By David H. Martin

Not only was the 2002 edition of the National Hardware Show a little short on attendance, it also suffered from a drought of ideas in the water filtration sector. In short, innovations were in short supply. New products were far and few between and it was mostly cosmetic improvements that ruled the day at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Prominent “no shows” in retail water improvement included GE Smart Water, Watts/Premier Water Systems, American Water Services, Envirogard Products Ltd. (Rainfresh) and PUR (see Table 1). Brita has skipped the Hardware Show for several years and, this year, WaterPik chose to schedule “by appointment only” visits with key buyers in a private room above the exhibit floor.

In general, the show featured some hot topics and merchandising themes — home security, home environment, “cocooning,” ways to simplify product selection at point of sale, post-9/11 concerns, and do-it-yourself (DIY) stores “feminizing” their formats.

Hot/cold business
Anaheim Manufacturing Co., of California — best known for its Waste King food waste disposers — first surfaced in point-of-use (POU) water filtration at February’s International Builders Show in Atlanta, where it introduced the Quick&Hot instant filtered water system. The system consists of 190°F hot water drawn from an electrically heated holding tank under the sink, which draws cold water automatically through one or two inline filtration cartridges. A 1,000-gallon sediment filter is attached to a 1,250-gallon carbon block filter cartridge certified to ANSI/NSF Standard 53 — Health Effects for lead and cysts.

At the Hardware Show, Waste King added a third component — a separate electric inline water chiller. Attached to the same filter cartridge(s) as the separate water heater, the 18.5-inch tall unit uses patented Ice Probe thermoelectric cooling technology. The Cool Water chiller delivers over 50 cups of cold water (under 40°F) per day, according to Waste King’s George Baumann. Gooseneck faucets are available with hot-only or hot-and-cold functions in satin nickel and polished brass. (Twist handles are also available.) The filter’s cartridges are fitted with an easy-connect feature and the Quick&Hot tank spotlights an anti-liming deflection shield. Retail pricing wasn’t available at press time.

New look makes debut
Hague Water Systems’ WaterBoss water softeners are the oldest retail softener brand next to Sears’ Kenmore brand. The company pioneered compact cabinet softeners through big box home centers in the late 1980s, earning early and continuing prime positions in Lowe’s and Home Depot stores.

Bob Hague, president of WaterBoss, spoke of the unit’s new sculptured cabinet design, introduced in Chicago, which “brings contemporary appliance styling” to the category.

The new “soft edge” aesthetics, however, aren’t the end of improvements in the new generation of WaterBoss, according to Hague. “A concealed sliding port replaces the old salt lid and the new user-friendly, redesigned electronics include a single-set controller, an automatic safety shut-off, and a visible water meter light that flashes when water is being used,” said Hague. All functional components are manufactured by Hague in its Groveport, Ohio, facility. Model 550 is designed for “city water” and retails for under $400. Model 700, retailing for around $436, is a 0.7 cubic foot (cu. ft.) resin capacity softener with a built-in self-cleaning filter. Model 800, with a $496 SRP, has a 0.9 cu. ft. resin tank. WaterBoss mixes a 0.5 cu. ft. of KDF with resin for iron and H2S. The new WaterBoss softener line features new full-color packaging and ships with a videocassette for do-it-yourselfers. “The first of our newly designed WaterBoss softeners shipped the week before the Hardware Show,” said Hague.

Star Water Systems showed its new EasySoft water softeners with electronic hardness sensor and audible salt refill alarm, priced between $999 and $1,399 SRP. The company’s undercounter reverse osmosis (RO) system sells for $299 SRP.

Few new products
Once again Culligan presented an impressive assortment of products, in the largest exhibit space of all water filtration companies, at the Hardware Show. The company introduced its new IC-750 icemaker filter cartridge, described by consumer marketing manager Linda Halfmann as “a good bet for compact RV drinking water systems as well as refrigerator icemakers.” The compact unit features the same twist-and-turn filter cartridge first introduced by Culligan at last year’s show. The IC-750 will retail for about $16.95, compared with the $29.95 SRP Model IC-1000 icemaker filter introduced a year ago. Replacement cartridges are priced at $12.95 SRP. The cartridges are NSF certified for taste, color and odor and require changing after 2,500 gallons or 12 months. “Owners of RV vehicles can be provided with a handy plug to facilitate winterization of the unit,” said Halfmann.

Culligan again displayed its undersink SY-2300 and SY-2650 MTBE filtration systems, sold by its franchised dealers as well as at retail outlets. Both carbon block filtration systems reduce MTBE and a wide range of other contaminants including cysts, lead, certain pesticides, herbicides and other organic chemicals, asbestos, mercury and sediment. Cartridges are rated at 500 gallons. The SY-2300 retails for about $119, and the SY-2650 with electronic filter monitor sells for about $160 at retail. One thing missing — USFilter brand water softeners and RO drinking water systems, currently sold through Costco and Ace Hardware’s central warehouse. The company suggested a new brand might be developed for these categories at retail, so as to protect the interests of its franchised Culligan dealers.

Halfmann revealed plans to conduct both trade and consumer preference studies toward the creation of new Culligan consumer product packaging in 2003. Dave Shanahan, consumer product sales manager, suggested Culligan will soon offer consumers water test kits “to help them test water quickly and inexpensively before choosing a filter.”

Submerged by pump brand
While Omnifilter has been the traditional brand leader in undersink and whole house filters sold by DIY retailers since 1975, there’s continuing evidence of significant sales erosion from competitors such as GE, Sears and Culligan, since Sta-Rite Industries Inc. acquired Omnifilter less than three years ago. At this year’s Hardware Show, Omnifilter shared a 30-foot booth with Sta-Rite’s Flotech and Simer pump brands. Flotech, the dominant pump brand in U.S. DIY distribution, showed a wide selection of products compared with Omnifilter’s very limited show assortment, which included no new products.

Like last year, Omnifilter featured its 750-gallon capacity CBF-20 undersink point-of-use (POU) system, rated for MTBE as well as lead, cysts and other contaminants. A company official promised new packaging for Omnifilter products in the coming year, one that will help “simplify product selection.” Sta-Rite remains a private-label supplier of POU/POE (point-of-entry) filters to GE with products sold through Home Depot stores. Simer, in addition to specialty pumps, has a line of pressure tanks available through plumbing wholesalers.

Anti-chlorine products
Sprite Industries, the category leader in shower filtration, provided the show’s widest assortment of shower filters including its new Royale line that utilizes the company’s universal replacement cartridges, enabling retailers to maximize product feature options while minimizing stock keeping units (SKU). Sprite also showed its new Mediterranean Blue bath salts, a packaged product that uses the same Chlorgon media used in its shower filters to prevent chlorine exposure to skin and lungs while bathing. David Farley, Sprite’s president, revealed plans to open a plant in China later this fall in a move to expand its selection of showerhead finish options. He said final assembly of all Sprite products will remain in Corona, Calif.

Showertek Inc. showed inline shower filters under both Showertek and Sunbeam brands, featuring KDF replicable cylindrical cartridges rated for 10,000 gallons. Company president Tom Christianson vowed not to try to compete with Sprite’s expanding finish options and said, “People want an inline shower filter that will integrate smoothly with their own choice of designer shower-heads.”

UV technology on display
WEDECO-Ideal Horizons made its debut at the Hardware Show, showing its new DLR Series ultraviolet (UV) systems for household and commercial applications. The world’s No. 1 UV supplier offers high output and low-UV lamp pressure. Disinfection chambers are all stainless steel. DSL series units feature lamp operation indicator, microcomputer control, audible alarm, and a visual alarm display for all key functions.

Carafes and coolers
Prestige Home Comfort has licensed the Sunbeam brand for its line of water coolers for home and office. It has also introduced a Sunbeam brand carafe that fits in the refrigerator door and retails for as low as $7.99. Universal filter cartridges are NSF certified, according to owner Chris Venne. The importer also showed Sunbeam brand water coolers made in China. A hot/cold countertop model will retail for as little as $59 and its Sunbeam floor cooler with built-in refrigerator and hot/cold/room temperature taps will retail for about $129, said Venne. The coolers will target home-delivered bottled water users.

Royal Sovereign International showed floor-mount water coolers with suggested retail prices from $139 to $159 for cold water and a unit that contains a small refrigerator. A hot/cold/room temperature cooler will sell between $179-199, said Mike Villaplana, who believes that “more and more food stores will stock three and five gallon bottles of water selling from $2.50 to $5.50 in the years to come, targeting consumers with home water coolers.”

Filtered coolers with bottles
Elkay, which exited the delivered water cooler market two years ago, is betting that more and more American homes and offices will opt instead for gravity-filtered water from refillable three-gallon bottles, which they can supply to retailers who carry their stylish water coolers. The heart of the system is Elkay’s pureSmart cartridge, rated for 150 gallons of water filtered to NSF Standard 43. A built-in usage meter alerts users when fillers reach capacity. Elkay has also redesigned the three-gallon polycarbonate bottle that holds the cylindrical cartridge. Elkay didn’t show its line of decorative ceramic water dispensers at the Hardware Show. Floor-mount pureSmart dispensers are priced at $179.99 to $199.99 SRP (for hot/cold).

Despite some major companies conspicuous by their absence, more than a dozen water treatment players came to Chicago seeking new customers among the hardware store-buying groups and independents who still attend this show. As with many of the earlier 2002 trade shows, attendance lagged and the show’s future remains uncertain.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: [email protected] or website:


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