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PPG buys independent paint distributor Masterwork

| Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 9:51 a.m.
Michael Samakow, co-owner of Masterwork Paint Company in East Liberty, sits near buckets of paint in his storeroom on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Michael and Thomas Samakow are selling their third-generation company to PPG Industries.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Michael Samakow, co-owner of Masterwork Paint Company in East Liberty, sits near buckets of paint in his storeroom on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Michael and Thomas Samakow are selling their third-generation company to PPG Industries.

Two brothers who run an East Liberty paint distributor started by their grandfather 75 years ago are turning to PPG Industries Inc. for the company's future.

Michael Samakow, 58, and his brother Thomas, 54, have agreed to sell Masterwork Paint Co., a 13-store chain, to the world's largest paint manufacturer for an undisclosed price.

“We've been a PPG distributor for 30 years, and we thought it would be good for PPG to have some PPG-owned stores in their hometown,” Michael Samakow said.

Downtown-based PPG announced the deal on Tuesday to add Masterwork Paint to its expanding network of company-owned stores. The deal is expected to be completed in the third quarter.

“They made us a fair offer, and we gave them a business that's at the top of its game. It's the best scenario for both,” said Michael Samakow. “We had no succession plan. We knew key people, and an inquiry led to an amicable agreement. We've had some great years in business, and we felt the timing was right. They've done what we asked them to do — it's a win for everybody.”

Masterwork Paint is an independent distributor started in 1939 by John J. Gruene, an immigrant from Europe, who had a vision for a full-service business that would offer professionals and homeowners in the region paints and supplies. It is the latest addition to PPG's architectural coatings unit, which serves the home and business markets.

Masterwork has nine stores in Pittsburgh, one each in Erie and Youngstown and two in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with 80 employees, most of whom are expected to join PPG. The Samakow brothers plan to work as consultants to PPG.

Samakow said his grandfather had been a successful paint manufacturer in Germany. When he arrived in the United States in 1939 with a wife and 13-year-old daughter, he started Masterwork in a tiny store. The store was named after the paint business in Germany.

His grandfather sold paint on consignment from the O'Brien Paint Co. and “built a business from nothing,” Samakow said. He delivered paint to customers by using street cars “with a work ethic you'll never see,” said his grandson.

Gruene's daughter Marion married Malcolm Samakow of Bethesda, Md., who earned an electrical engineering degree from Carnegie Tech. Marion received a fine arts degree from Pitt. After their first son was born, they moved to Maryland.

“My grandfather said he didn't move to the United States and rebuild his company to have his only daughter and grandchild move away,” Samakow said. Gruene made his son-in-law an offer: “If he was willing to try the paint business for one year, he would make him a full partner. My father felt foolish not to take the offer and moved back. He stayed in the business forever.”

For 50 years, Masterwork's headquarters, a store and warehouse were located where a Target store was built in 2008 on Penn Avenue. “Target wanted the location and made us a lucrative offer,” Samakow said. “That was as painful as this is.”

A store and Masterwork's headquarters moved to 5739 Center Ave., not too far from the family's homes in Squirrel Hill. “We all lived within an eighth of a mile from each other, and always have,” Samakow said.

“The business will be gone, and the business will change, but for this moment in time it was good to talk about the people who made it happen,” he said.

In April, PPG announced a strategy to improve the position of its architectural paint unit. Targeting the professional segment, PPG is renaming 600 company-owned stores under the PPG Paints brand, expanding products through independent dealers and for commercial painters at 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 DIY and professional customers,” said Scott Sinetar, vice president, architectural coatings, North America.

PPG sells brand names such as Glidden, Liquid Nails, Manor Hall, Olympic and PPG Pittsburgh Paints at more than 900 company-owned stores, more than 5,000 independent dealer locations and major home improvement centers.

Analysts say PPG is trying to better compete with companies such as Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Co., which has 4,100 company-owned dealers and uses independent dealers. PPG's architectural unit has about $2 billion in sales compared with about $8 billion at Sherwin-Williams.

Last year, PPG acquired AkzoNobel NV's North American architectural coatings unit for $1.05 billion, a deal that moved PPG into the No. 1 spot in paint worldwide.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or

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