During a question and answer session at a recent industry conference, a home builder asked Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi for his thoughts about the labor
Faucet manufacturers unveil stylish, sophisticated product lines
Kitchens and bathrooms are getting a makeover thanks to stylings from faucet and showerhead manufacturers.
ShowHouse by Moen
Faucet and showerhead manufacturers have begun to up the ante with their product lines. Ceramic disks have replaced rubber washers, handheld units are becoming more prevalent and thermostatic and pressure-balanced control technology has transformed a once purely decorative category into cutting-edge centerpieces for kitchens and baths.
Manufacturers such as Brizo, ShowHouse by Moen, THG, KWC, California Faucets and Price Pfister are in lock step with one another when it comes to innovation. In the kitchen, for example, single-lever faucets with attached hand sprayers that pull out of the faucet are commonplace among these companies. Handheld units with swiveling mounts in the shower are also ubiquitous.
Like any field crowded with competition, the challenge facing faucet and showerhead producers is differentiation. Says Diane Whitmer, marketing manager with Price Pfister, "In 2006, pull-down kitchen faucets were a great retail favorite. Our company was the very first to introduce a kitchen pull-down faucet with volume control." The company launched professional-grade products for the wholesale market with components including metal pop-ups, supply nuts, installation tools and ceramic valves.
New faucet designs demand that manufacturers look beyond the products' engineering, Whitmer says. Market research is crucial to understanding the emerging needs and trends of the consumer. The fashion industry, auto industry, construction industry and even the jewelry industry help give manufacturers a sneak peak at new faucet trends.
Noah Taft, vice president of marketing and sales for California Faucets, says innovation is driving California Faucets to focus on their finishes. "PVD, or Physical Vapor Deposition, is by far the most durable decorative finish on the market today," says Taft. "Unlike powder-coated or lacquered faucets, these finishes are molecularly bonded — the color is essentially fused to the metal itself. The PVD process starts with the product finished in chrome, but the end result is a finish several times harder than chrome and is guaranteed for life against tarnishing."
Backed by consumer demand, faucet manufacturers look to the fashion industry, auto industry, construction industry and the jewelry industry for design inspiration. (KWC)
Patti LaPorte of ShowHouse by Moen says the company's latest technological improvements are in showering. "Our new ExactTemp 34-inch thermostatic valve, which launched this year, is capable of distributing up to 16 gallons per minute to multiple showerheads, body sprays or other custom shower components." The valve also features a dial-style control marked with water temperature in degrees for the homeowner's comfort.
Some of the most exciting and bold designs of late have come from outsourced designers; most of the top manufacturers have partnered with artists, architects and others. KWC, for example, looked to an automobile designer for inspiration. "Bruno Sacco, one of our designers, was the director of design for Mercedes-Benz for more than 40 years and has designed two of our collections," says KWC president Joan Bostic. "Talking about his designs really piques our clients' interest because everyone appreciates the quality and design of Mercedes. We also work with Michael Lammel, and he has been featured in U.S. magazines and has designed for BMW, Smart Car, Swatch Watch and many other well-known companies."
Faucet manufacturer THG enlists well-known designers for help with its collections.
Jerry Abel, THG's managing director, says THG also picked a well-known design luminary for help with its collections. "New York designer and industry icon Jamie Drake applies his design sensibilities to a complete line of faucets for THG. In addition, the Pierre-Yves Rochon Collection includes the applications of the most stylish of elements such as a damask (or art deco) pattern on fine porcelain with solid brass levers."
Delta has cited the fashion industry as an influence. Specifically, Brizo partnered with up-and-coming fashion designer Jason Wu, who the company says matches the timeless, innovative and fresh design of Brizo.
In the past, the company has partnered with designers such as Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Patricia Field. "It does also drive interest in the brand, especially among those consumers who are interested in making a fashion statement in their home," says Mary McCullough, Delta/Brizo associate channel manager. "It also helps our trade customers to differentiate the brand from our competition."
Design outsourcing, however, is not universal, as shown by California Faucets and ShowHouse by Moen.
California Faucets offers customers an option to customize their own faucets.
"We have a very different philosophy when it comes to designing faucets and fittings. We prefer to offer designers, architects and custom builders, as well as consumers, the ability to 'design your own.' They can select one of our standard series, which ranges from traditional to contemporary and touches all the most popular designs typically seen on the market today," says Taft.
California Faucets customers can customize their own faucets via mixing and matching components and finishes to create their own design. "Over 2 million unique designs are conceivable," says Taft. Similarly, ShowHouse by Moen keeps it all under one umbrella. "All of the products offered by ShowHouse by Moen are designed in-house by ShowHouse by Moen's design team," says LaPorte.
Ultra-high-end products from KWC are leaning toward the greener side of things. "We produce the lowest lead content faucet in the industry. The U.S. requires no more than 8 percent in faucets, and we are under 2 percent. Most of our products can be adjusted to reduce temperature and flow. We also make an eco-cartridge that saves water," says Bostic. "We also have innovative faucets with LED lights for beauty and added function for tasks and bath suites complete with matching accessories."
Delta's MultiChoice Universal allows installers to make trim changes without changing the valve in the wall. One valve offers three function options: single-function pressure balance, dual-function pressure balance, and a dual-function temperature control valve cartridge. Delta also touts the Pascal kitchen faucet line, which features hands-free and touch-control functionality.
With the latest innovations, price points have gone up accordingly. "Faucets, like automobiles, are designed and manufactured at various price points and tiers in order to meet the needs of a wide range of consumers," says Price Pfister's Whitmer.
THG's Abel, also recognizes the high cost of the latest bath and kitchen pieces.
"THG has been recognized as producing the world's most expensive faucets; however many of our collections are in line with other quality manufacturers," says Abel.
The company still relies on skilled tradesmen and craftsmen to produce its products.
While these companies may offer different price points, finish options, controls, configurations and technology, a common thread ties them all together: warranties. Most companies offer lifetime guarantees on finishes and features. For custom builders, having a solid guarantee is always comforting. Nearly all the companies will replace, free of charge during the warranty period, any part or finish that proves defective.