Painter sector trends

Young painter in a high-visibility vest painting a set of windows

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the painting and decorating industry

The construction industry as a whole generally enjoyed plentiful demand for its services between the late 1990s and the mid 2000s. There were some problems - skilled labour was hard to find and business insurance costs rocketed for some - but a strong housing market and a growing economy meant there was generally plenty of painting and decorating work to go around. Numerous home makeover shows on television and endless features on interior design in the media provided an extra boost for the industry.

Unfortunately things came a bit unstuck during the late 2000s as the economy nose-dived and the housing market more or less collapsed. Many construction-based businesses were forced to lay off staff and it became a struggle to find enough new work. The economy remained very weak into the early 2010s, but things did begin to improve during 2013 and 2014 was a much better year for many although the industry remained very competitive.

The recovery in the construction industry continued strongly into the first half of 2015 due to wages going up, low interest rates, falling oil prices and people's confidence in their employment. This produced the longest period of sustained growth since the financial crisis, with uninterrupted growth from May 2013 until June 2015. The recovery in the construction industry lost momentum in the third and fourth quarters of 2015, however, and it entered recession in the first half of 2016. Official statistics for the third quarter of the year showed that construction output was at its weakest for four years. This was thought to be largely due to the economic uncertainty following the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU. Despite the overall fall in all work in November 2016, new work increased, with new housing output continuing to grow, driven by:

  • an increase in public housing in the wake of the government's drive to provide 400,000 affordable housing starts by 2020
  • continued growth in private housing due to historically low interest rates and the loosening of private planning restrictions

Growth in the construction industry remained subdued during 2017. Little change is expected for 2018 - the Construction Products Association forecast that the sector would remain flat, at best, during 2018. New private industrial orders have been falling and growth has been dependent on an increase in infrastructure activity and private housebuilding offsetting a sharp fall in the commercial and industrial sectors. This pattern is expected to continue in 2018.

Following the decision in June 2016 to leave the EU, the value of sterling fell sharply, increasing the cost of imported construction materials substantially. As a result, margins, which were already under pressure in 2016, were squeezed further in 2017. Higher costs, weaker demand and the uncertainty resulting from the Brexit negotiations made for tough trading conditions during 2017 and into 2018.

There should always be demand for good skilled trades-people, but in a tough trading climate the need for excellence is paramount for decorating businesses that want to succeed. When looking for new work, remember that:

  • the high price of moving up to a larger property, particularly in areas where prices are high, for example in London, means that extending their homes is popular amongst homeowners - you could keep an eye on local planning applications
  • the increase in buy-to-let landlords has created a spike in renovations - although recent tax changes have made buy-to-let less attractive so there may be a reduction in this work in future

Quality standards

For many years, trades such as painting and decorating have suffered from a poor image thanks to 'cowboys' who rip off unwary clients. Now the industry is trying to improve standards and customers' expectations are higher than ever. New businesses have the opportunity to help improve the image of the industry by taking a professional approach to their work - and by doing so they are likely to improve their own chances of success.

The web makes it easier than ever for would-be customers to find out about a business's reputation and read customer feedback, and a number of review and rating websites have been set up specially for construction industry businesses.

Paint technology

Paint technology is constantly evolving to meet new requirements and to improve performance. Low-odour and low-emission paints, for example, have been developed to meet ever-tougher environmental legislation. There are even paint coatings available that claim to provide some extra insulation for the building using nano-technology.

Environmental and safety concerns have driven many of the developments in paint and materials technology in recent years. These have led to some substances such as dichloromethane paint strippers being restricted, phased out or banned with new products being developed to replace them. Many paint and coatings manufacturers have switched from solvent to water based paints.

There's now a very wide range of specialist paints available for a huge variety of applications, and it's important for professionals to keep up to date with the latest developments.

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date with developments in your industry.

The Painting and Decorating Association (PDA) represents professional painters and decorators in the UK. You can find out more about the services they offer to members and the benefits of membership on their website.

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