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Interview with Ian Stokes – Nouveau Décor

Tell us a bit about the history of your company, how you started, how you’ve grown, how things may have changed and where you see the business going?

A long-time ambition was finally realised when life circumstances allowed me to leave my employment to pursue my aspiration. It was my choice, not a choice dictated by employment events. At that time, in the late 1990s, I would consider myself in a repetitive rut, lacking work stimulation and requiring new challenges.

I felt stale and was not using the skills previously developed. My awareness of the benefits of natural paints was just beginning giving me an enthusiasm to explore these further.

Since starting the company, work has always revolved around private and small commercial jobs with some work coming in through the occasional advert but mainly by word of mouth. Work was constant yet repetitive. Opportunities came, painting the occasional narrowboat, which was interesting but not financially viable. This was around the time when synthetic paints were changing with the emergence of water-based alternatives in readiness for the 2010 VOC regulations which gave more frustration than inspiration. 

I felt I had now reverted back to the point where I began nine years previously, but this time compounded by late and non-paying customers putting me under financial pressure. 

Feeling jaded I finished the business in 2007 and went into teaching painting and decorating. In 2011 wanting a fresh start I resurrected the company but this time with different objectives in mind which was to use natural paints.

Currently, I’m still disillusioned with synthetic paint and there’s nothing out there to change this opinion; I have a positive view and I am determined to make the business work using sustainable paints. It’s been a long haul with many customers unaware that these paints exist, never mind the benefits they have. Consequently, it remains a niche market so continuing to work with synthetic paint has kept the business alive.

However, things are changing at last. Over the last four years the amount of natural paint I have used has increased each year. This past year the company has passed a milestone achieving over 90% natural paint usage. Now with environmental issues being in the spotlight there’s a realisation of a need to change. Hopefully, awareness of the benefits to the building, the indoor environment and the user’s health will be realised.

As the business has evolved my attitude has changed too, after 40 years in the trade I’ve become more selective. Natural paint is now what the company revolves around and the people who know about these paints want them used on their projects. The suitability of natural paints with old period buildings blends the right colours and textures to traditional features and character. My future objective is to keep the business moving in this direction.

What are the core values at the heart of your company, what do you think makes you successful and what do you love most about what you do?

The overriding core value for the business is the use of sustainable paints. It’s the reason I restarted the company, to reduce environmental impact, provide a cleaner personal working atmosphere, improve my client’s health and have a zero-negative effect on the building. Having an interest in period buildings I would like to ensure what I do benefits the building by using sympathetic materials that have natural and renewable ingredients. 

I base my service on treating customers as I would want to be treated myself. I respect client’s values, their privacy and property. I maintain cleanliness of work, keep clients informed of what is required, and how the project is progressing. I aim to meet the customers time scale where possible however, with external influences, changes to work, weather conditions and unforeseen problems this does sometimes change. I ensure good preparation of surfaces and work to a high standard.                                                                                                                      

I would like to think that the outcome for the customer has been a positive experience and that I have delivered on their expectations. Customers receive a professional service backed with experience and product knowledge. 

Do I consider myself to be successful? I always have work coming in so that speaks for itself. What do I love about what I do? To a certain extent I’m in control of what I do, I enjoy the flexibility and not being permanently tied to working in once place.

When deciding on what products to use, what are the things you consider to be most important for you and also what do you think the most important things are for your customer.

After so many years researching natural paints and trialling different brands, I would like to think I know what my requirements are of a product. The product requirements to fulfil the needs of a property can vary. Considerations of the customers’ requirements need to reflect the age and condition of the property. Projects include period properties with gnarled woodwork and undulating plasterwork that display a character along with its own individual history, to the other end of the spectrum with a modern eco-build with sleek lines and strong detail. I look for natural paint finishes to complement these types of building and their characteristics. I look for a quality finish that I would consider more than just acceptable for the property. The product finish must be at least equivalent to the expectations previously achieved using high end synthetic paints to appeal to and retain the customer.

The products I use should possess the following important qualities:

  • Meet requirements needed for initial and intermediate preparation
  • Have a proven durability
  • Have excellent adhesion and opacity
  • Provide consistent viscosity allowing for good workability giving a level finish without flashing or unevenness
  • Have a significant colour range
  • Possess a high level of breathability to allow the free movement of water vapour through the paint film
  • Give off no lingering odour 
  • Wash out of tools/brushes

Good performing paint saves time in application, and if the customer knows that I’m satisfied with its performance and more importantly the result they are usually happy to go forward with that recommendation.

I do not think there is one single factor that influences the customer more than their usual requirements of cost, no lingering paint odours, drying times, sheen level, colour choice and durability.

Sustainability and environmental concerns are changing how we do things in all walks of life, including business. How do you think this has, and will affect your business in the future, and also the requirements of your clients?

Our effect on the environment is an important issue that appears to be dominating the media and concerning more sections of society. Change is coming and the only consequence of this on my business would be to reinforce my core values, making customers aware of the products and benefits I have been pursuing for many years, highlighting what is achievable and the fact that high-quality natural paints do exist, do not cost the earth and are a positive effect on the environment. 

Other factors are also important, not just the paint itself, but also sourcing ingredients, the manufacturing process, packaging and disposal. In my opinion we don’t need toxic polluting chemical containing paint. There are many paint brands on the market attempting to own the ‘environmentally friendly’ badge but I still have reservations about their ingredients. 

A simple uncompromising definition of the phrase “environmentally friendly” would avoid any customer confusion. The customer will continue to expect what they have always known. Good selection of colour, strong whites and the usual paint characteristics. I don’t think that many customers know what ingredients of paint are and why should they need to? They trust they are safe but tend to be distracted by the mask of clever marketing. I think future customer requirements may also require the need for the responsible paint manufacturer to earnestly commit to protecting the environment. The customer interests lie in the final effect, how it looks, but as customers become more environmentally aware their requirements may change.

What are your thoughts of the Graphenstone brand and your experience using their paints?

I first became aware of Graphenstone in Spring 2019. For me, even though they have been around for a while and are worldwide, this was a new product that I needed to gain confidence in.

My initial impression of the finish was good, and it proved to be durable from the start. Since that time, I have used this on several jobs which has resulted in clients being highly satisfied. Using this on my own property has given me the opportunity to make comparisons with other brands. My honest opinion is that it delivers. The fact that they offer the NCS colour system also gives a wide colour choice and requests for specific colour matches have been ideally matched.

I now use Graphclean as my first choice for interior broad finishes where I would have previously turned to a conventional paint in the past.

When a customer asks me to take on a project, they put their trust in my ability and my material choice. As with all the brands I use, my interests are not just the products of that brand, but also the type of follow up support and advice that is given after the initial purchase. The Graphenstone brand is promoting natural and sustainable paints and reducing environmental impact. I view this as a positive step forward in today’s paint market.

What’s your opinion on the importance of eco-friendly, sustainable paints and how important do you think they will be in the future of your business?

Obviously, following my comments above, I will echo the importance of these paints, but I hope the words “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” don’t become meaningless through overuse by paint companies who wish to market paint products that don’t meet the definition.

Honest, sustainable paints using natural ingredients from renewable resources are what I strive to use and will continue to use because that is the heart of my business. As people become more aware and manufacturers respond to this awareness, I really hope we see a positive change away from toxic chemical containing paint that seems to dominate the market.

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