An Interview With Chris Yankowich, President, Masco Bath
Last year, Masco melded American Shower & Bath (ASB) and Aqua Glass into a new entity called Masco Bath. The unit is teaming with other Masco bathroom companies in a commitment to universal design that aims to combine safety, comfort and style in a framework that removes any stigma associated with what used to be called the “handicap” market.
Chris Yankowich was appointed president of Masco Bath to lead this charge. He joined Masco in 1994 and after serving in various roles with the corporation’s Baldwin Hardware, Alsons, and Cobra Products units, Yankowich became president of ASB in 2005 and took on the additional role as president of Aqua Glass in 2007.
The following interview took place in mid-January.
Supply House Times: Please tell us about Masco Bath, its goals and thinking behind the new organization.Yankowich: Masco Bath was formed in 2009 with the integration of American Shower and Bath and Aqua Glass. We’re headquartered in Moorestown, NJ, and have manufacturing facilities in Klamath Falls, OR; Lapeer, MI and Adamsville, TN. Masco Bath in essence functions as the operating company for a portfolio of brands. Our Aqua Glass and ASB brands reflect a culture of product innovation and commitment to quality in product categories for the bath and laundry rooms. Our relationship with Masco Corp. has created broader product innovation opportunities for us through collaboration with Delta Faucet Co. We are excited about our new product introductions utilizing the Delta brand that reflect the growing importance of universal design to the trade and homeowner.
The overarching goal in the creation of Masco Bath was to leverage the core manufacturing competencies and commercial initiatives of Aqua Glass and ASB. The alignment has created a much leaner and responsive company that is focused on innovation and profitable growth.
Q: Will there be any change in the way you market Masco Bath?Yankowich: We plan to continue marketing through retailers and plumbing supply houses, but with more of an emphasis on showrooms for our universal design products. We have a robust marketing plan engineered to create value for our distribution partners and make it easier to do business with Masco Bath.
The main thing we did was construct a brand new Web site, www.mascobath.com, that supports targeted e-marketing efforts toward consumers, trade and distribution customers. It includes new photography, e-blasts supporting product launches and upgraded product information.
Q: Interest in universal design is of course generated by our aging population. Please discuss the demographics of this market and what you see as some of the key elements to universal design.Yankowich: In the U.S., those over 65 will grow from 35 million in 2000 to 55 million in 2020. Baby boomers own about 48% of all homes and have the highest median income of any age group. Not all baby boomers are retiring. Many are going from one career to another, and people in their 50s, 60s and 70s act a lot younger than they used to and tend to be very active.
We will key in on major market segments dealing with people who may have urgent needs to progressive conditions to traumatic needs. Our philosophy overall is to design easy-to-use products with style. It has to look good. Features we’re looking at include slip-resistant floors with zero threshold shower basins, push button on-off showers, thermostatic valves, and flange-less grab bars that are attractive and easy to clean. Our design team focuses on three key areas: making it safe, making it easy to use and making it stylish.
Q: Please tell us about any new products coming out specifically aimed at the universal design market.Yankowich: Our universal design initiative began with extensive market research that included customer studies and focus groups. We also performed extensive research with plumbers and other professional installers to come up with ideas to make products that are easy to install. For example, our new line of shower suites includes wall-mounting bracket systems that allow us to pre-install grab bars and other accessories. We came up with this idea after interviewing numerous professionals.
Our initial launch began in late 2009 with a line of product suites that includes a family of zero-threshold shower basins, where the drain is level with the floor to make it easy for wheelchair access, along with a textured non-slip surface and heavy gauge material that allows for easy cleaning. These are sold under the Delta brand and we’ve received an overwhelming positive response.
On the heels of that we are planning in the first quarter 2010 to launch contemporary shower suites featuring acrylic walls and bases, Delta thermostatic valves, flangeless grab bars from Liberty, and push button hand showers from Alsons Corp. The new shower suites will include the Delta brand. They have many great features and are ADA-compliant.
In the latter part of the second quarter will be our first family of more traditional shower systems, including a new transfer tub (a bathtub that enables users to transfer weight easily) for people who are aging or injured.
Q: Do low-flow environmental restrictions present any special difficulties pertaining to universal design?Yankowich: The most important issue contractors should be aware of as it pertains to water flow restrictions and universal design is the relationship between the showerhead and the compensating valve. To provide optimum protection from sudden changes in water pressure and temperature, the showerhead and valve should be designed to work together. The easiest way to do this is to purchase the products together as a system from the same manufacturer.
Q: Where does the U.S. stand in relation to the rest of the world in universal bathroom design?Yankowich: I think Europe and Japan are the most relevant markets to compare with. They are similar to the U.S. in the amount of population over 50 and long life expectancies. Europe mirrors us very closely, although they still face some barriers with individuals not wanting to admit to disabilities. Europe’s design attributes are a little different than the U.S. but impressive.
I think Japan has seen the most rapid advances in technology and in creating universal design for all markets.
Q: To what extent will Masco Bath rely on new construction markets vis-à-vis renovations? Commercial versus residential?Yankowich: New construction plays an important part of our future although there are also good opportunities in remodeling. There is an aging housing stock in the U.S., which will facilitate our growth. A lot of our products are now designed around new construction, i.e., one-piece products, but our current new product lineup is well positioned to serve both markets, as well as both commercial and residential. Over time I believe our business will grow faster in the new construction market versus remodel, and we have projected a nice increase in that area.
Q: What role do you see for plumbing distributors in Masco Bath's strategic plan?Yankowich: Our plumbing distributors and their showrooms play a vital role as our strategic partners. The mission of Masco Bath is to create value through innovation for our customers. We designed an aggressive growth strategy over the next five years that includes a robust pipeline of new designs and technology that focus on the needs of consumers, distributors, their showrooms, and trade professionals.
We are also investing in training modules through the Internet. Internet-based media will help our distributors and rep agencies educate customers and drive our top-line growth. Also, we have been listening to our customers with regard to product quality, so we have made many changes with our people and processes. We’re always going to have marketing materials and incentives, but the biggest change is having our Web site up and training modules in place.
Q: Will Masco Bath be using the same rep firms now selling its constituent brands?Yankowich: We will continue to use Aqua Glass reps, and also will leverage the Delta sales force. We have spent a lot of time with our reps in Webinars dealing with universal type products. It’s important to really educate people and the market is ready for this.
Q: The lousy economy aside, what do you see as some of the biggest obstacles to overcome in making Masco Bath a success?Yankowich: The economy will be a challenge overall but I don’t see anything insurmountable. I see more opportunities than obstacles. We need to stay on top of rapidly changing market trends and see how we can capture the voice of the customer in order to translate this into products and services. We have to educate the market and eliminate some of the paradigms of the past. Any time you have innovation, there will be some resistance; but I think the market is ripe for innovation and change.
Q: What is Masco's and your unit's outlook for business in 2010?Yankowich: We think the business outlook for this year is positive and are forecasting a double-digit increase in housing starts. We will continue to grow as a company by launching new innovations resulting in incremental growth.
The biggest concern is the continued high level of unemployment, which means many homes will continue to move into foreclosure during the year. Obviously, this will create inventory and until that inventory comes down the housing market will continue to remain soft. We believe it will continue to be soft through the first half of 2010, but think we’ll experience an increase in the second half of the year as, hopefully, employment will start improving.
Q: How long do you think it will take for U.S. housing starts to return to a level of 1.5-1.6 million that our industry historically has considered a respectable level of home building?Yankowich: I think the market has a long way to go to return to that level. We predict the market to return to the 1.5 million mark between 2013-2014.
Our team has been proactive in putting several initiatives in place to succeed in a soft market, aggressively launching new innovations, and spending a great deal of time improving quality and optimizing our overall supply chain. We feel we’re well positioned to serve our customers over the next three to four years until the housing market returns to a solid level.
We’re backed by Masco, which is a very strong company that supports us in every way. That’s an important concept for our customers to understand.