Plumbing product manufacturers discussed some of the differences in trends and products for the United States vs. Europe and the rest of the world.

Attending the ISH trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany last March was truly an eye-opening experience. Beyond the 10 multi-level halls filled with products, services and people speaking a variety of languages, there was the humbling and slightly uncomfortable sense that we're not in Kansas anymore (or Illinois, or any familiar location in the United States) - this is a very different place.

The differences in products on exhibit at the show, as well as trends and expectations, became a topic of discussion as I visited booths of companies, some known and some new to SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES. At the ISH trade fair I spoke with some vendors about the differences in product development, trends and marketing for the United States vs. other parts of the world. (More ISH coverage in future issues.)


Some manufacturers, such as Grohe, find that the product selection is very different for the United States compared with Europe and other parts of the world.

“In the United States, we have positioned Grohe in the high-middle to high-end,” said Al DeGenova, director, North American advertising and new media for Grohe America. “In Europe, our product range runs from low to high. Grohe produces specific products for specific markets as well; Grohe America's Geneva and Seabury lines are only available in the United States.”

In fact, the United States is beginning to drive some of Grohe's product launches, he said. For example, the company introduced a pull-out faucet at ISH Frankfurt that it had introduced in the United States about five years ago.

“Every market has its own character,” DeGenova observed. “In Germany we sell mostly bath fittings, and we offer flushing systems as well. We don't even include those in our price list. Finishes such as oil-rubbed bronze, polished nickel, polished brass and satin nickel are big in the United States but not in Europe.”

In Europe mostly one-hole mount faucets are sold, while in the United States wideset faucets are perceived as higher end, so more of those are sold, he said. The European homeowners prefer more low tech, old-fashioned faucets.

Grohe ships product to 181 countries and has to be able to relate to the different cultures, he said. “Globally, each country has specific needs vs. those of Europe. Marketing to the different countries around the world requires different brochures and different imagery inside those brochures. Europe is fairly homogenous in this regard. Everything at ISH can be sold throughout Europe. We are seeing a huge contingent from the Middle and Far East, but most of the visitors here are German.”


As a German manufacturer, Duravit sees ISH as its home fair, according to Galen A. Stump, national sales manager, Duravit USA. However, it is also an international company and ISH is an international fair. The topics Duravit reviews at ISH - trend oriented - indicate where the company is headed.

“There is more low-end and more high-end, less middle,” Stump noted. “In the States we don't have anything low-end, just middle up. Some products we are showing at ISH now will come to the United States in 2006.

“Albrecht Graf von der Groeben introduced Duravit in the United States years ago,” Stump pointed out. “He introduced international designer Philippe Starck to the company and helped establish upscale design, oriented for architecture based on design and style, not necessarily engineering function.”


Design concepts are very important in Europe, said Denise Mitra, public relations manager for Hansgrohe's Axor line at Hansgrohe AG in Australia. European consumers want the “room” concept and want to distinguish themselves from others.

“Mainstream is not the thing,” Mitra said. “Europeans want design but at not so high a price. We see a growing market in the United States for design, but the U.S. market has other interests.”

For example, U.S. consumers are showing greater interest in showers, she added.


WDI International, an international manufacturer of toilet seats, toilet tank valving and related plumbing products, sells to toilet manufacturers in 36 countries around the world. The company's booth at ISH showcased toilets with flushing systems and high-end, slow-close toilet seats that appeal to the European market, according to Craig Arentsen, president/COO. “In the United States, the toilet seats are primarily polypropylene,” he said.

WDI also provides components of the flushing system used by toilet manufacturers around the world. The in-wall system, with the tank inside the wall, is popular for toilets installed in Europe, as are dual flushing toilets that offer a choice in flushing power for liquid vs. solid waste, Arentsen pointed out. Pressure-assist toilets are more popular in the United States.


Neoperl, which offers faucet attachments, displayed its Care+Guard laminar solutions with built-in Agion™ antimicrobial protection at ISH in Frankfurt. Available for OEM and retrofit applications, the attachment provides a clear, splash-free non-aerated stream of water. Screenless 100% plastic Cascade® construction prevents lime buildup.


Danfoss discussed examples of its product innovations at ISH, including sensors for measuring nutrient in waste water; the EPL lubrication system for cold forming hard material such as titanium and stainless steel; and electronic high-frequency lighting controls for energy-saving lighting in extreme conditions. The company reported its butterfly valves and backflow preventers were the main growth products in its Water Controls division.

- Pat Lenius