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Lifestyle Home & Garden

Sherwin-Williams paint factory in Baltimore covers it all

Finally it's spring. That means baseball, hay fever and the start of painting season.

"May through September are the biggest months for paint sales," says Mark Sposito, vice president of marketing for Sherwin-Williams' Eastern Division. As temperatures rise, so do the number of home painting projects, he notes.

The Sherwin-Williams paint factory on Hollins Ferry Road is operating 24 hours a day, five days a week. Soon the plant will be working around the clock on weekends as well, says plant manager Mike Levitsky.

About 120 employees work at the factory making the paint that covers HGTV dream homes, M&T Bank Stadium, Oriole Park, the Bay Bridge and even the white and yellow lines on Maryland highways. It is one of the largest Sherwin-Williams paint-production plants in the United States, Levitsky says.

Located on nearly 23 acres in Southwest Baltimore, the plant turns out 150,000 gallons of paint a day under the Sherwin-Williams, Duron, HGTV Home, Dutch Boy and Martin-Senour brands.

Satin is the most popular finish for interior paints, but favorite colors vary from region to region, Sposito says. In the East the favorite is Powder Blue; in urban areas, it is Amazing Gray. The Northwest is partial to Melange Green and the Southeast to Watery. In the Midwest, the most popular color is Latte.

Although the recession was hard on the construction industry, the paint business fared better because homeowners still wanted to keep their homes looking nice, Sposito says. "We came out of the housing downturn quite strong," he says.

Two years ago, Sherwin-Williams decided to boost its retail sales by teaming up with HGTV to produce paint for the television network's new home products line. The paint colors are designed to complement each other and an array of other products, such as wallpaper, flooring, furniture, lighting and accessories.

"HGTV is a terrific brand," Sposito says. "Over 90 million households follow it. …They were able to bring a lot of new customers to us."

HGTV launched its home products line in 2011 as a way to extend its brand and increase revenue, says Robyn Ulrich, HGTV's senior vice president for consumer products.

"We're very picky about who we license with," she says. "We are looking for integrity and consumer trust. Some of our contracts are two to three years in the making."

Designers at the partner companies work with HGTV designer Nancy Fire for a coordinated look, Ulrich says. She describes the HGTV look as a balance between classic and modern.

"We're trying to be wide enough to get a great cross of consumers," she says. "As a young brand, we're trying to grow."

HGTV outlined its ideas for the new product line, and Sherwin-Williams designers supplied the colors. "We're the color experts," Sposito says.

The HGTV Home paint line features eight collections with 20 colors each. The collections include Coastal Cool, with blues, beiges and browns of the seashore; Global Spice, which features oranges, plums and golds; and the bolder Color Pizzazz, with bright pinks and blues. In addition to colors that complement each other, the paint is designed to be environmentally friendly.

This year's hot color is emerald green and Ulrich says she sees lots of designers using tone on tone — for example, tan on tan or green on green. The company is encouraging home owners to be bolder in their use of colors, she says.

But at the Baltimore paint factory, the color being poured into gallon cans is white. Tints are made in other facilities and are mixed in the Sherwin-Williams stores.

Paint production on the Hollins Ferry Road site goes back more than 60 years. The factory began work in 1949 as a Baltimore Paint plant and was acquired by Dutch Boy in 1977. Three years later, Sherwin-Williams bought the plant when it acquired Dutch Boy.

The paint production has not been without controversy. In October 2011 the plant reached a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency for improperly storing hazardous waste.

"It was a labeling issue," Levitsky says. "Ever since the finding, we've been in compliance 100 percent."

Dry pigments arrive daily by truck and rail and are held in large storage silos until ready for use. The pigments are mixed with water and ground to a fine powder. The slurry is then combined with latex, anti-foamers , binders and other agents in various amounts dictated by precise formulas sent from corporate headquarters in Cleveland.

"It's like making a cake," Levitsky says.

Most of the work in the plant is automated. Shiny one-gallon cans line up on conveyer belts and march rapidly down the line as machines apply labels, pour in the paint, seal the lids and attach handles before the cans move down the line for boxing and shipping.

The factory can produce 80 cans a minute if all of the equipment is working properly.

From start to finish, the process takes about eight hours. To the untrained eye, all the paint filling the gallon containers looks simply white, but Levitsky notes, "Every paint has a different quality level."

The paint that is used to make the yellow and white stripes on a highway must be much more durable than that which coats a bedroom wall. Even the highway paint varies. Many states have their own formulas, so there is Maryland white, Connecticut white, West Virginia white, etc.

Samples of each batch of paint are analyzed in a laboratory by the plant chemist to make sure they are the proper color and consistency.

The people who work at the plant take what they do seriously, Levitsky says. When they pass by a painting project — whether on a building or a parking lot — they will note what kind of paint it is, Levitsky says.

"Paint making goes beyond the four walls," he says. "We like to see people using our brand. We take a lot of pride in what we do."

Sherwin-Williams by the numbers

8 – HGTV color collections ranging from Coastal Cool to Global Spice.

49 – The year the Baltimore paint plant at Hollins Ferry Road went into production as Baltimore Paint.

80 – Cans churned out each minute at the factory when all equipment is operating properly.

120 – Number of people employed at the Baltimore factory.

150,000 – Gallons of paint produced each day under a variety of brand names.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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