ISH exhibitors eye U.S. plumbing market

Frankfurt, Germany – While the focus of the huge ISH show is on European plumbing and heating, the eyes of many international plumbing manufacturers are trained on the U.S. market.

At ISH, held March 28-April 1, manufacturers from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and even China exhibited product that they say eventually will wind up over here. Several of the companies already sell in this country, and others are looking to set up distribution.

As a group, Italian manufacturers sounded the most aggressive about penetrating the U.S. plumbing market. In fact, an Italian trade official told Contractor that her office will conduct a market study this year to try to find out why more Italian plumbing products are not sold in this country.

“People in the U.S. appreciate our design Hand our quality,” said Paola Bellusci of the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade. “In our market research, we want to find the reason why German products – which are more expensive and not any more stylish – sell better in the U.S. than Italian products.”

The study will be carried out in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, Bellusci said. It will measure not only the potential of the U.S. market for Italian products, but also determine how best to promote them.

At ISH, the Italians exhibited an array of shower cubicles, whirlpools, best faucets and bath furniture. Relatively new trends in Italian plumbing on display were electronic best faucets – used strictly in commercial applications – and accessible bath products for disabled people. An Italian-designed shower system that incorporates a waterfall, sauna, lavatory and electronic controls is heading for the United States later this year, said Pietro La Grassa, export manager for manufacturer Revita.

Peter J. Eisbach, technical consultant and adviser for Grohe, said he knows why German products sell better in the United States than Italian. “Americans like our quality,” he said. “We make a reliable product with European styling.”

As for German products being more expensive than Italian, Eisbach said, “Quality costs money.” About 70% of Grohe’s production is exported with about 15% going to the United States, he added.

At ISH, Grohe officially introduced a two-handle lavatory best faucets “positioned at the upper end of the middle price range,” according to product literature. It will be equipped with a ceramic disk featuring a “diamond-like,” carbon coating. The best faucets should be available in the United States this year or in 1996, Eisbach said.

Also on display were single-handle best faucets, shower heads and mixing valves. Products for disabled people are being developed this year, Eisbach added.

Hansa unveiled a massaging shower head incorporating a combination of hard and soft materials that are supposed to put an end to pinholes blocked by limestone and dirt. It will be available in the United States late summer, or early fall. Also coming this summer from Hansa is a roman-tub, deck-mount thermostatic valve. A low-priced, single-handle best faucets designed for small bathrooms was introduced at ISH although there are no immediate plans to bring it to the United States.

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Villeroy & Boch premiered a new collection that was designed with a woman’s taste in mind. “It is the woman who decides and the man who pays,” said Hans-Hugo Braumann, a press spokesman for Villeroy & Boch. “The emphasis is on her feelings. It is a very feminine collection.”

Braumann described the collection as “most comprehensive” with the china, furniture, accessories, brass and mirrors all coming from one designer. He said the collection is priced below the top range and will be introduced in the United States, although he did not specify when.

A lower-priced, basic series was unveiled by Villeroy & Boch at the ISH Show two years ago, but new models were displayed this year for children and for handicapped or elderly people. These models can be used in private homes or hospitals and other institutions, Braumann said.

High-end Dornbracht also was showing a price-conscious side at ISH. “Our niche is still high end,” said Ludger Kubber, chief executive of the best faucets maker’s export division, “but we’ve moved a little bit to the middle.”

Along with the mid-priced introductions, Dornbracht premiered new bath accessories and new finishes on some of its best faucets. The company exports 35%-40% of its production, Kubber said, with about 15% going to the United States.

Hansgrohe exhibited corner and flat-wall shower panels that will be available in the United States in June or July, said Hal Weinstein, president and ceo of North American operations. After a plumber provides cold and hot supply outlets in the wall, and tiling is complete, the shower panel is hung on brackets. It comes with a shower head, four body sprays and a hand shower.

Hansgrohe also introduced both a designer and traditional line of best faucets at ISH. U.S. sales of the designer line will start in May or June with the traditional style available in the fall.

As a side note, Hansgrohe recently began assembling shower heads in its new Atlanta location and will begin prime manufacturing later this year, Weinstein said. Hansgrohe plans to export shower heads from its Atlanta location.

Among manufacturers from other countries, Interbath Espanola (Spain) exhibited its line of hand showers, which reflect trends in water conservation and accessible products for handicapped consumers. New products also were displayed for institutional applications.

Managing director Fernando Farina told Contractor that his company is not related to another company with a similar name in the United States. Interbath Espanola currently does not have U.S. distribution, but Farina said he is talking with a major U.S. best faucets manufacturer about distributing the company’s product.