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Alaskan Paint Manufacturing Company: 20-year paint masters Ron & Pat Fullerton maintain family tradition.

When Ron Fullerton drove his pickup and trailer up the Alaska Highway in 1971, he arrived in Anchorage with a 15-horsepower dissolver used to mix paint ... and a dream. He wanted to start a paint manufacturing company like the one he helped his father run in Wisconsin. Twenty years later, Fullerton's dream is a reality and his Alaskan Paint Manufacturing Co. produces between 50,000 and 70,000 gallons of paint a year.

The company is family owned and operated, a prototype of the elder Fullerton's business. Ron and his wife Pat co-own the company. He operates the production side, and she does the book work. Drake, the couple's only son, works with his father formulating and producing paint. During the off-season, November to March, only one extra person is needed. But when business starts hopping -- during less frigid months -- three or four seasonal workers join the force.

Ron Fullerton had set his sights on Anchorage while doing a stint in the military during the 1950s. It took him nearly 15 years to make it back. When he arrived, he found that Anchorage wasn't the easiest place to open a paint shop. "Nobody bought, because they didn't know how long they would be here," Fullerton recalls.

When the business started, most of the raw materials had to be barged up from Outside. During the course of Alaska Paint's first shipment, Seattle dock workers went on strike, stranding the company's order. "The bank immediately made us another loan so that we could have a duplicate order hauled up by truck," Pat Fullerton says. "Everyone pictures banks as being heartless and taking the family farm from the widow, but that's not the way it is." The firm's lender was First National Bank.

The Fullertons manufactured paint in a rented 3,200-square-foot building. Using the dissolver to mix pigments, resins, solvents and other additives, the hard-working couple produced about 4,000 gallons the first year. Additional manpower consisted of their three children, ages 6, 9 and 12 years. The children poured the paint into cans, snapped on the lids and pasted on the labels. "We (the kids) were easier to train and cheaper to use," says Drake Fullerton. By the time he was 16, the youth also was mixing paint and helping to formulate it.

The harsh Alaskan climate presented a challenge. At a minimum, paint had to be formulated to withstand extremely cold temperatures. "Mixing paint is like baking a cake," Pat Fullerton says. "It depends upon what you want to come out." For example, the ingredients in marine enamel are entirely different from those in interior paints.

The couple decided to produce only one grade of paint -- high quality. Over time, this decision resulted in a widespread reputation for superior products. "I'd rather put my money in paint than in advertising," says Ron Fullerton. "I have people come in and say, 'I've painted my house three times and my neighbor only had to paint his once. I asked him what he used and he told me Alaskan paints.'"

Alaskan Paint Manufacturing grew rapidly, and the company was producing 30,000 gallons of paint annually by 1975. One year later, the Fullertons jointly were chosen Alaska's small-business person of the year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

During the trip to Washington, D.C., to accept the award, they were honored at a dinner given by the National Paint and Coatings Association and later met with President Gerald Ford. They were surprised to learn that Ford also grew up mixing paints. His stepfather owned a paint manufacturing business in Grand Rapids, Mich.

During the mid-1970s, the owners of Alaskan Paint Manufacturing bought their present building on Spar Avenue and expanded their operation to the Interior. In Fairbanks, the company opened Alaskan Paint & Paper, a retail store and decorating center. Today, that business is managed by the couple's oldest daughter, Adine.

In the 20-plus years that Alaskan Paint has been in business, its owners have increased their product base to include a full line of paints packaged for retail and wholesale distribution. In addition to formulating 60 different stock paints, the Fullertons customize paint for special needs. One product the company developed for Alaskan homes is Moose Hide paint, which, according to Ron Fullerton, protects exteriors for five years.

Alaskan Paint Manufacturing is Alaska's first, largest and only paint manufacturing company. The business has clientele located throughout the state and even a few customers Outside. Fullerton estimates that about 70 percent of business revenues are derived from retail sales. The company's best-selling product is marine enamel.

The Fullertons have amassed a tremendous knowledge about painting. For instance, they advise customers to paint their ceilings first. "If you only paint the walls the ceilings really look terrible," Ron Fullerton explains. "Then if you try to paint the ceilings, the paint runs down the walls."

Pat Fullerton has observed that men prefer brighter, darker colors, while women prefer pastels. That gets a lot of men into trouble when they decide to paint the living room while the wife is on vacation, she notes. As a result of these differences in opinion, the Fullertons have witnessed their share of family squabbles when couples dicker over colors.

There are no family fights about the future of the Fullertons' paint manufacturing business. When the reins are handed to Drake Fullerton in six or seven years, the change of hands will mark the family's third generation in the paint business.

Although looking forward to retirement, Ron Fullerton says the business will be difficult to give up. "Kind of like giving away your baby," he laments. But Alaskan Paint Manufacturing is one baby that's grown up and not leaving home. In this case, it will be the parents turn.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Maschmeyer, Gloria
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Words:960
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