Consumers at all price points benefit from the innovations of 'New Luxury.'

The catch phrase “New Luxury” we've borrowed for our Bathroom Suite Series from a recent best-selling book, “Trading Up,” doesn't just apply to consumers gravitating onward and upward toward more high-end purchases.

Sure, making a good income helps - when hasn't it? However, the effects of New Luxury innovations have had a “cascading” effect, say the authors, up and down the price point scale.

“The effects of New Luxury goods spread the benefits to people at all income levels,” write Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske. “By popularizing the market … the pressure from the most affluent consumer stimulates and accelerates innovation at the high end, which cascades downward to lower-priced products more rapidly than ever before - making innovation more affordable and available to more people.”

As a result, it takes much less time for a new style, feature, design, technology or material to cascade from the high-end, where innovation naturally occurs first, to middle-market goods.

To appreciate how quickly this takes place now, it helps to see how long something we all take for granted these days took to reach more people in the old days. Power door locks were introduced in the 1956 Packard, an expensive car for its time. But did you know that by 1970 only 6 percent of all U.S. car models came with power door locks as standard features? It wasn't until the late-1990s that you could count on not paying more for power door locks since they came standard on your “basic” car.

The plumbing industry may be a mature market and not prone to reinventing the wheel every year. But if you look closer, there are plenty of items that are both aspirational and accessible. It's easy to see this collapse of the innovation cascade across our business, with a never-ending flow of new styles, new ideas, new features and new materials.

Bathroom Suite

We may want to look first at our series' namesake, the bathroom suite.

“ 'Design' is spreading into the home,” says Ann Roever, senior product manager, bathing products, for Kohler Co. “We're seeing many more savvy consumers who demand design and value.”

The concept of a “bathroom suite” isn't necessarily new, but what is different is the selection.

It's hard to pick up a magazine or turn on the television without seeing some type of home improvement or makeover program. As consumers get more of an eye and feel for design, plumbing manufacturers have responded to the interest with more emphasis on bathroom suites of every type and at every price point.

“Suites take the worry out of decision making,” Nicole Langel, senior market analyst, lavatories, bathroom furniture and tile, Kohler Co. “A consumer can fall in love with the look of a product - say a pedestal lavatory - and know that there are several other products that match that particular piece.”

Most manufacturers' suites, once primarily relegated to a choice of toilet and lavatory - now are deep enough to include baths, whirlpools, showers and doors, and decorative bath accessories.

In addition, plenty of manufacturers offer integrated suites at lower price points, as well as offer more than one design at the same price point.

“As suites expand, our suites have become a concept, not just a fixed thing,” Rover adds. “Many of our suites offer as many as 10 fixture options, plus faucet choices and decorative bath accessories.”

Water Closets, Etc.

Style aside, a toilet has to flush. Manufacturers have made great strides in improving 1.6-gpf toilets since the first generation.

“A 3.5-gallon flush was a relatively inexact science,” says Kathryn Streeby, marketing manager, sanitary products, Kohler Co., “but a 1.6-gallon flush requires a very exact science because you have less than half the amount of water to work with.”

As we write this, we are just days away from attending this year's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show, and we've been inundated with e-mails regarding new innovations in flushing performance from any number of different companies.

There is no one way to flush a toilet these days.

Many manufacturers offer different flushing systems that allow consumers to choose the blend of flushing power, quietness, cleanliness and water conservation that's just right for their homes.

Over the last year or two, one other related item seen more frequently at K/BIS is a toilet seat with a built-in bidet. Plenty of manufacturers make items such as what Takagi calls its “Fresh Seat,” which provides an easy way to enjoy the convenience of a bidet without the expense and hassle of installing a new bathroom fixture.

Depending on the model, the built-in bidet seats offer the following features:

  • Pulsating water massage.

  • Adjustable water pressure.

  • Adjustable temperature settings for water and seat.

  • Remote control.

  • His and her settings.

  • Drying feature (eliminating the need for toilet paper).

  • Quietly closing lid.

  • Self-cleaning, adjustable nozzle.