Supply House Times Profile: Fluidmaster's Todd Talbot
Not afraid to change.
Celebrating a 60th anniversary with a diamond jubilee isn’t something that happens every day for manufacturing companies. Fluidmaster, a manufacturer of OEM and replacement toilet parts based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., is set to do just that this year along with the launch of a global marketing effort tied to the Fluidmaster family of brands acknowledging the company’s heritage, family ownership and expanded lines of business.
Supply House Times recently sat down with Fluidmaster president Todd Talbot, who provided a greater understanding of the company’s philosophy and initiatives. Talbot, a 35-year industry veteran, entered his current position in 2011. With five acquisitions in as many years, the company now serves customers in more than 90 countries.
Supply House Times: There have been a lot of changes and developments in the world of toilets. What’s affecting Fluidmaster?
Todd Talbot: A significant trend of late for our entire industry is the rapid growth that’s underway. We’re enjoying a wonderful time in our business. For everyone I talk with, business is very strong.
One thing about Fluidmaster I would offer is we touch more parts of the market than anybody. We’re in the OEM sector, we’re with the pro and the wholesaler, we’re in with the retail sector and we’re around the world so we can see the different elements of business that are going on and they’re all running on every cylinder right now. It’s an exciting time.
We’re investing, we’re growing our business and we’ll continue to invest to grow in our business, but we’ll do so cautiously since the current rate of growth is likely not sustainable forever. But I would say, in particular, the growth occurring in the first quarter is absolutely phenomenal — numbers I have not seen in my entire time in this industry.
Aside from market growth, product trends are definitely something we keep an eye on. As an OEM supplier to the toilet manufacturers, the whole water conservation aspect of the toilet has been increasingly significant. OEMs today are producing technologies much superior to that of years ago and they are getting better every day. We are challenging one another and ourselves with things such as bowl cleanliness and electronic activation. It’s all about how we can work together to make the end product more meaningful to the customer.
Obviously, sufficient water flow and flush performance are critical. I think everybody has mastered the 1.28-gpf toilet and the challenge now is sub-one gallon for a solid-waste flush. And with that there are technologies moving ahead quite rapidly. This has to be balanced with ensuring we are putting enough water into the system to provide adequate line carry. I think I speak as well for other members of Plumbing Manufacturers International when I say we must be very careful with regard to unintended consequences related to going too low with water use in flushing toilets.
Supply House Times: What innovation and toilet technologies have made the greatest impact since you’ve been at Fluidmaster?
TT: It’s the elements of continuous improvement in terms of flow and performance. We’ve introduced products into the European market that are Bluetooth-adaptable to be able to provide information to building management in commercial applications. Sound, performance and enhancing the sound of the toilet have become even more important as the volume of water has decreased.
We want to continue to improve the way things operate in the toilet. There are a lot of things we feel we can do and our touchless toilet is a specific example. We’ve harnessed the energy of the water itself with the activation of the toilet done through the pressure and buoyancy of the water that’s within the tank. This is an area I believe we can build upon in the years ahead.
Supply House Times: How important is Fluidmaster’s relationship with the distribution channel?
TT: That’s where everything starts and that’s where our relationships live, whether with us directly or through our network of manufacturers representatives that we are extraordinarily loyal to and have been wonderful for our business. In order to get our new products out the door we know we need to bring them to distributors first, and then our success through our distributors is incumbent upon them putting the effort forward to say, “OK, I want to promote this product. This is a differentiator in the market.” I think more and more distributors are looking for that. Our whole industry is growing up and we’re becoming better marketers of driving new innovations into the marketplace, but we can’t do without our plumbing wholesalers.
Supply House Times: How do you benefit from being an ASA member?
TT: Having been involved with ASA for more than 30 years, It’s been great, in particular, over the last decade or so to see the re-engagement of ASA into every aspect of our industry because ASA is no longer just a wholesaler organization, it is an industry organization. It allows us to come together for the networking elements that are critically important. From an education standpoint, we’re talking about new technologies and new ideas in an industry that’s been slow to change and ASA is providing that through its Education Foundation and through training and videos, the ability for us to reach the critical masses that normally haven’t been available in our industry.
We look for the most direct route to the people out in the field, touching our products and in turn, again, giving them to the plumbing contractor. That wholesaler is critical in that interface. And by us using our relationship with ASA to help promote our products through their education and training programs, it is a great opportunity.
Supply House Times: What is Fluidmaster’s most distinguishing feature?
TT: The Fluidmaster brand is our core strength and we talk about this all the time, particularly the importance of sustaining the value of our brand which is a culmination of efforts including product development, marketing, after-sales support, being a good citizen of the community — all those things.
From within our business and the way we operate, I have to put culture right up on top because it’s a positive culture that ultimately creates a great brand. It’s a positive culture that creates superior products. It’s a positive culture that creates new opportunities in your plant to do things in a different way to become more effective, more globally competitive. It’s a positive culture that allows a company to do five acquisitions in five years and have them perform far above what anybody’s expectations would have been. All of it comes down to culture. As we go around the world, we’re bringing different cultures together which is very difficult. Different languages, different products, everything is different, but we’re bringing people together in support of our global brand through a positive culture.
Supply House Times: If you had one piece of business advice to pass along, what would it be?
TT: Success in life is about continuous learning, always driving toward improvement and embracing change. We do it across our operations every day. We continuously strive to be more competitive and better in all we do — everybody in business needs to do that in every aspect of their business. Along these lines, I also would suggest we not just do things the way our grandfathers did just because our grandfathers did it that way.
Young people have such an opportunity in our industry. We have a hard time attracting candidates to our industry. When mom and dad spend hard-earned money for them to go off to college, probably one of the last things they want to hear is their offspring is working for a toilet parts company. They’d much rather have their kid working for Google or Apple.
But if they could just understand the great opportunities in our industry they would have a different perspective. Since folks aren’t necessarily flocking to our industry, this provides individual career prospects, just like this industry provided me wonderful opportunities for the last 30-plus years for which I’ve just been absolutely grateful. Opportunities today are even greater for young people coming into this business.
This article was originally titled “Not afraid to change” in the June 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.