Steve Dearborn | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Steve Dearborn


Founded in 1890, Miller Paint Company was family-owned for much of its existence. In 1999, Miller Paint employees purchased outstanding shares of stock by creating an employee shared ownership trust. Since then, the company has grown to include more than 50 stores in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and now employs more than 300 people.

The Mistake:

We’re about to embark on a new product launch. It’s kind of a throwback to a product we launched in 2001, with Devine Color. That was a very successful launch. But looking back, it was a slow burn. And if I knew then what I know now, we would’ve put more behind the brand initially in terms of advertising and social media, although social media wasn’t as large then as it is today.

With Devine, we invested in a lot more print advertising and certainly a lot of word of mouth. We launched through designers and did a couple of events that helped generate an over-the-fence-post discussion.

Devine is created by an individual who lived in Lake Oswego, and everybody knew her. Our reach was much more organic and local. With Devine, it took us about three years to get up to what I’d describe as a mature level, and then it continued selling at that high level for the next several years.

But I’ve often thought, what if we had done more with it, would we have been even more successful from the get-go? Now I am getting that chance.

But with this one, we’re going direct to consumers.

The Lesson:

The launch we’re making with Joanna Gaines is similar to Devine in we have a brand built around a personality, which we’ll be able to leverage faster and more efficiently. But with this one, we’re going direct to consumers, and we are opting for a significant up-front investment. She’s got 8 million followers on her Facebook page, and we’ll be able to tap into that and get the word out easier.

We also are buying spots on HGTV that will run during her show, and we’ll be able to target it directly to Northwest consumers. We’re the first paint store to carry the line in the Northwest. We have started off with limited TV and radio. Shortly after that, we’ll go full-bore with radio, TV, print, PR and social.

Devine was great and hugely successful for us. We expect working with Joanna Gaines will be hugely successful as well. We aim to harness that success sooner rather than later.

Follow Miller Paint on Twitter at: @MillerPaintCo

Pictured: Steve Dearborn. | Photo courtesy of Steve Dearborn

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