Tom Hablitzel Portrait
President Tom Hablitzel, spoke with ABRN about the company’s anniversary, what has kept it successful and what is tocome in the future of automotive coatings.
April 26, 2016
From its founding in 1866, The Sherwin-Williams Company has strived to focus on seven ideals: integrity, people, service, quality, performance, innovation and growth. Today, not much has changed.
As Sherwin-Williams celebrates its 150th anniversary, it looks to the values of its founding fathers, which have endured through the years as a lynchpin in driving continued company success and strength in an oftentimes unpredictable market and economy. 
The Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes division embraces the company values in its customer interactions, daily business dealings and forward progression. President Tom Hablitzel, an 11-year veteran of the company, spoke with ABRN about the company’s anniversary, what has kept it successful and what is to come in the future of automotive coatings.

ABRN: What has kept the company going strong throughout its 150 years?

Hablitzel: “We still have the same values and strategy. The cover might look a bit different, but the book is still the same. We are 150 years in and the company is only on its ninth CEO, which is a testament to our commitment to employees, promoting from within and a positive and retentive culture.
“We are a very stable organization. We don’t go through erratic change. We really pace ourselves and adjust to the environment around us. We never veer from our values; our strategy is sound and stable, and we stick to it through good times and bad.”
Long before preparation began on how Sherwin-Williams would celebrate our 150th anniversary, the company outlined key performance targets that incorporated the values of its Code of Principles that were drafted by the Walter Cottingham, the second CEO of Sherwin-Williams, and captured the vision for the near future. 

ABRN: As Sherwin-Williams prepared for its 150th anniversary, what did you learn about the company? 

Hablitzel: “We had a chance to reflect on our company history, values and principles and reinforce that they still work today. As we planned for our 150th anniversary celebration, it wasn’t all about looking backward, but also about looking forward. Our best days are yet to come.
“We face challenges as we grow globally, and we want to make sure we have the leadership to continuously reinforce our values. Every year we are facing a more global game and becoming a more global company.  We really follow the edict of Henry Sherwin, who said, ‘What’s worth doing is worth doing well.’ And this focus has allowed our company to take its values and work ethic and be effective in other cultures and countries.”
Now in 115 countries worldwide, Sherwin-Williams has no plans to slow its drive and growth going forward.

ABRN: What can we expect from Sherwin-Williams going forward?

Hablitzel: “We are focused on growth, global expansion and remaining profitable for and beneficial to our shareholders. Our focus is always on the customers. We are constantly working on new products, environmentally responsible capabilities and speedy processes. Everyone is looking for cycle time improvements, and we have been focused on how to help a shop do more with less.
“The company is trying to steer investments and growth in key areas.  We have a particular focus on being more responsible with the environment and speed.”

ABRN: How has Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes embraced the company-wide focus on speed, specifically with the FormulaExpress® 2.0 color matching tool? What are the benefits this has offered to customers?

Hablitzel: “We are helping shops and techs get good color retrieval faster. It has been a great success for us in helping to improve shop process. The whole objective is speed of process, to do the most in the shortest amount of time.”
“Overall, we aim to help our customers with anything that can speed their process. Whether it be by speeding color match time or paint drying time in the paint booth. Recently, there has been an explosion of new color trends from the OE’s. This is an opportunity to help shops match those colors and replicate them with ease and speed. Being able to help shops effectively match and replicate those colors is a great opportunity.

ABRN: How else is SWAF working to help its customers better manage their businesses? 

Hablitzel: “We are focusing on growing our company and our customers. They want to drive efficiency and synergy in their businesses, and they expect paint suppliers to help with that. With our direct distribution model, we provide “hands on” support through Sherwin-Williams employees.  Through our network of 190 branches in North America, we are able to not only provide direct, in-shop support, but also repeatable consistent performance that regional and national multiple shop owners need to standardize their processes.
“As consolidation continues, we embrace the challenges and opportunities that our MSO customers will bring. As they grow in size, they will need to consolidate their back room processes, and they are going to need support and service as well. MSOs are rapidly evolving and strategically important to all of us, but we still focus on individual shops.”

ABRN: What sets SWAF apart from its competitors?

Hablitzel: “The biggest thing that sets us apart is the service piece. We have a consistent offering, branch by branch by branch. Our employees provide knowledge, training, and product support direct to the shop. We offer access to motorsports, and a motorsports relationship has really helped our brand because it is all about relationship building in our business.”

ABRN. And speaking of motorsports, SWAF continued its partnership with NASCAR.

Hablitzel: “This is our third year as the official paint of NASCAR, and it follows years of direct relationships with a number of teams.
“We had relationships with 85-90 percent of NASCAR teams for years to give them appropriate speed and also vehicle protection. It has been nice to parlay that into a greater relationship with the league, and highlight our contributions to NASCAR racing.
“NASCAR is also a great learning tool for our customers. NASCAR teams are concerned about wasted seconds in changing tires and the differences ounces in weight of paint can have on speed. We use it as an opportunity to be an excellent example of extreme lean practices.
“Every week the teams come in and that process from when one race ends to the when the next begins is a lean process in itself.”
NASCAR is a great real-life training opportunity for SWAF customers. But their training options don’t end there.

ABRN: How important is continued education to the success of your customers? 

Hablitzel: “It is extremely important for us to help shops train their employees. You do constantly hear our customers say that one of the constraints to growth is talent acquisition. There is a constant need for training.
“Our EcoLean training courses work to help shops understand lean concepts and also give them practical things to take back to their shop that they can put in play. It is meaningful concepts they can apply in their shops, and concepts that can make a vast difference in their process. We make sure they understand the importance of estimating, eliminating waste and practical solutions. Our EcoLean Workshops provide different opportunities and also the chance to not only teach them lean processes, but also take them to a location where they can see lean practices in motion and burn them into their senses for application in their own businesses.”

ABRN: How do you see the market changing as you continue to move forward?

Hablitzel: “We are always trying to make paintwork easy and make processes easy. The trend is moving toward a less skilled painter and technician, and we are really trying to make it easy for that person to be trained and effective in their respective role.
“Fewer shops are doing a lot more repairs. There is more volume but labor pool is deskilling a bit. The industry is looking for suppliers to make it easy, and to make it trainable; Because of talent situation in our industry today, we aim to make products that are more adaptable.
“Overall, our company knows what it is skilled at. We are in constant study and we focus on our commitment to the customer. These are ideals that we have carried from our founding fathers through to today.”