Retail education: It’s red, yellow or blue

Home Columns Retail education: It’s red, yellow or blue

by Kelly Kramer

Red, yellow and blue are the three primary colors from which all other colors are derived. So have you ever wondered why, when you’re talking about color with your buyers, you normally see an undertone or hue of red, yellow or blue in everything?

For example most natural, not stained, hardwoods have an undertone of red or yellow to them. Some people seem to see pink in almost every color they see—pink is a lighter tint of the primary color, red—while some people seem to see blue in almost every color. They are seeing a hue of one of the three primary colors.

Most sales clerks I see just step back and rely on their buyer to make a color choice but what you need to understand is the average person knows very little about color. She may know what her favorite color is but may be very poor at working with color schemes. That is where your knowledge will set you above and apart from other salespeople.

The first thing to understand about color is that everyone sees it differently. In fact, many people, mostly men, have some type of color blindness. You won’t normally have to ask them if they are partially colorblind because his wife will tell you early on. But what you need to do early on, if your customer has stated she is looking for a certain color, is to ask her to show you what that color looks like.

You probably have a store full of color swatches, so have her show you which shade of gray she wants, for instance. One of my customers that told me she wanted gray, then pointed to a color that was taupe, which is a brown-gray, but at least I understood how she sees colors. I explained that taupe will either lean to the gray side or the brown/beige side. You can tell a true taupe because when you put it on a true gray it looks brown and when you put it on a tan it looks gray. The same is true with other colors like mauve, a gray-pink.

Learn the term

Let’s go over some other color terminology so you have a base from which to start:

Primary Colors. Red, yellow and blue. These are the bases of all other colors. Again, that is why you see these undertones in almost every color.

Secondary Colors. An equal blend of two primary colors. Red and yellow make orange; red and blue make violet or purple; yellow and blue make green.

Tertiary Colors. A blend of a primary and secondary color or a blend of two secondary colors.

Black and white. Are not considered colors. They cannot be made by mixing other colors. Black and white go with almost any color except black does not contrast well with other dark colors. True gray is a mix of black and white without the mix of a primary or secondary color.

Tint. You add white to a color to lighten it up. Tinting a color lowers the brightness or saturation of a color. The intensity of a color is the brightness or dullness of a color.

Shade. Adding black to a color can darken the shade. It not only darkens it, it dulls the color, so black is rarely used to darken colors. Other richer dark colors are generally used in that mix.

For more education and lingo get on Google and search the key words “color wheel” or “color theory.” Basically, it is all red, yellow and blue but you need to understand much more.

Thanks for reading.

Kelly Kramer, based in Loveland, Colo., is an author, inventor and owner of Kelly’s Carpet Wagon. To book him for public speaking engagements, call 970.622.0077 or e-mail

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