Plumbing & Mechanical recently interviewed T&S Brass President Claude Theisen and Vice President of Marketing Eva-Marie Fox about issues facing the plumbing industry. Founded in 1947 by their father, George Theisen, and uncle, Carl Spatt, T&S Brass manufactures products for the food-service and other commercial plumbing markets. Claude Theisen is a former president of the Plumbing Manufacturers International.
PM: Are you seeing signs of an economic recovery and, if so, in what markets?
CT: T&S Brass is doing extremely well right now. Although 2009 was a tough year, by 2010 we were back to where we were in 2008, which was a great year for us. That trend has continued this year.
EMF: Our business has increased in both our traditional food-service market and commercial plumbing market. We’re seeing it geographically, too, although some markets are slower to pick up than others. At the last couple trade shows we’ve been to, people have been far more optimistic than they had been.
PM: From your viewpoint, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing plumbing contractors today?
EMF: Contractors work diligently to win jobs. When jobs start to fall off and the projects that are still out there get fiercely competitive, it does not appear to be getting any easier for them or for any of us. The marketplace is very demanding. So, it becomes a balancing act for contractors to do what they can do to stay profitable while they meet the demands of their end users.
They also have to deal with some of the same legislative issues we do, which can be particularly challenging for them to keep up with.
PM: How important is it that plumbing contractors establish themselves as green experts for their customers?
CT: It depends on who the contractor is selling to. The institutional market, such as schools and hospitals, is placing a greater emphasis on “green.” In the commercial sector, some of the big retail chains are going green.
EMF: In our business, food-service players and hotel chains have initiated efforts to go green. The plumbing contractor who deals with these types of customers will be well-served by making the investment in understanding LEED, which is driving the parameters of green buildings.
If a plumbing contractor truly wants to be a green contractor for the end user, then he will bring a product to the table that not only conserves water and energy but also contributes to a sustainable building. Cheap products may save money upfront, but they don’t last. If he’s putting in a throwaway product, then he’s not a green contractor. Sustainability must always be taken into account.
PM: Should contractors expect electronics to become a bigger part of plumbing products?
EMF: It’s a growing segment. As it becomes more widely accepted and as technology gets better, electronics are going to be a natural evolution. With so many people concerned about transmitting germs, touch-free products are becoming more popular. Touch-free is more widely accepted with hospitals and schools. The automatic shut-off also helps to conserve water by preventing waste.
CT: From our perspective, we want to provide products that customers want. As electronics get more popular with customers, we’ll provide them with products that meet their needs.
PM: On the legislative front, what are your thoughts on the ability of states to set water flow rates in plumbing products?
CT: It’s a real issue. We used to have the federal law as the law of the land, and now the states can pre-empt that. So, we may wind up with a host of laws that essentially say the same thing but with small differences in different localities. The major purpose of these products is to perform a function. When people get more concerned about restricting water usage than functionality, you can wind up with a product that doesn’t work properly.
PM: If you had only one message to give to plumbing contractors, what would it be?
CT: We both grew up hearing the customer is the reason we are in business. Our employees don’t work for me and they don’t work for Eva. They work for the customer. If we don’t take care of the customer, someone else will.
We make a very high-quality product and we’re very easy to deal with. If there’s a problem, we fix it. And we deliver right away.
EMF: We have a saying that we offer customer service before, during and after the sale.
PM: What is T&S Brass doing to support contractors?
EMF: We do a number of different things. On the sustainability and green building front, for one, we still manufacture the same quality products today that we manufactured 60 years ago. We continue to update our product portfolio with low-flow aerators and various flow-control devices so they perform well over a longer life cycle. After all, it’s of little use to create a product that saves resources but ends up being replaced within just a few years.
Also, many T&S products can contribute to LEED certification in the Water Efficiency category. Cerama cartridges, electronic faucets, metering faucets, flow-control aerators and low-flow spray valves all contribute to the Water Efficiency category.
We also believe in practicing what we preach, so we’ve taken a number of steps to maintain a green plant environment such as employing a more efficient plating system to reduce electricity usage, recycling packaging materials, using longer-lasting pallets, installing low-emission lighting and recycling more than $1.5 million in scrap metal each year. We’ve got a very dedicated manufacturing staff. They not only follow best practices to make sure we have the best manufacturing facility, but they also look at ways to reduce cost. In short, we really believe sustainability must be built into all phases of the product life cycle.
We also work very hard to connect with plumbing contractors through hands-on training conducted at our facility in Traveler’s Rest, S.C., and in the field, as well as through a quarterly e-newsletter to help them keep current on relevant issues.
And, with our advertising agency’s help, we’ve gotten well-entrenched with social media, and we have a lot of followers on the various sites. We’re on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. We monitor those sites on a daily basis and give feedback.
PM: What about state laws that require low-lead plumbing products?
EMF: The lead issue is behind us, as far as T&S Brass is concerned. Our products are lead-free and we make that clear in our presentations. We don’t have two sets of products.
CT: We made the decision to go lead-free in 2008. We saw where the industry was going. With the California AB 1953 going into effect in 2010, our goal in 2009 was to ensure all the components coming into our plant met this standard. Then it was up to our plant to make sure all our products would be AB 1953-compliant by 2010.
PM: Do manufacturers or contractors face other legislative issues?
CT: There will be another one, and then another one. It’s a never-ending process, and the problem is that it doesn’t necessarily make for better products. Companies have to stay on top of these issues or they will be legislated out of business. That’s why groups such as PMI are important to keep track of the changing laws and regulations and to give companies a voice in what is going on.
PM: Why did T&S Brass decide to partner with Haws Corp. on your emergency eyewash equipment?
EMF: We’ve been working with Haws for a couple years. It started in the food-service business with the need for emergency eyewash equipment in the kitchen that wasn’t required before. Like us, Haws is a family-owned business and we enjoy working with them.