Randy Waldron, Liberty Pumps vice president of sales and marketing. Photo credit: Liberty Pumps
Plumbing & Mechanical last month interviewed Randy Waldron, vice president of sales and marketing at Liberty Pumps, about issues facing the plumbing industry. Waldron began his career with Liberty Pumps in Bergen, N.Y., in 1982 with a job in the machine shop. Although he took the job as an interim position, he stayed with Liberty Pumps and went on to earn a degree in marketing from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He continued to work his way into several different positions throughout the company. Waldron became the national sales manager in 1990 and in 2008 he was named the vice president of sales and marketing.
PM:What impact has the unusually wet weather made on your business this year?
RW: Wet weather is good for a company that makes sump pumps. Last year was a drought year, so in comparison this year has been very good. However, this probably is closer to a normal year except in the Midwest where it has been exceptionally wet. The other factor that impacts the sump-pump category is snowpack. Many people don’t understand that a good snowpack will turn into water that will find its way into people’s basements. The snowpack has been good this year in the upper Midwest, and that has helped sales almost as much as the rain has.
PM:Have you been able to keep up with demand?
RW: We have not had a problem keeping up this year. As a pump manufacturer, we know when the wet seasons occur and we’re ready for them.
PM: What other opportunities do you see for plumbing contractors this year?
RW: An opportunity I see for contractors — staying on the topic of sump pumps — is selling more of a complete system to homeowners. That would include backup sump-pump systems and high-water alarms. Many contractors may leave something on the table by not selling a complete system to the homeowner.
For example, Liberty offers two types of backup systems: the traditional battery backup system, which we’ve had for quite awhile, and a newer type of system we introduced six or seven years ago called the SumpJet, which is a water-powered backup system. Those are two nice options if the main pump fails or if there is a power outage. These products take over and protect the basement from flooding.
We’d like to see more contractors use the opportunity to up-sell homeowners, especially if they have a finished basement. It’s an opportunity many contractors aren’t using.
PM:What innovations in pump technology excite you the most?
RW: The whole grinder technology in pumps has taken a big leap forward in the industry in general over the past few years. Traditionally, sewage pumps have been solids handling. They pass the waste and the solids through in whole form. Grinders actually do what the word says; they grind and chop everything into a fine slurry.
The reason that grinders are becoming more popular is that more difficult material is entering the sewer system or being flushed down the toilet. Baby wipes and floor cleaning pads can get flushed down the toilet and can easily jam a traditional solids-handling sewage pump. A grinder pump, on the other hand, grinds all that stuff up into a slurry and pumps it through without jamming.
PM: Are you seeing more contractors using building information modeling and, if so, do you expect this trend to continue?
RW: Some of the larger contractors are using BIM. But I think building designers and specifying engineers tend to use the product more. I can see where more contractors eventually will use BIM. Liberty recently added more than 400 BIM models of our products that are now available in the Revit software library and on our website (www.LibertyPumps.com). An engineer or contractor can go into the library and download a Liberty product. It should be very helpful for them.
PM: Why should contractors consider energy efficiency when buying sump, sewage or effluent pumps?
RW: Energy efficiency is important in regards to pumps. Depending on the motor design being used, a sump pump could be up to 40% less efficient to operate. Liberty uses a permanent split capacitor motor on several of its models. These motors provide higher starting torque, which is important, but once the pump is in its run cycle, it draws a lot less energy. So, that 40% less energy usage could add up with heavy pump cycling.
PM: What can contractors expect to see from Liberty Pumps in the second half of 2013?
RW: Staying with grinders, Liberty has just released the ProVore, which is a residential grinder pump. It’s an exciting product because grinders typically have been larger horsepower products that require higher electrical circuits and expensive control panels, which an electrician usually has to install for commercial applications.
The ProVore has a 1-hp motor and it simply can be plugged into a standard 115-volt, 20-amp circuit. It doesn’t require an electrician or a fancy control panel. It brings grinder technology down to a more affordable level and a more residential level.
It’s also designed to replace a standard sewage-ejector pump. So, if a customer has jamming issues, the contractor can pull out the old solids-handling pump and put in a grinder pump. It’s an exciting product for us. We just launched it, and it’s already exceeding our expectations for unit orders.
PM: Why are macerating toilets a good fit in today’s residential construction market?
RW: Let’s say you want to add a bathroom in your basement. The traditional way of doing that would be to use a sewage ejector system. A great solution but it requires you to bust up the concrete floor to set the pit so you can have sewer lines drain into it. This can be very costly and very messy, even though it does a great job of providing that solution.
Macerating toilets can do the same thing to allow you to put in a bathroom pretty much anywhere, but you don’t need to bust up the floor to do it. The macerating toilet sits right on the floor.
Our unit is called the Ascent II and it features a high-efficiency toilet that discharges out the back into a macerating box. There the solids are macerated and chopped up and then pumped through a small-diameter discharge pipe. You can pump up to 25 ft. high and 150 ft. away to hit another existing sewer line. It gives homeowners flexibility to put a bathroom somewhere that they may have otherwise avoided due to cost.
The system features additional inlets for a lavatory or shower, so a complete bathroom can be built around it. It has the added feature of a built-in alarm and an access cover for serviceability.
PM: In what new ways is Liberty Pumps connecting with contractors (social media, videos, training, etc.)?
RW: Social media definitely has its place but Liberty really encourages face-to-face meetings with contractors. We have two display rigs that travel the country. They’re operated by factory-trained personnel who know the products inside and out. They perform counter-day and training events all over the country. With the two trailers combined, we do more than 500 events a year.
The rigs are contractor-oriented and allow contractors to have hands-on demonstrations of our products. They can ask questions regarding application and installation. We have the ability to show them the latest and greatest products we have out there.
We have other ways to connect through our website. We just launched an app for the Android; we’re working on the iPhone. The app allows contractors to download installation and operation manuals, and they can size a pump right there for the application on the jobsite. They can get pump specifications, performance curves and all that information readily available to them if they happen to be on a jobsite and don’t have the install manual. That’s another way we’re connecting with contractors.
PM: What do you see as Liberty Pumps’ most distinguishing feature?
RW:I would say it’s evolving pump technology. In fact, our corporate tag line says, “Innovate. Evolve.” We really live by that. We try very hard in our engineering to develop products that are unique and advance the technology, whether that’s a performance advancement, an efficiency advancement or just making it easier for the contractor to install. We do a very good job at that. A lot of our new products take the technology to a new level.
One thing we don’t do is build another pump the same way everyone else has done it, put our name on it, put our color on it and send it to market.
PM: If you had one piece of business advice to give to contractors, what would it be?
RW: Buy quality and support U.S. manufacturing. There will always be cheap products available, whether it’s our product category or someone else’s. But a pump sometimes is overlooked as an important piece of equipment for the job it does and the protection it provides. Once it’s installed and in the pit, it’s almost like it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” But if it fails, a lot of damage can occur. So, buy the best products, support high-quality U.S. manufacturing and protect your reputation as a quality contractor.
PM: As a company, why does Liberty Pumps place such a big emphasis on fit and healthy employees?
RW: It encourages a good culture. Employees’ better health is better for the company and for everybody. If you’re in better health, you have a better outlook on life, a good attitude and the ability to do your job. There’s just nothing wrong about being in good health.
It comes from the owner of the company on down. It’s something we encourage because good health provides a better lifestyle. We emphasize this not so much to benefit the company because all the employees are healthy, but individual people are happier if they’re in good health.