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The Paint Shoppes

Multiple Locations Bring Additional Success for The Paint Shoppes

What others might call saturated, John McKenna calls success. John and his brother Buddy McKenna are the owners of The Paint Shoppes, a five-store operation in the Providence, Rhode Island, area. The state is home to 1 million residents with Providence’s population just under 200,000 people, but the five store locations have enjoyed big success in a small area.

McKenna opened the East Providence location nearly four decades ago, in a storefront two blocks from the existing location. From there, the company expanded, opening stores in Providence, Johnston, Warwick and West Warwick, Rhode Island. 

While the stores overlap some in their customer bases, McKenna says customers appreciate being able to visit The Paint Shoppes wherever they are in the city. 

“Contractors especially like our multi-store model,” McKenna says. “They know they can get the same pricing and level of service no matter which of our locations they visit.” 

The close proximity of the stores has also improved the company’s inventory management processes, McKenna says. If a customer comes into one of The Paint Shoppes’ stores in the morning needing a product and that store doesn’t carry it, an employee can have it sent over from another store and in the customer’s hands by the afternoon. 

“We have trucks running all day. Having the stores so close makes it easy to move inventory around,” McKenna says. 

The Paint Shoppes works with a mix of retail and professional customers, but a majority of the operation’s audience are residential painters. Rhode Island has seen an influx in new residents thanks to lower home prices compared to the surrounding states, which has driven home sales and brought in additional contractor customers, McKenna says. 

On the other side of that coin, the lack of inventory of homes for sale has also led to an increase in demand for residential painters, who are turning to The Paint Shoppes for paint and supplies, as homeowners opt to improve their existing spaces since they can’t move. 

“We play in the other arenas—commercial, municipalities, retail—but our bread and butter is residential painters,” McKenna says. “As we’ve discovered from the start, those are the customers paint retailers need to be serving in our area.”

Productivity Meets Fun

McKenna’s parents started in the business in 1946, and he has been a part of The Paint Shoppes for over 45 years. His brother-in-law Patrick manages the West Warwick location, and McKenna is also preparing his daughter Erica and nephew Nick to take over in the future.

“I don’t have plans to leave anytime soon, but my daughter, nephew and all of our employees know there is a place for them here,” McKenna says. “There’s a future in this business. And not just here, but with all independents.” 

The average length of time an employee spends with The Paint Shoppes is 18 years, and McKenna attributes the company’s fun atmosphere as a contributing factor to long employee retention. 

“I oversee the whole company, but one of my prime responsibilities is to ensure we have a fun and productive working environment,” McKenna says. “When employees are having fun, that goes back over the counter to a contractor, and we can build those relationships.”

Employees receive above-average compensation, a 4% 401(k) match and and health insurance with minimum co-pays. As part of an independently owned business, employees also have flexibility in their schedules and opportunities for a better life/work balance, McKenna says. 

To foster a fun and productive environment even further, McKenna says they treat employees to occasional lunches and give a year-end holiday bonus. Employees are the company’s most valuable asset, and McKenna says leadership strives to treat each employee with respect and provide a positive work environment. 

“I’ve found a combination of fun and respect is our best formula for retaining employees,” McKenna says. “I can pay you all the money in the world to work for me, but if I don’t treat you right, and you’re not happy with your job, the money doesn’t mean anything.”

Surpassing Expectations 

Along with high-caliber employees, the operation has found success by going the extra mile for customers, offering educational opportunities, delivery, design services and other conveniences. 

The Providence store is located in the historic downtown area and serves a number of customers who are renovating the city’s collection of historic homes. This location is the largest of the five stores and boasts a beautiful design center, which serves as home base for design and color specialist Jessica Saben. A self-taught artist, Saben has years of experience creating beautiful color combinations and works with customers to choose the perfect paint or stain color, wallpaper or window treatments.

As members of ALLPRO, McKenna utilizes the East Providence store’s 2000-square-foot warehouse to stock up on direct buys from manufacturers. He also uses it to showcase different products the stores sell. His staff has applied several different epoxies the store sells on the warehouse floor. 

“We take customers back to the warehouse to show them real-life samples of different epoxies,” McKenna says. “We drive our forklift over the epoxies constantly, which also gives customers a close look at how each type performs.” 

The warehouse has also become a training center, with McKenna bringing in different vendors to put on clinics and seminars for contractors. 

Another way The Paint Shoppes go above and beyond for customers is through its Color Club. Members receive monthly e-newsletters filled with decor inspiration, trends, color news and more. They are privy to upcoming sales, new products and other special offers and discounts on design services and certain products. Plus, their purchase history—including color and stain formulas—is stored online for easy access the next time they need to reorder. 

Growing by Going Digital 

The company has been relying on TV advertising for many years, and while it still is an effective way to reach customers, McKenna says he has also been working on building the company’s digital presence. 

He has allocated more of his advertising budget to email campaigns, social media and digital ads. The operation’s website also recently received a makeover, and McKenna is using analytics from the website and the digital campaigns to fine-tune his new advertising strategy. 

“Television was, and still is, good for branding and getting our name out in the community,” McKenna says. “But the benefit of digital is tracking the analytics.”

So far, the emphasis on digital has produced positive results by driving more people to the company’s website, McKenna says. 

“I believe that’s the future too. So many customers already come into the stores and show you on their phones what they want because they’ve already visited Benjamin Moore’s website, Pinterest or other design websites,” he says. “Embracing online will help us serve those customers even better.”

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

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