PPG buying Shadyside paint distributor

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With its $1 billion acquisition of AkzoNobel’s architectural paints business last year, PPG Industries expanded its network of company-owned stores to 950 in North America. Yet none of those retailers operated in the Pittsburgh region, where PPG maintains its corporate headquarters.

That will change this year when the coatings giant buys Masterwork, a 13-store independent paint distributor based in Shadyside that has sold PPG products for decades.

“PPG now will have corporate stores in their own backyard. This is an important acquisition for them,” said Michael Samakow, vice president for Masterwork, which his grandfather founded in 1939.

PPG announced Tuesday it plans to close on the deal in the third quarter; financial terms were not disclosed.

About 80 people work for Masterwork at locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, and all have been offered positions by the new owner, said Mr. Samakow.

The acquisition is among PPG’s recent strategic efforts to leverage its name across the wide array of paints it makes for do-it-yourself consumers and contractors, and to seal its brand on its vast network of retail operations.

The Downtown-based coatings company in April said that, by fall, all of the 600-plus outlets it owns in the U.S. would be rebranded as PPG Paints stores. Those currently operate under the names PPG Pittsburgh Paints, PPG Porter Paints and Glidden Professional. PPG picked up Glidden stores and products when it bought Akzo.

Other components of the branding strategy include introducing a new PPG Pittsburgh Paints brand to be sold exclusively by independent dealers beginning later this year; and expanding the Glidden Professional brand in Home Depot stores.

“PPG-owned stores, independent dealers and home centers are the three critical components of our strategy to deliver unmatched distribution to our do-it-yourself and professional customers,” Scott Sinetar, vice president, architectural coatings, North America, said in a statement announcing the plans to buy Masterwork.

The Samakow family, which has owned and operated Masterwork for three generations, approached PPG about selling the business, said Mr. Samakow. “The fourth generation is scattered around the country” and not interested in continuing to run it, he said. “We had an opportunity to get an excellent value for the business, and PPG had the opportunity to have company-owned stores in Western Pennsylvania. It’s a fair deal and good for both of us.”

Mr. Samakow, 58, and his brother Thomas, 54, have managed the business since their father, Malcolm, died in 2002.

Both use the title of vice president “out of deference to our father,” Michael Samakow said. “There’s no president. That was my father, so we kept the spot empty.”

The brothers’ grandfather, John Gruene, opened the business in an East Liberty storefront after leaving Germany with his wife and daughter during the Holocaust. The rest of Gruene’s family perished at the Auschwitz concentration camp, said his grandson.

Gruene used $30 and the proceeds from the sale of a Leica camera he brought from Germany for startup costs, then sold six other Leicas, one every year, to help keep his family afloat, said Mr. Samakow.

Because he couldn’t drive, Gruene loaded paint orders on streetcars in the evening to deliver them to customers.

After his daughter, Marion, married Malcolm Samakow in 1950, the couple moved to Washington, D.C.

But they had lived there only a few years when Gruene convinced his son-in-law, who studied engineering at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, to return to Pittsburgh and take over the paint business.

Under Malcolm Samakow, Masterwork expanded to as many as 18 stores but later consolidated some operations. It currently has nine stores in the Pittsburgh region; one in Erie; one in Youngstown, Ohio; and two in the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., market.

Michael and Thomas Samakow will remain with PPG as consultants for several months after the sale.

“They are getting a very good business,” said Michael Samakow. “We have good bones, so to speak.”

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

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