This month, Fluidmaster is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a diamond jubilee celebration. To learn more about the company and some of the changes it has witnessed over the past six decades, PM sat down with Fluidmaster President Todd Talbot for an interview.
PM: What trends are you seeing in the toilet market lately?
TT: I think the trend of late that is pretty significant for our entire industry is just the rapid growth that's going on in our business. I think we're enjoying a wonderful time in our business. Business is very strong. It’s an exciting time. I think we're all very cautious about how big it's going to get.
PM: The Trump administration may cut funding for federal programs like EnergyStar and WaterSense — how might that affect your product lineup?
TT: Well, let's remember that unlike EnergyStar, which has had funding from the federal government almost from the get-go, we have not had that with WaterSense. WaterSense has been a voluntary program through EPA, and only in the last few months has Congress actually acted to fund WaterSense. So the element of the funding, and how it's impacted our business, is still unknown because it really hasn't been there.
So I look at it as a lot more of the same. Yes, I would be disappointed. It's hard for me to say sometimes that we couldn't get government funding for WaterSense. But I think WaterSense is slowly but surely making its way to the consumer in a way at least that they understand that there is some degree of a rating system out there that they can rely upon.
PM: How do you involve plumbers in product design and testing?
TT: Through our pro brand, which is our plumber-exclusive brand, we have networks and councils. The Pro Alliance is a group of people who have actually signed up with us within our website to be a part of our alliance. It's a great way for our marketing folks to gain insight.
Additionally, I think we're very good at bringing plumbers right into our facility. We've got hundreds of hours of videotape of them installing our products, installing our new products, learning and understanding. Our company was founded on sharing with the plumber a new idea of the way to fill a toilet, and through the years, that's continued.
At the end of the day, if that plumber's going to accept our product, that's what's going to make or break our success. And I think we bring them in, particularly from a new product development standpoint, on a very regular basis to be able to drive their input into our development process.
PM: How about Operation Rise & Conquer, what's that initiative mean to Fluidmaster?
TT: In addition to an unwavering dedication to innovation, Adolf Schoepe founded the company to ‘be a good citizen in the community.’ This commitment forms a guiding principle for the management team and extends to the company’s policy of providing all employees as much as 24 hours annually ‘on the clock’ for individual community service efforts of their own choosing. The community engagement of our employees is very visible not only in the community, but within our business.
It’s extremely important for us not only to do well in our business but to do well in our community. The Schoepe family has long been a supporter of the community, and over the last five or six years, we've really taken that another step further in terms of the activities that we have. It’s not about the awards, but about engaging our Fluidmaster team in a bigger cause that brings us together, allows us to get to know each other better, share our values, and see how we can extend them to others.
It is contagious. If work is good, life is good, and that’s why we’re all here — to enjoy our lives. It’s a privilege for me to be a part of an organization that cares so much about people and allows me to do things that make their lives better.
PM: How have plumbing contractors changed over the years?
TT: Through some cases changes in codes, standards and legislation, we've all been forced to move in different ways, utilize different materials, cost of materials and force some change. I think the thing that I'm hopeful for, and that I think I'm beginning to see, is that that change and that desire to look at new materials and new products is being less driven by code standards regulations legislation and more by interest in finding better products and better ways to do things. I think in our industry we're still in the infancy stages. We're not the auto industry, we're not the high-tech industry — we're still running slow, but we're starting to see that the acceptance, and really, the rate at which products are getting into the market is improving.
PM: Where do you see opportunities coming up for plumbers who install Fluidmaster products?
TT: Well, we hope what they see is the things we're working on to provide a better-quality product, a better-performing product, a product that's more adaptable to the multitudes of products that they deal with — remember, we're 75% remodel and repair. We're going into virtually every toilet that was ever made, some of them very old and some of them relatively new. And as a team, we've been working diligently to find those elements of high-performance universality, things that can make his or her life more productive out in the field.
I think it's a fascinating time for the plumbing contractor and our space because here you go from toilets that were installed pre-1994, pre-1.6 gallon through 1.28 and now in sub-1 gallon. The performance of those products is so dependent upon the products that are inside that tank, and we provide and are working on providing the variety that they need to deal with a 1993 through 2017 toilet and the differences in between.
The opportunity that we have is again for education is to teach the plumber the different things we can do. And it's hard, okay, but there are unique opportunities where that plumber can truly be and have that level of expertise to their customer by ensuring that whenever that toilet was produced it can be, it can run like the day it came off the factory floor, or even better, with the technologies that we have today.
PM: If you had one piece of business advice or any tips, tricks, or knowledge you'd like to pass along to contractors or techs with ambition, what would it be?
TT: Keep learning and keep driving towards improvement and change. We do it in our factories every day. We wake up and we realize we need to be more competitive and better in what we do and I think everybody in business needs to do that in every aspect of your business — it's not just in our factories, it's in what we do every day.
Let's not do things the way our grandfathers did just because our grandfathers did at that way. Some of the things our grandfathers did are still pretty darn good, but let's be open-minded and learn some things working together.
This article was originally titled “Fluidmaster celebrates diamond jubilee” in the July 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.