By David H. Martin
A handful of established water improvement brands fought for the attention of hardlines buyers attending this summer’s National Hardware Show, held at cavernous McCormick Center in Chicago. But where were the buyers? Big-box giants Home Depot and Lowe’s sent only a few to the show and many exhibitors were asking, “Why are we here?”
Hardware Show attendance dropped 8.2 percent last year. This year, exhibitors complained the attendance numbers were off again, partially due to the flagging economy but also from declining interest in a show that may have run its course in this age of consolidation. The American Hardware Manufacturers Association, sponsors of the annual event, seemed to anticipate the drop-off by shortening this year’s show by a day.
Here’s a rundown of some of this year’s key participants.
Premier, aka Watts Division
Watts Regulator is a multi-faceted, 125-year-old manufacturing company with strong penetration in the wholesale plumbing and retail hardlines channels. On June 13, Watts acquired Premier Water Systems, a highly regarded Phoenix manufacturer of point-of-use (POU) water improvement products since 1989.
The Hardware Show marked the first trade exhibition that saw Premier and Watts showing products in a common exhibit area. Though there was no “Watts” identification in the Premier exhibit area, Watts’ Wendy Larsen, marketing manager of consumer markets division, spoke of incorporating the Watts logo into current Premier product packaging. “Premier’s POU water filtration will have significant synergy with other Watts product lines,” said Larsen. “For example, our Andersen-Barrows division manufactures an ice-maker kit that will complement the Premier product line. Our Brass Tubular division will complement the Premier POU faucet line. Also, Watts makes various components such as tanks, tubing and fittings, that Premier will be able to use in the manufacture of its products.” Premier products are currently found in Lowe’s and Sam’s Club outlets. According to Larsen, Watts hopes to introduce Premier to other current retail customers including Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Ace and TruServe. Premier’s Bob Maisner brings his years of POU industry experience to Watts as vice president of sales of the water treatment product division.
Sta-Rite Industries Inc.
In an interview with Mike Skupien, Sta-Rite Industries’ consumer water treatment brand manager, he spoke of the importance of branding in retail water treatment. “Brand recognition,” said Skupien, “is what continues to drive retail sales. Familiar brands like Culligan, Pur, Brita and (Sta-Rite’s) Omnifilter command loyalty from today’s more sophisticated consumers. As a company, we strive to help consumers answer the question, ‘What’s in my water?’ then we offer multiple solutions to answer their perceived water problems.”
The company again exhibited its line of Omnifilter POU/POE filters alongside its selection of Flotec pumps. Its Omnifilter CBF-20 under-sink POU system with a 750 gallon capacity is rated for MTBE, lead, cysts and other contaminants. The CBF-50 ($100 suggested retail price, SRP) monitors water usage by both gallons and time. It also alerts consumers both audibly and visually for filter changes. Sta-Rite “private labels” water filtration products for GE and has established distribution in plumbing wholesale, retail and well driller channels. Said Skupien, “Omnifilter has been the brand leader in undersink and whole house filters sold at retail since 1975.”
The water treatment pioneer debuted two new “USFilter” brand reverse osmosis (RO) systems in Chicago. Two years ago at the Hardware Show, Culligan showed a packaged RO system with a “U.S. Filter” label, perhaps as a “trial balloon” gauging retailer interest in the category. Last year, a Culligan official was overheard telling a hardlines buyer that the company was developing a new RO unit for the retail trade. The 3500 RO system features a thin-film membrane, monitor and 3.2 gallon tank, and will retail for about $269. It ships with an instructional video for do-it-yourself (DIY) installers. Culligan also showed its IC-1000 quick-connect ice-maker filter (SRP: $29.99) and the SY-1000 quick-connect undersink POU unit ($59.99 SRP). The Culligan SY-2300 MTBE Filtration System is a twin-canister undersink unit that’s also designed to significantly reduce lead, cysts, certain pesticides and herbicides, asbestos and mercury. The unit is available to Culligan water treatment dealerships as well as retailers and carries a suggested retail price of $119.99. At the same time, the company is said to be piloting a water softener program with Sears as well as a new direct sales program with national developer Del Webb.
American Water Services
AWS showed an expanded line of seven PurTest home water tests including new ones for MTBE and arsenic. Its comprehensive Home Water Analysis Kit (SRP: $29.95) lets consumers test for 25 common contaminants and conditions. AWS president Don Podrebaric also announced the company would be offering laboratory tests direct to consumers on an “as needed” basis, when DIY testing indicates specific problems. The company also showed an impressive array of new products, aside from its test kits. The PurGuard faucet-mount RO unit (under $100 SRP) makes up to eight gallons per day. Its five-stage undersink RO system with NSF certification (Standard 58) retails for about $179. The PurWell well disinfection kits (SRP: $5.99-8.99) contain chlorine tablets. The new PurGuard universal “install kits” (SRP: $22 and $32) help even homeowners hook up any make or model softener or filter on copper, PVC, PEX-poly or galvanized plumbing lines. PurGuard UV disinfection systems come in three models (3 gallon per minute, gpm; 8 gpm and 12 gpm).
The company showed a variety of water test kits at the Hardware Show (including ones for lead, bacteria and pesticides) and offers optional laboratory analysis service to consumers.
The company specializing in shower filtration keeps improving on its products’ chlorine-removal performance and aesthetic designs. This year, Sprite introduced the Shower Tower, an 18-inch adjustable filtered showerhead extension. “It lets you stand up straight in the shower because the water comes down directly from above, rather than from the side,” said Sprite president David Farley. Designed in Italy, the stylish units feature rounded edges and a large spray face. Shower Towers are available in fixed and hand-held models (SRP: $39.95 and $49.95). Sprite units combine KDF with Chlorgon and “the company is moving toward radial filtration, a technology that allows us to remove more than free chlorine,” said Farley.
Canpro Water Treatment Inc.
Canpro seems to put less emphasis on the aesthetics of its shower filter than on its consistent performance of removing chlorine. Like Sprite, it features the KDF medium to remove chlorine from shower water. The Canpro 7,500-gallon filter also has a patented back-flush feature that permits users to manually rotate the filter to release accumulated dirt and sediment before every shower (SRP: $35, and $18 for the replacement). Y.C. Chau, Canpro president, demonstrated the company’s MediaGuard—a chemical-free pretreatment system for water softeners and whole-house carbon filters. The KDF-loaded unit can be retrofitted between the control valve and the tank. It offers water treatment dealers “a profitable new service niche,” said Chau.
WaterPik introduced its long-awaited innovation for “the healthy home”—two new Aquia ozone sanitizing appliances for the kitchen and nursery. The countertop appliances utilize UV-generated ozone and tap water “to kill more than 99 percent of germs and bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella,” said marketing director Stanzi Prell. An applicator/container is filled with regular tap water and returned to its plugged-in base, concealing an ozonator. After five minutes, a light indicates that the water is ozonated and ready for application. Both the kitchen and nursery sanitizers come with two applicator containers—a 300 milliliter (ml) spray bottle applicator and a separate 850 ml carafe applicator. The spray feature is said to be ideal for sanitizing the surfaces of fruit, vegetables, cutting boards and other household items. Items such as baby pacifiers, baby bottles, nipples, teething rings as well as fresh produce can be submerged in the sanitizing water (SRP: $129-149). A replaceable DI cartridge (SRP: $19.99) pretreats tap water to prevent scale buildup inside the appliance and should be replaced every three months, according to the manufacturer. Initial product distribution will include Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and high-end catalogs.
Missing at this year’s show was WaterPik’s line of KDF-base shower filters. And the company showed only its high-end F-7 faucet-mount POU filter. The 200-gallon capacity filter is rated for chlorine, lindane, cysts and asbestos and comes with electronic indicator lights—green, yellow and red for filter replacement (SRP: $25, plus $10 for replacement cartridge).
Now a unit of Procter & Gamble, PUR showed a new 100-gallon capacity “horizontal” mount faucet filter and a new 40-gallon pitcher called “The Ultimate Pitcher.” (Brita, the pitcher category leader, did not exhibit.)
The retail products division of Hague again exhibited its retail lines of waterBoss, cityBoss and other appliance-styled water softeners. President Robert Hague promised a new design for waterBoss softeners in 2002.
It showed new packaging for its extensive line of POU/POE filters and shower filters using various combinations of GAC, carbon block and ceramic filters. It also showed its line of UV sterilizers, including ones combined with ceramic filtration. The 30-year-old Toronto-based company sells Rainfresh brand products to the DIY retail trade and Envirogard brand products to the traditional dealer channel. Its retail focus is on hardware dealer chains, as opposed to big box accounts.
Campbell showed its line of well pumps and other components for well dealers. It also makes an impressive line of filter housings for POU/POE. The Pennsylvania-based company sells wound filters, carbon/carbon block filters and assembles a line of under-sink POU systems, including RO.
Star Water, now part of Zoeller Pump, showed demand-controlled, cabinet-styled retail water softeners and RO systems.
Euro-style shower filters
Showerheads with built-in filters have included a parade of brands at the Hardware Show in the last several years. Still, very few seem to have staying power in the retail channel. This year, only two exhibited.
‘Openers’ and ‘closers’
Aggressive water improvement dealers who sell in the home are always looking for new water-related items to promote in ads as incentives for setting appointments, or as in-home sales closers. Some imaginative new “sales closers” seen at The Hardware Show included Soap Station from Hygienic Solutions Inc., an automatic built-in liquid soap dispenser for the kitchen that “sees” your hand and dispenses soap automatically; and Undercover Sprinkler System, from Naan Sprinklers & Irrigation Systems, that helps prevent wasted sprinkling of sidewalks and driveways and attaches to any garden hose. Two new, low-cost “door openers” included Spigot Lock, from Berkshire Machine Inc., a solid brass lock designed to prevent unauthorized use of outdoor water supplies; and HydroMAX, by Interlink Products, a hose-end, water-powered rotating power wash with interchangeable attachments for cleaning everything from cars to gutters.
The 2001 Hardware Show reflected the effects of continuing consolidation of water treatment marketers and the dominance of a very few brands in each product category. Consolidation of distribution among home center and hardware chains creates new challenges and opportunities, including some for traditional water improvement dealers looking to service retailers.
About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water quality improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: email@example.com or website: http://www.lenzimartin.com.
A show overview: Home Depot, WQA and arsenic
Home Depot cast a giant shadow over the Hardware Show, perhaps like never before. This, in spite of the fact it didn’t exhibit and most of its buyers didn’t attend. And some of their key vendors, including GE and Black & Decker failed to show. In the hardware industry, key accounts receive personal attention from suppliers all year long. Meeting them once more at a trade show no longer seems necessary. Still, the Hardware Show remains the premier event for new product launches.
Robert Nardelli, Home Depot’s president, delivered the keynote address to the hardlines industry. He represents a behemoth that realized $924 million in net income on $14.6 billion in sales in the second quarter of this year. Sales in 2000 were $45.7 billion from over 1,200 stores. Home Depot’s main competitor is Lowe’s with 770 stores and 2000 sales of $18.8 billion. Both chains are poised to challenge each other for women customers in the future, recognizing their growing influence in home improvement purchase decisions.
GE’s exclusive partnership with Home Depot in water improvement products apparently made it irrelevant to exhibit in Chicago this summer. Last year, the line of GE label filters was pulled from the special merchandiser display created for Home Depot stores after the first day, amidst speculation that the retailer disapproved.
For the second year in a row, Culligan staged a press luncheon/roundtable with industry experts providing its overviews of industry issues. Joe Harrison, technical director for the Water Quality Association (WQA), reported highlights of the latest consumer survey indicating that 41 percent of U.S. homes use POU drinking water devices and that nine out of 10 have concerns about water quality.
In an arsenic update, Harrison said that the POU solution to arsenic contamination was “one-third less costly” than system-wide municipal treatment for the controversial contaminant that currently shares the spotlight with chromium and MTBE. “The WQA is now ‘at the table’ in arsenic discussions at USEPA representing POU industry interests,” said Harrison. “The EPA’s desire for ‘100 percent community coverage’ is a key issue, yet to be resolved.” (See Newsreel this issue for related item). Harrison noted the association’s goal is “universal certification.” He also spoke of the importance of testing private wells for nitrates and E.coli bacteria at least once a year.
Dr. Gary Hatch, director of research and technology at USFilter/Plymouth Products, a sister division of Culligan Water Technologies, fielded technical questions from members of the media. Culligan used the event to showcase its new exclusive certified testing arrangement with Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which was represented by Barbara Guthrie, corporate marketing director, and Kenneth Jenke, a senior project chemist involved in certification of drinking water treatment units. UL showed its new green-label “EPH” logo for water treatment products, a designation for “Environmental & Public Health Services.”