"We carry personal hygiene (bidet-like function) toilet seats," said Rich Amaro Jr., vice president/operations, General Plumbing Supply Co. (Walnut Creek, Calif.). "We sell about one a week. The market potential is fairly great as people age." "There is a market for a self-closing toilet seat," said Larry Merritt, president, Nu-Way Supply (Utica, Mich.).
Steve Kogan, vice president, Builders Plumbing & Heating (Addison, Ill.) said he hasn't had demand for specialty toilet seats, but the problem may be that people are not aware they exist.
"Most of the specialty seats I have seen are space-age looking," said Greg McCravy, showroom manager at Plumbing Distributors (Lawrenceville, Ga.). He said 85% to 90% of the bathroom fixtures he sells look more traditional. "The heated seats might have the potential to sell a little better."
Among the companies making these seats are The Senlund Group, Bemis Manufacturing Co., Toto Kiki USA, Kohler Co., Vital Home Products and American Standard. Senlund has developed and patented a self-closing toilet seat that is being manufactured and sold by Olsonite Corp. and Ginsey Industries. The hinges, manufactured and sold by Senlund, feature the HydraGlide closing system, which enables "The Considerate Seat" to automatically close itself after a specified period of time without batteries, electricity or special plumbing. It installs like a standard seat and has an adjustable lowering time, which can be stopped manually.
The product is featured on the firm's Web site, www.considerateseat.com, said Ken Wiklund, president and chief operating officer. Senlund was formed by Wiklund and Tim Seniuk, inventor.
Vital Home Products has introduced the LeVeale auto seat system, an automated sensored-retrofit toilet seat that allows the user to raise or lower the seat with the wave of a hand.
"At this time we are in the commercial market," said Jacqueline Gadson, director/sales and marketing. "Demand for this type of product is growing, particularly in public facilities where people don't want to have to touch the fixture. We expect to reach the residential market within the next 12 to 15 months."
The seat replaces a standard toilet seat and is driven by a small motor mounted near the hinge that plugs into a standard wall outlet.
Bemis has just begun selling a toilet seat with bidet functions, said Boyd Miller, group product manager, Bemis Plumbing Products Group.
The Bemis Ruisseau bidet toilet seat, shown at the 1999 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, has twin nozzles, one for feminine cleansing, the other for perirectal wash. A control panel activates five nozzle pressure settings and three water temperatures.
"This type of product won't be our No. 1 seller," Miller said. "It's not inexpensive. It has a niche market. Our job is to build awareness in the industry and then with consumers."
Bemis has plans to market a toilet seat with a slow-close hinge, which automatically lowers the toilet seat, lid or both with the touch of a finger. Toto offers a variety of toilet seats with special features, ranging from "warmlets," which have heated seats, to "washlets," which have water-spraying nozzles. The company has two models of bidet-function toilet seats and a "SoftClose" seat. The Chloe seat, which has a dual-action water spray, seat-warming function and SoftClose feature, will be introduced at this year's K/BIS, said Newbold Warden, marketing communication manager. The Zoë seat has a remote control to adjust the pressure of the water stream.
"We sell about $500 million worth of seats in this category per year (worldwide)," he said. "We're just building the market in the U.S. The predominant sale is to high-end customers. In Japan, 26% of all homes have a washlet toilet seat. It's a phenomenally large category and very profitable. It could be a very profitable add-on sale for kitchen-and-bath dealers and wholesalers."
Kohler's "Peacekeeper" toilet seat has a seat-activated automatic flushing mechanism. The toilet, with no exterior trip lever, is flushed by closing the lid, which triggers a sensor. The seat is available on selected models.
American Standard's Savona toilet has a plastic seat with concealed seat ring and finger-lift cover, so fingers do not have to touch the seat or china when raising the lid. It also has a "Rise and Shine" hinge for quick removal without tools.