With Leonard Valve Co. marking its 100th anniversary this year, Plumbing & Mechanical recently interviewed President E. Niles Wilcox at the company’s headquarters in Cranston, R.I. He and his brother, Greg Wilcox, went to work at the family-owned company in the 1970s. Niles Wilcox was named president four years ago when Greg retired from the position and became chairman of the board.
 

PM: What attributes have brought Leonard Valve to the point where you’re celebrating your 100th anniversary this year?

NW: First, it’s focus. We’re a niche manufacturer that can focus on water temperature control exclusively, which we have done successfully thanks to the commitment of our employees. Leonard Valve started in the early 20th century when employees felt like they were part of a family. The people here today have earlier values and still love the work they do. We have dedicated people committed to making a superior product and you can’t teach that.
We’ve also continued to evolve over the last 100 years with the changes in technology, codes and standards, which have become more important. We’ve worked with the standards from ASSE and other groups because we want to do the right thing for our industry.

PM: What do you see as Leonard Valve’s greatest accomplishment or most distinguishing feature? 

NW: Our greatest accomplishment is being successful as an independent family operation. We’ve had opportunities to be acquired, but being independent keeps us focused on what we need to do. We have an extensive array of water temperature control products and we stick to our knitting.
Our dedicated engineering staff helps to differentiate us. We focus on engineering the highest-quality products. We listen to what we hear on the street about what our customers need, and we translate it here in the products we manufacture.

PM: What can plumbing contractors expect to see from Leonard Valve in 2013?

NW: More of the same — dependable service and products. We do have new products coming along. We displayed some of these new products at the ASPE exhibition in October in Charlotte, N.C.
We’ll also continue our transition to lead-free products by using stainless steel and lead-free bronze alloys in our products. As the market interprets lead-free laws, we’ll see other changes being made to those products. Codes are dictating more changes in the market and that is changing our approach to some of our products. We will do what we need to do so that our offering of products meets the codes and the needs of our customers well before January 2014.

PM: What is Leonard Valve’s position on lead-free products?

NW: We will be fully in compliance with the federal lead-free law prior to January 2014. Right now, 80% or more of our products are in our ECO-MIX line of lead-free products, including our ASSE 1017 and 1070 mixing valves.

PM: Is scald protection as important an issue today as it was a few years ago?

NW: It’s highly important and probably more important than it’s ever been. What has changed is that technology is so improved now that scald protection is almost taken for granted in the industry. But the potential litigation includes not only cases related to scalding and thermal shock protection but also slips and falls related to blasts of cold water coming from the showerhead. Our ultimate goal is to protect the end user from injury.

PM: Where do you see opportunities for plumbing contractors in today’s economy?

NW: Great opportunities can be found in educating our contractors, engineers, building inspectors and others in the industry. With more attention on codes, we need to make sure their educational needs are being fulfilled.
Manufacturers can provide resources for education on codes and standards, both on their own and through their reps. We conduct educational seminars for our representatives here and we also take the time to educate our staff.
Education needs to be done on regional, state and local codes as well because these codes make it very challenging for contractors, engineers and others.

PM: In what new ways are you connecting with plumbing contactors?

NW: We redesigned our website earlier this year. It’s more interactive and easier to search. We added Revit software for engineers and contractors who are designing with BIM. The software for our mixing valve sizing program is easier to manage and easier to output as a PDF file. We’ll also be doing more with training videos on our website in the next 12 months.

PM: Why did Leonard Valve develop its Building Management System Interface?

NW: We have a Manufacturers Representative Council that meets every year and we ask our reps what the market would like to see. They told us that end users want to be able to monitor the temperature of domestic hot water systems in buildings such as hotels, hospitals and prisons. Our BMSI allows end users to do that electronically because it communicates with the facility’s building management system.

PM: If you had one piece of advice to give to plumbing contractors, what would it be?

NW: Conduct business with integrity and honesty. We find the best way to run our business is when relationships are straightforward, especially in adverse situations. We’re all in the same boat together. We have to do the best we can collectively.
 

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