Rachel Lacy aims to completely change the way paint is chosen, as she explains to Andrew Patterson

Rachel Lacy aims to completely change the way paint is chosen, as she explains to Andrew Patterson

By Andrew Patterson

As any DIY enthusiast knows only too well, getting paint tinted can often become an exercise in frustration.

Firstly there’s the tinting process itself where the colour you end up with doesn’t quite match the one you thought you were getting.

Then there’s the situation where you invariably run out and the new batch is a slightly different shade to your original purchase.

Auckland based technology company drikolor wants to make both situations a thing of the past with a disruptive new approach to colouring paint.

Their pre-packaged dry powder based colour will almost certainly make the traditional paint tinting wheel completely obsolete in the future.

Instead, you’ll simply purchase your tin of base paint from your local DIY shop and then order in your colour online stirring them in yourself in much the same way as you do making a cup of instant coffee.

According to drikolor, you’ll get the exact colour that you selected plus any subsequent purchases will be a perfect match.

What also makes the whole purchase process different is the idea of assigning a value to the colour itself.

However, just like clothing itself, not all designs are created equal. Some have a value that is ultimately reflected in their selling price based on the brand.

And paint colourings won’t be any different in the future. If you want a designer colour you’ll end up paying for it.

This in turn will redefine the value proposition for the product purchase itself. By delivering revenue to the designer, volume to the paint company and choice to the consumer all three parties ultimately benefit in a way that hasn’t occurred previously.

The idea

Drikolor founder and CEO Rachel Lacy says the idea for the business came about after previously working in the paint and decorating sector.

“We’ve really focused the business around changing the way colour goes into paint.”

“15 years ago paint companies used what they called coating performance as their principal branding tool whereas today it’s all about colour. Yet the way that colour goes into paint hasn’t changed since the introduction of the tinting wheel into paint shops in the 1960s.”

“What we do is separate the colour from the paint so we attribute a value to it so that it’s something that you buy and simply stir in. We’ve been able to achieve that by changing the form of the colour so that instead of it being a liquid it comes in the form of a dry powder.”

A family connection

Lacy says that she followed her mother into the business.

“My mother started Aalto Colour about 18 years ago which had seven shops in Australia and New Zealand.”

“We realised that what we really liked about the business and what we realised we were good at was producing colour rather than paint so we looked at this idea of separating the two elements.”

“After initially working with Aalto I went to a mass distributor to see if the problems we faced in our small retail shop were the same for a mass distributor and I discovered they were.”

“The problems are completely scalable and the technology is the same whether it’s done in a high end retail boutique paint shop or by a mass distributor; the issues are identical. So by solving those problems at a small scale we can solve them at a large scale.”

The colour dilemma

When we think about colours we forget that someone had to sit down and create the colour in the first place and that gives it a value which is often overlooked in products such as paint.

“What we discovered is that a lot of the current paint brands use synthetic liquid colourants. While there is an infinite array of them the fact is that they’re actually all very similar.”

“One of the things I found about my time at Bunnings was how consumers had real difficulty with the idea of choosing between 4,000 different colour options. If you look at Karen Walker and Resene, she’s produced the palettes for them over the last four years and the most recent range was a total of 45 colours. So you don’t actually need a multitude of colours. Instead, you need a few well-chosen ones that are also well made.”

Colour trends

As anyone in the fashion business knows only too well colours do have a habit of coming and going. What’s contemporary and in vogue one year can just as quickly be seen as very passé a short time later. Paint colours it seems ultimately follow a similar path.

“We went through almost a decade of beige and there is this link with the fashion industry that really effects colour selection. If you look at Farrow & Ball who are an English paint company they have a total of 96 colours in their range. The business is almost 100 years old as are a lot of the colour offerings and yet that business sold in 2006 for 80 million pounds based on their 96 colour options.”

“Therefore, the trend of colour doesn’t interest us so much it’s the quality of the materials to make that colour that we really focus on. We produce colours that you can’t get on a tinting wheel which gives us a distinct point of difference and it’s the ability consumers have to easily access those paint ranges that people want.”

Paint quality and pricing

While it’s one thing to produce great colour offerings, having good quality paint is equally important and drikolor have partnered with German manufacturer Sto.

“They’re a well-respected company with an annual turnover of more than one billion Euro. We partnered with their Australian distributor here because we like the quality of what they produce.”

“15 years ago paint quality was much more of an issue than it tends to be these days. The global nature of the raw material supply chain has resulted in paint quality being fairly similar. What paint companies still don’t fully appreciate is that consumers invariably buy on colour rather than the quality of the paint itself.”

Price is largely determined by the brand according to Lacy. Just like fashion, it all depends on the label.

“We are price competitive but the brand you’re going to be working with also has an impact. For instance in the United States there’s a brand called Donald Kaufman Color. Now a gallon of Pratt & Lambert paint is US$40 a gallon. A gallon of that same product with his colour in it is $US110 a gallon because people will pay a premium.”

“So where we sit and where it’s priced is really up to the designers we work with and where they feel they are positioned in the market.”

Contrary to popular belief it seems you can’t actually patent a colour.

“I know many people think that Yves Kline patented his ultra-marine blue colour. He didn’t. What he did was patent a process.”

“You can’t patent colour because there’s not a universal way of reading it so it’s a bit like love or pain everyone sees it differently. Having said that, I do know that Cadbury has managed to patent its distinctive purple and similarly I understand that BP has patented its green though I don’t know within their respective patents what spectrum that involves. But you do have to be in the marketplace for a long time to be associated with a colour before you could do that.”

The future

In the future, Lacy believes buying paint and buying the colour to go into that paint will inevitably end up being two different purchase decisions.

“I think the idea of selling the colour separately over the internet is certainly disruptive.”

“If you look at one of the most successful business models to come out of the U.S, recently it’s Warby Parker where a group of students from Wharton Business School set up a website selling glasses and eyewear that they manufactured, including prescription glasses. What they discovered was that the most successful sales model is a combination of show rooms with online sales.”

“So for our system we already have the showrooms in the form of the traditional paint shops where it can also be sold as well as having the ability to sell online. We’re really interested in those sales channels both for the paint company, so we can drive sales to the traditional paint shops but also to the designers who can be sure that their colour isn’t going to be copied or it’s not going to be turned into a cheaper paint.”

But all of this is still a work in progress for drikolor though the objective is very simple says Lacy.

“We’re going to be the Apple of the paint world. We’re going to change the way the world colours paint in the same way that Apple changed the way the world listens to music.”

For those frustrated DIYers the launch of drikolor probably can’t come soon enough.



Sector: Deep Tech
Founded: 2012
Status: Start-up
Investors: Angel funded
Staff: 3
Expected launch: Within 12 months
Website: www.drikolor.com


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Andrew one of the complexities here not discussed by Rachel is the variability of white / tint  bases in terms of pastel shades. From brand to brand, stock runs to new stock runs  one of the base components Titanium oxide is sourced  by price and availability...becoming the source of colour variability from batch to batch at production level.
 I'm stuggling to see how any guarantee of total / or even very high consistency can be offered by Drikolor in terms of colour given they are not producing the bases.
 Now from product to product oil, acrylic, acrylic enamels, batch variables occur even when clear bases are used in an attempt to counter such problems.
Even if they partner with a major supplier / manufacturer, there will be no guarantee of batch consistency in the bases , let alone could there be , from oils to acrylics
Dry powder tints are in fact not new, it was the way it was done way way back in the day, the invention of the colour wheel was just to add a conduit to carry the dry powder , then deliver it in prescribed ammounts through pottles geared to deliver the doses.
 In relation to post manufacture tinted products, from production level to shop floor  the chain is vunerable to both human error and machine maintenance failure, but overall no less reliable than what Rachel is offering here.( in my opinion)
I have a couple of interests in smaller manufacturers and know the industry reasonably well, I remember when STH Cross / became Benjamin Moore Paints the sulppliers of Alto at that time...Pru's buisness models appeared to be all about exclusivising and promoting high end market fashion colour, which appears to me to be at odds with the DIY concept Rachel is proposing here. ( in my opinion)
Rachel makes small mention of customers paying for the premium of stirring in the dry powder, but I suspect (in my opinion) that is what the start up is about, promoting the concept of exclusivity rather than introducing an advanced technology to the Industry.
 That said ,I  wish her luck, her mum was very successful at what she did and deservedly so.
The customer decides at day's end.

Like the previous commentor, I have spent most of my corporate life in the coatings industry.
Three problems I foresee
1- The dispersement of the pigment powder in the coating.  Clumping will occur no matter how well the coating is strirred, shaken or power agitated, the chances of the pigment powder not dispersing is much higher then with a liquid pigment colourant  Spent many a time servicing complaints with ochre powder colourant not dispersing in the venerable 10B15 shade.  It is the reason colourants are in liquid form and mechanically tumbled and spun to ensure dispersion.
2- I would be suprised if any coating company would allow a retailer to sell an untinted tinting base.  Reason is that a tinting base is not a finished coating ready for application and as such could not be sold with any type of warranty.  The base is not a coating till the correct volume of colourant is added.  Thus no warranty if self tinting.
3- Each coating company formulates their colour tinting formulations based on the TiO2 type used.  Cheaper grades are brown whilst more expensive are blue shaded.  Each coating manufacturer adjusts their tinting formulations to suit not just the Tio2 type but also to the colour hue of the base resin.  Add to that the variations used between coating companies with the Red, Green, Blue and Yellow bases and the range of colourant formulations needed to be stocked is overwhelming .
The main problem I see is the lack of warranty if self tinting coatings.
But, all the best, it may work out.
Current retail is $18.00 per litre for premium paint and for that price I want a coating "ready to go", not be adding powder and stirring in the what is hopefully an adequate dispersed colourant in the coating.

In response to the comments above.
We have developed an easy dispersible granulated colour that can stirred into paint at point of sale or point of use – manually - a kitchen spatula works very well. We worked with one of New Zealand’s leading Crown Research Institutes to develop the technology. This is a very different proposition from raw, untreated iron oxides which were commonly used to colour paint ‘back in the day’. The introduction of liquid colorants was to make the pigments disperse more readily and more significantly to allow them to be added at POS; that was a long time ago.
Yes, different paint companies have different levels of Ti02 as well as many other formulation variants. There is batch variation, a good manufacturer will keep this variation to a minimum to ensure they can provide their customers with as consistent colour as possible. No point of sale or point of use tinting system can overcome this and it is not the problem we are addressing. There is significant error at POS tinting- both human; very difficult to remember whether you put in 3Y or 4Y when some asks which aisle the vacuum cleaners are in….but also lack of maintenance results in inaccurate dosing. Liquid colorants have a corrosive effect on parts, rarely used colorants drying out, congealing - all cause dosing errors. As the consumer demand for VOC colourants increases these problems get worse as the colorants need regular stirring on the wheel; the older wheels don’t have an auto function to do this. These are common problems faced by the industry globally and many of the papers at these years’ European Coatings show where about finding solutions.
We had Aalto for 18 years’ and spent time with a number of international designers and their paint manufacturers over the years; we found that our customers wanted the colour ranges they saw in international design magazines. We have developed a system that allows the colour to be sold separately from the paint. We partner with a local paint company and we formulate the colours to work exclusively in their paint. We have had very good feedback from two international paint companies-one has tested our pigments in their lab in Europe and a number of international renowned designers. We feel this is an enabling technology that will drive sales to the paint companies, deliver revenue to the designers and choice to the consumer.
I am very happy to discuss further and value any input you have; my email is rachel@drikolor.com
To Christov Thank you for the luck and Prue is very well.