On October 26th, 2022, Guild of Scenic Artists Vice Chair and Resource Director Bridgette Dennett held a Q&A webinar with Henry Cowen, a representative from the premiere company in Scenic paint, Rosco. The goal was to get an update straight from a company representative about production delays, price increases, recipe changes, and the future of many Scenic Artists’ mainstay products.
Below is the transcript from that Webinar.
Henry Cowen: My name is Henry Cowen, and I’ve worked for Rosco for something crazy, like 27 years. I started in Rosco’s Round Rock, TX office making gobos a million years ago. Then, for about the last 10 and a half to 12 years, I’ve been in outside sales traveling the country – doing workshops, teaching folks about lighting and Scenic Art, and all the fun things that Rosco has to offer. So, there’s a chance that I was in one of your schools or Studios at one point.
At this stage, I am the National Sales Manager for Rosco’s Live Entertainment division. The product group we call core products is part of that division and our scenic paint is a big part of the core products group – and certainly a huge part of the live entertainment business. And now, I represent that group as we rebuild post-COVID.
Bridgette Dennett: To introduce you guys to how tonight’s webinar came around… we (the Guild of Scenic Artists) are sponsored by Rosco, and as part of our sponsorship agreement, we usually highlight one of their products via the Scenic Route articles and/or Webinars. The time came around that we were supposed to start pitching a new project and I sent an email to Joel Svendsen (Rosco’s Marketing Director) saying, “I don’t know how to pitch paint that you don’t… have. Can we talk about that? Because that’s the big elephant in the room.” So, that is where tonight’s topic came from.
The big thing that we wanted to do was make sure that you guys were able to ask the questions that you have because I know that I’ve heard a flurry of chatter happening over the last couple of years. So, the idea is to get some insights on what’s been happening with Rosco and their plan for the future, which they’re going to share with us tonight so that we know what the future is going to look like.
So, without further ado, we’ll address the elephant in the room. The first question we have is “What happened to the paint?”
Henry: Ha, that’s the million-dollar question. Well, A LOT happened to the paint… the pandemic was certainly a part of it, and part of my ultimate answer, but the big problem with paint was in February of 2021 when Texas (which, I’m here in Austin, Texas) had their “big freeze.” That freeze was throughout Texas, and primarily down on the Gulf Coast where there’s lots of chemical refinery work going on. Many of us now know and understand that that is where a lot of the chemistry that goes into paints – whether it be scenic paint or household paint – and adhesives was destroyed. So, you’re talking millions of gallons of stockpile. To make matters worse, the equipment required to replenish that stockpile was also damaged. Since then, we’ve been digging out of the hole caused by that crisis.
We also learned our place in the hierarchy of things. Home Depot and Lowe’s get their paint way before Rosco is ever going to because, you know, household paint is millions and millions and millions of gallons a year and we don’t rank up there with them. So, it became a priority list thing, where Rosco was down the list compared to a lot of other manufacturers. When it came time for us to try to rebuild our own business, we simply weren’t allotted the resin. It all starts with the resin. And then, the irony was, once we started getting resins, that’s when the effects of the pandemic started to rear its head in the forms of pigment allocations and other materials that we suddenly weren’t able to get. This included certain pigments because the locations that they came from were either shut down or no longer existed altogether. And so it became a kind of a domino effect. The good news is, that’s changing – it’s changed since you and I first talked a month ago, Bridgette! Right now, it’s a lot better news than it was even just 30 days ago.
Bridgette: You mentioned that there are plans for the future, and I just want to confirm before we go there: is Rosco planning on staying in the paint business?
Henry: Absolutely! You know, it’s an essential part of our business and we have every intention of continuing that. Quite frankly, there are a lot of exciting things in terms of development that are getting going. Our lack of ability to get paint for the last year has sort of hastened some development on some other ideas. There are definitely exciting things to come in the future, but I’m not at liberty to get into that now. I wish I could share some of the ideas because it’s exciting. More importantly, we are definitely in the paint business. Off-Broadway, Supersats, and Iddings are all alive and well – and, as raw materials become available, they are on the slate to fill production orders and we have no plans of going anywhere.
Bridgette: When we talked last, there was a list of 13 colors that were going to be the production focus – is this still the plan?
Henry: Even just 30 days ago when you and I first spoke, we had sort of a plan of a list of 13 Off-Broadway colors… and the idea there was is if we could at least get these 13 colors on the shelf then we would have paint for you to paint with this season, right? The goal was to choose colors that you could derive other colors from, but that has changed even just in the last two weeks. Operations kind of stepped in and said, “you know we have other paint coming,” and so we should start seeing select Supersats coming in before the end of October.
Part of the challenge with making paint is that you have to have all the components before we can actually issue what’s called a production order for it – if the raw materials aren’t there then we can’t put a production order into place. But there are production orders for a handful of Supersats already in motion (which was news to me just this last week) but currently Off-Broadway is the focus.
We’re trying desperately to get paint on the shelf; some has arrived and some has moved back out into the dealer network, so some of you may have already experienced your local Rosco dealer calling you and saying “hey, I have paint!” At least, I hope that that’s the case.
Bridgette: I just want to say a funny follow-up on the 13 colors is that I just saw that someone posted in the chat (during the live webinar) asking if Van Dyke is on the list of colors to return soon. The funny thing is when I had this conversation with Henry and Joel to begin, with they mentioned the 13 colors they wouldn’t initially tell me what the full list was. I asked if Van Dyke was on there since that’s the one that I’ve been missing because I do a thousand wood grains. They were like “no, it’s not” and I had very strong feelings about that! So, Henry started off our little meeting to touch base before this Q&A with the statement “just so you know Van Dyke is coming back.”
Henry: I saw something pop up in the chat there that said, “will you rattle off the 13?” So I will, but again, part of why we took it out of the recent memo is that they are still in the priority ranking out of the 27 Off-Broadway colors, BUT other colors are being built and, at this stage, the whole line is opened back up. Again, it’s about what raw material we have and really that’s starting to come down to pigment; what pigment do we have that we can build this week?
So, somebody asked for the 13 colors so I’ll rattle them off really quick:
Black and White, both umbers (Burnt and Raw), Burnt Sienna, Phthalo Blue, Deep Red, Flaming Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Fire Red, Golden Yellow, Payne’s Gray, and Magenta.
So that was the original list that was in the planning. You know, we had some challenges because we made up this list thinking “okay, this is brilliant, we’re gonna have these colors and people can work from these and at least sort of save the season, right?” And then some of these we were unable to build – and this is months in the making – so as of a week and a half ago, operations said that we shouldn’t limit the list because there are other colors coming in.
Bridgette: I feel very validated that somebody else had that question as well!
Henry: Well, one of the questions that you had posed was: where did you come up with these 13?
Just so you know it wasn’t just me! I did not come up with these 13 colors, but there was a committee where we asked a handful of folks. Ultimately it was about intermixability. It was about what you can do the most with if you only have this assortment of base colors. But it doesn’t really matter at this stage, because everything’s back on the table.
I was told on Friday that there are 350 gallons of Van Dyke on what’s called a production order right now, so all of the raw materials are there; all the resins, etc. We’ve just got to get it all in the vat and mix and import again.
That’s a really good sign, because there’s a definitive timeline that this will be made in the next week to two weeks. So, we will have them coming into the building soon. I was excited about that because you’re like the fifth person who’s asked me about that color!
A kind of follow-up question I had – I get this question a lot – is “what’s the current status of Tough Prime and Clear Acrylic Flat? Tough Prime currently is in a pigment issue, but we recently got relief on that and, in fact, there are 650 gallons of Tough Prime on production order that should find its way to us before the end of October. I’ve been telling people all along to just order it with no expectation of when it’s going to show up. That way you’re in line when it arrives. And it’ll show up as soon as it‘s available. We’re close to being out of that hole, but that’s been the biggest hurdle.
The hard part of these past couple of years is that we could never buy our way out of this. It is, I think, the most painful thing for me. We have a list, we know what everybody wants, there’s tons of material on backorder, we just were not able to get the materials. You know, it’s the kind of thing when you have something like 10,000 gallons on open orders and you’re being told you can only have 1,000 gallons of paint. Then we make a decision, and they say, “Oh, we can’t make that color” due to various factors such as resin and pigment availability.
Bridgette: How do CrystalGel, FlexBond, FoamCoat, and all these paint-adjacent products fit into this conversation? Are these products having similar orders with getting the products that make them up or is there a difference?
Henry: No and, in fact, on Friday I checked inventory with Stephen (Rosco’s Senior Products Manager, Stephen Spendiff), and FlexCoat, FlexBond, and FoamCoat are all in stock. CrystalGel is behind schedule, but it’s on production order. So, what that means is we should have CrystalGel before the end of October.
Those are not all made at the same place and so they don’t all derive from the same sort of chemical supply chain issues, but they certainly were a problem for a while. CrystalGel is the one that I’ve heard the most about that people have been clamoring for, but it’s also my sort of favorite thing that Rosco makes, right? Like, I’m a CrystalGel fanatic.
Flamex is kind of a complete mix – it is also in stock, per my notes. So, you shouldn’t have issues. If you’re calling your local supplier and they don’t have it, just have them call us and we can drop ship it for you.
Bridgette: You had mentioned “buying your way” out of the supply issues, which is a good transition over to a question I got when we were prepping for this. Are we ever gonna see a reduction in prices to a pre-pandemic level? The specific phrasing that I got from the person who submitted this question cited the example that it’s $85 for a gallon of FlexBond, which is just not affordable in many shop budgets.
Henry: Yes, yes. So, a couple of things are at play here. Rosco sets a price threshold that is based around “What do we need to make on this product to be profitable and stay in business?” Then when the raw materials go through the roof, we have to react to that. So, the question is, in reality, “Will all these raw materials go back down?” I think if they do, I could absolutely see a reduction in price.
I’m nervous to speculate whether that’s really going to happen, but the short answer to the question is that if we see a reduction back to sort of pre-pandemic levels on the cost of raw goods, then absolutely we can adjust the price backwards.
Just so you know, there’s a decent amount of steam internally for that. A lot of things have gone through the roof – like my dance flooring has gone through the roof because it’s a vinyl product and it’s outrageously priced right now. I feel like it prices us out of the market and so it’s an excellent question. I would love to say “absolutely, yes!” but unfortunately, it’s really going to be dictated by what happens with the raw material side of things. My guess is we’re at least another year to a year and a half before things start to realistically subside.
My guess is we’re at least another year to a year and a half before things (prices) start to realistically subside.
Bridgette: I had a question in the deck that was once again reacting to the initial idea that you guys are focusing on 13 colors. One of the questions that came in asked how long can we expect our paint to last until it starts to harden, mildew, or mold? I was specifically asked about the Iddings line because I know that Iddings tends to turn a lot faster than the other products.
Henry: Yeah, I mean contamination is your enemy, right? Unopened cans of paint should be indefinitely good. After about two years, you’re going to see separation, which is pretty sort of standard. In Iddings Deep Colors and Supersats, the separation model is really low because it’s such a dense material. Off-Broadway is the one that tends to lean more towards having separation issues, but again that’s after about 24 months.
The low VOC is kind of an enemy of that – the lower the VOC, it’s likely that removes a lot of the things that sort of keep suspension, so it keeps things from sort of settling out. But separated paint is something that you all are likely familiar with. You know – it’s something that you could certainly recover from, but once you’ve opened it, it’s about whether you’ve contaminated it. I’ve been in a variety of shops where there’s only one person that’s allowed to take paint out of a can because they use clean utensils and things like that and then there are other shops where you know everybody’s just dipping whatever they want into the paint.
At the end of the day, you shouldn’t see mold or drying out on an unopened can. Once you’ve opened it, I think it’s really about how you maintain your shop.
At the end of the day, you shouldn’t see mold or drying out on an unopened can. Once you’ve opened it, I think it’s really about how you maintain your shop.
Bridgette: The next question I have actually transitions really well into one of the questions that was asked in the live chat… This is a long shot, but there’s some industry-wide mourning over the loss of the Sculptural Arts Coating brand, specifically the product Sculpt-or-Coat. Is there a chance that one day, when things are in a better place with Rosco, they may be interested in purchasing the recipe from them and reviving that product?
Henry: Yes is the really, really, really short version of that answer!
The longer answer is that the initial conversation occurred a long time ago. Rosco made an approach soon after the news was announced. The gentleman and his wife are in a pretty tough spot right now and the answer was “not at this time” but my understanding from Stephen (who had the conversation with them) was that it was a very positive conversation, and the gentleman was very gracious and didn’t close the door on the idea. I don’t exactly know whether the offer was just for Sculpt-or-Coat or whether it was to adopt the whole line and continue it, but Sculpt-or-Coat was the primary focus because that’s the one that we’ve been asked about as well.
So the short answer is we tried and he is not, at this time, ready to do that. But the door is open.
Bridgette: Jeffrey had popped up in the chat and asked if Rosco would take over making laundry starch – specifically the ARGO gloss laundry starch. (Aka, the mythical box that we cannot get anymore.)
Henry: So, I love this question. I have to sort of farm it out. Personally, I have no idea but I will pose this question to Stephen Spendiff who is in charge of all of this stuff at this stage.
Bridgette: Before Angelique has a coronary and beats me to saying this in the chat, in May we did have a Scenic Route article that she wrote where she did a side-by-side comparison between gloss laundry starch versus the regular Argo cornstarch that’s right off the shelf in your local supermarket. So, if you want to visit the Guild’s Scenic Route blog, you can find helpful information that relates to that question.
Another question is: when we were talking about Van Dyke earlier and we got really happy it was coming back, Angelique actually mentioned in the chat that there have been issues with Van Dyke in the past. Are they making the original recipes or has there been a changeup in the formulation?
Henry: I saw that comment. You know, I don’t know exactly what was involved in that exact situation, but the pain that we’ve been going through is the raw material supply chain has been kind of disrupted. These pigments come from all over the world and some from places where they’re still shutting down factories as COVID continues to rage through. And so, it’s been a really weird disruption. My guess is that we had some alternatively sourced material pigment sites that may have been affected.
That match that Angelique is recalling in the chat… my understanding is that we’re back in a normal groove at the paint factory – and this has been just literally in the last 10 days. I’ve gotten really encouraging news and some movement after a year of what has felt like radio silence out of the production line, so I guess the answer is to get a can and tell me how it looks!
It kind of hearkens to the same thing as when there was a formula change for black Tough Prime. Well, it wasn’t a formula change it was a VOC reduction from 150 VOC to 50. It was a California VOC issue, and we effectively sort of modified the amount of volatile or organic compounds in the formula and that changed it a little bit. Stephen and I have had a decent conversation about changing it back, and it’s interesting: the word ‘primer’ is apparently put under different regulations and Rosco’s Tough Prime was never developed as a stage deck paint; it was developed as a black primer and a white primer. It just became sort of a favorite floor covering. But there are regulations that scenic paint does not have to follow that primer paints do, and so we’re considering how to sort of potentially rebrand the paint without the word primer in it and get out of some regulations and be able to sort of return to that original formulation. So, there was no real change, it’s just sort of the mix of the binder and reduction of the volatile compounds. Which overall is a good thing.
Audience Member: Thank you for confirming that I’m not crazy!
Henry: No, you’re not crazy. And something else that’s happened is the hardboard industry is also a bit of a shell game, and what people know as Masonite is not right. It’s some oil-based formaldehyde-coated flooring product that doesn’t really take paint very well unless it gets really dried out and hot-mopped, and a lot of prep has to go into it. It’s just not the same world anymore but I confirmed with Stephen that we could go back to the 150 VOC formulation [regarding Tough Prime] and so it is a conversation, and I would love your feedback.
Bridgette: Thanks, Henry! That’s taken us to the end of the questions that we had in the chat, so do we have any final words of advice as things start rolling back out to the dealers?!
Henry: I would encourage you to call now – one of the other challenges that we’ve had internally is releasing backorders. Paint is expensive to ship and so dealers have to ship it all at once, but we’ve been in such weird inventory levels that we’ve been pushing back and saying, “you’ve got to take what we can give you now so we can get it one step further and into the market.” My advice to you is to call them back, and hopefully, we can get some paint released and get it into the market.
If you’ve got specific questions, I’m available at any time. I live in Austin, Texas, so I’m in Central Time. I’m here for you, so hopefully, I’ll see you in person someday soon. I know we have big plans for USITT, and I will be going to USITT.
Audience Member: Will you guys have samples at USITT?
Henry: I can’t make that promise. It’s a pretty labor-intensive process to get them poured down into little one-ounce cans. I did hear a lot of mourning about not having the little Rosco samples, but usually the coating samples are a little easier to get. The paint samples are a bit of a process to make a kit, and when you don’t have all the colors you can’t really make the kit right.
Bridgette: Thank you guys for joining us. Thank you, Henry, for all of the information. And again, you guys should see paint trickling into your dealers fairly soon and if not, feel free to reach out to Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org
Henry: Please do! It’s been moving off the shelf – I know Rosebrand took a couple of thousand gallons like a week and a half ago, so they have paint. Lots of our other Rosco dealers do as well, but I know Rosebrand was a big one recently. So hopefully that helps some of you. Thank you all and have a good night!