark came from a paint and coatings background, a career that goes back five generations in his family, with ties to the Civil War era. In the painting industry, which was where he had worked since 1974, the available products were dry sealers that were applied to dry wood.

It didn't make sense.

"Wood deteriorates because it dries out, cracks and curls," he explained. "It seemed like common sense. If you're hands are dry and chapped, you put a non-drying conditioner on it. Not a drying coat. The same holds true with wood." Clark was getting his roof coating materials from Jim Armstrong, and was actually buying about 95 percent of Armstrong's production. This, and the desire to return to his coatings manufacturing background, led him to join with his supplier and create the Armstrong Clark company in 1989. "I used what I had learned from both manufacturing and contracting experience to create a sealer that would actually give wood the treatment it needed."

The result was a different kind of product – one that incorporated non-drying oils that separated from the dry parts of the formula (e.g., linseed oil, fungicide, water repellents and pigments). This allowed the non-drying components to seep into the wood while the dry components sealed the wood at the surface, locking out water.

Entering a New Industry

For several years, Armstrong-Clark sold most of their products to paint stores, and mostly on the West Coast.

Then Alan Broom, a wood restoration contractor in Birmingham, Alabama, happened upon the Armstrong Clark website. Broom bought some product, tried it, liked it, then wrote about the stain on some of the industry bulletin boards. He found that essentially no one had heard of Armstrong Clark, and they were leery of what they felt might be another "fly by night" company – even though in truth, the manufacturer has been around for 24 years.

"To be honest, I'd never heard of the pressure washing/wood restoration industry before either," Clark added. "Oh, I knew there were a handful of contractors that did this kind of work, but I had no idea how large the market really was." So, Clark set up a program to help interested contractors eliminate their risk by sending out free four-ounce sample cans of each product in each color. "We let them brush those out, pick the one color they liked the best, then sent them a free five-gallon pail," he explained.

The program was extremely successful. "It seemed like a common sense offer to me, but it had bigger dividends than I ever imagined," Clark added. In fact, today about 30 percent of Armstrong-Clark's business comes from the pressure washing industry.

Since that time, Armstrong Clark has become a leader in wood sealers for the pressure washing/wood restoration industry, and Clark has made many great friendships along the way. "I really like this industry," he adds. "It's a great bunch of hard-working people who are dedicated to their craft."

A large contractor, Steve James, asked to open a physical and cyber store called the Stain Shop. Other distributors, such as ACR Products, The Sealer Store, and PowerWash.com, have also come on board.

Having distributors greatly helped Armstrong Clark get their products into the contractors' hands faster. "Not having to ship from California has helped out a lot, and it's been a wonderful experience getting to know the wood restoration guys."

However, perhaps his favorite way of getting to know the "wood restoration guys" has been through his involvement with the Power Washers of North America (PWNA) where he has been a member and sponsor since 2008. "It's been very exciting to meet these guys and become great friends with them at the PWNA conventions," he said. "It's exciting to see them take the wood certification classes. I love getting to talk with people who know about wood restoration. That's why I'm a major sponsor for the PWNA, other national organizations and round tables."

In 2010, Armstrong was given the Robert Hinderliter Award for Excellence by the PWNA.

Continued Growth

While Armstrong Clark has some new products in development, the company's biggest change for 2013 will be moving to a new, much larger facility. Clark assures his customers there will be no interruption of service during the moving process, but adds that he's holding off on some new product campaigns until he can give them his full attention.

"We really enjoy our affiliation with the PWNA," Clark concludes, "and we know we never would have gotten as far as we have – to a place where we need a new, larger facility – if it wasn't for their support."

To learn more about the Armstrong Clark Company, visit their website at www.ArmClark.com.

Species and age of the wood will determine final color. Always try a test sample first