Plumbing & Mechanical recently interviewed Bill Gray, who was named president of Uponor North America in February. He had been vice president for Uponor sales in the United States and Canada since June 2011. In the previous three years, Gray was general manager for Uponor Ltd. in Canada where he oversaw sales, marketing, demand management, and technical and customer service.
PM: What has been your top priority since becoming president of Uponor?
BG: The top priority really has been about refocusing our strategy. Traditionally, we’ve thought of ourselves as a residential company. As it turns out, we’re probably more “resi-mercial,” which is a blend of residential that stretches into the commercial side. The limitations of our internal reporting system say that we can sort our pipe and component sizes and then attribute those sizes to a market. So, we think everything large diameter is commercial. By that logic, everything small diameter would be residential but that’s not really the case.
So, we’re creating a common understanding across the company of where our revenue comes from, where the opportunities are in the different market segments and how we align ourselves with each of those segments to grow our business. That doesn’t change the core strategy of partnering with our customers, doing the training and all sorts of things we know are keys to success in all those segments.
PM: As new residential construction picks up, do you expect to see more plumbing contractors installing fire sprinklers?
BG: The story behind residential fire sprinklers is that market has not developed as any manufacturer could have predicted. The unfortunate timing of the recession with the International Code Council residential fire sprinkler mandate forestalled the rapid expansion of the market.
Once we return to a more normal level of housing starts, the number of homes that eventually will require residential sprinklers will make it impossible for the traditional sprinkler trade to serve that market. That demand will favor plumbing contractors who install fire sprinklers.
PM: Can radiant cooling technology be adapted to residential construction successfully?
BG: The technology and the knowledge exist. It’s really about the will to change from an existing platform. Uponor certainly can train contractors in how to employ the technology; it’s really not that complicated. It becomes a controls issue. The key is to create systems that are simple enough and don’t have the inherent complexities that can cause the problems that a misapplied cooling system can bring. There are limitations to what you can accomplish with radiant cooling given some of the high-humidity areas.
PM: Do you see the same level of interest in green energy systems, such as solar thermal and geothermal, as you did before the recession?
BG: The short answer is yes. The difference, and it’s subtle, is that the interest has shifted in terms of what the expected payback on any of the higher efficiency systems will be. You have to be able to sell higher efficiency payback and green, but consumers will be more interested in the return on investment. If they buy a 96%-efficient furnace vs. a 91%-efficient furnace, how quickly will they see those savings? Green is the altruistic position. Energy efficiency is really what’s going to sell.
PM: Where do you see opportunities for contractors in today’s nonresidential construction market?
BG: If you’re going to exploit opportunities in a market, you want to be first to market with leading-edge technologies and new ways of accomplishing the same result. Contractors could look at plumbing, for example, and then find alternate materials. Contractors on the forefront who have done their research can bring those solutions to building owners as cost and labor savings. Long-time nonresidential contractors and contractors moving over from the residential side have to be aware of new technologies and challenge the status quo.
If you can go to a build-and-own developer with a 25-year warranty on a plumbing system that doesn’t come with the incumbent copper system, you have a value proposition that might interest that owner.