Consumers need guidance on green products and plumbing with electronics.

Moen President David Lingafelter. (Photo courtesy of Moen.)

Plumbing & Mechanicalrecently interviewedDavid Lingafelter, president of Moen. Lingafelter, who joined Moen in 1990 and became president in 2007, talked about today’s bath-and-kitchen market and where Moen is headed in 2011.

Moen, which is a unit of Fortune Brands, will spin off from its parent company later this year. The U.S. EPA last October named Moen its 2010 WaterSense Manufacturer Partner of the Year.

PM: What key elements do you see in bath-and-kitchen remodeling projects in 2011?

DL:I don’t see a big change from 2010. The big change came after 2008. Before that time, consumers’ attitude about remodeling was, “Sure, why not? The value of my home has to go up.” Now, the attitude is, “Why? How will it perform? Will it be green?” It’s not that people won’t do it, but the remodeling job has to provide them with something they value. A contractor can educate them about the benefits of a product like a hand-held shower.

PM: Will electronics become a bigger part of plumbing through Moen’s ioDigital and other products?

DL:Absolutely. Moen and other plumbing manufacturers feel consumers are ready for electronics in the bathroom because they engage with so many other digital interfaces everyday. Adding a power source is not a big deal, so there’s no trade conflict among plumbers, electricians, builders and remodelers.

The sale comes down to the “simple” elements of education and trust. Contractors have to educate their customers about the benefits the electronic product provides. Consumers don’t want to be inconvenienced by a product that may appear to be more complicated. Contractors can do this by explaining the product is easy to use, saves water and provides performance.     

PM: What other trends should plumbing contractors look for in the bath-and-kitchen market?

DL:Aging in place and the whole bath safety issue will continue to grow. Our faucet levers are ADA-compliant. Our CSI accessories unit produces decorative grab bars that prove grab bars don’t have to look institutional. In fact, they don’t even have to look like grab bars. We have grab bars that are towel bars and others that incorporate toilet paper holders.

PM: On the legislative front, what are your thoughts on the ability of states to now set water flow rates on plumbing products?

DL:This can create a lot of challenges on high-volume products, and we’re a high-volume manufacturer. If one state decides, “We’re more stringent than the next guy,” it can lead to customization and can get significantly more challenging from a manufacturing and distribution standpoint.

This can cause problems down the line for contractors and wholesalers, too. We’ll see where it goes. We’re going to stay engaged in legislative activity. We’ll naturally stay focused on producing products that meet WaterSense criteria.

PM: How is Moen changing the ways it connects with plumbing contractors?

DL:We’ve always prided ourselves on our relationship with contractors. Our territory managers partner with the trade on the local level. We are as passionate about what’s behind the wall as what’s in front of it. We’re focused on how contractors install our products and what tools they will need. Making the installation of our products simple and intuitive for contractors is something I’m proud of. We don’t want contractors to have to figure it out on their own.

PM: If you had only one message to give to plumbing contractors, what would it be?

DL:Educated consumers still are willing to pay for added value and performance. Some contractors who have gone through the downturn have backed away from being a consultant for their customers. Consultative selling means making sure consumers are aware of the consequences of their decision. Yes, you can sell them the lowest-priced faucet, but there may be a trade-off in overall total performance.

My message to contractors is to be informed. Customers are more demanding, better educated and ask more questions. Help customers in the decision-making process by being a consultant as well as an installer.

PM: Moen’s research suggests that consumers today have a more practical attitude toward green products. How can plumbing contractors benefit from this change?

DL:Consumers are becoming more educated on green, and they’re sensitive to not being “green washed.” They want to know how green will benefit them or their family; they are looking for the value beyond solely the green aspect. Performance and green have to co-exist as we move forward. Plumbers should continue to work on their knowledge in this area, and be better informed to keep up with their customers.

For decades, consumers didn’t have the knowledge they do today because they made a major bathroom or kitchen decision once every 10 years. The contractor was the primary information source and brought new products into the selection process.

Now consumers have places to go to become aware, like the Internet, and they come into the planning stage much better educated. But while they’re more informed, their bathroom or kitchen product selections may not always be appropriate for their performance expectations.

Contractors need to help educate them. Plumbers can talk to their customers about quality, reliability, performance and which companies make green products that work as well behind the wall as they look in front of it. Given the volume of information available, contractors can’t know everything, but they should have the fundamentals down and a solid understanding of the value proposition of those products they are specifically recommending.

PM: Green aside, how is the bath-and-kitchen construction market different today than a year ago?

DL:Our forecast for the 2011 U.S. remodeling market is still relatively flat. The consumer is still very cautious with discretionary spending. This is slightly better than 2010. In 2012, we see the market showing a bit more strength.

The replacement market represents a significant portion of our business. We’re starting to see the bottom of housing values and a new norm has set in on home prices. Homeowners who are staying in place want nice bathrooms and kitchens for themselves. They want to add their own personal touch to their home; something more than just white walls and chrome faucets.

New construction continues to be difficult to forecast, but it’s positive growth now. If consumers continue to feel better about the outlook, we may see more growth as pent-up demand is released.