Jim Allen, president and CEO of Sloan Valve Co., recently sat down with Supply House Times to discuss the suburban Chicago-based manufacturer’s enhanced role with the city’s legendary baseball team, the Cubs, the growing desire for beauty in commercial plumbing products and other issues in the plumbing industry.
Supply House Times: What does the relationship with the Chicago Cubs mean to the company and how did this opportunity/decision come about?
JA: It’s important to understand that we’re a Chicago brand. My great grandfather, William Elvis Sloan, founded the company in 1906 and the following year the Chicago Cubs went to the World Series and won. We are a Chicago-established company. That’s where our roots are.
There is a natural feel to partnering with another Chicago icon such as the Cubs. Sports marketing is a new arena for us to get involved in. This is to a new level for us and we are very excited about it.
The reason why we did this is because the opportunity came to us through our relationship with the Chicago Cubs. We’ve been installed in Wrigley Field since it was built in 1914, so we have a longstanding relationship. We knew the naming rights deal was there and that the Cubs were looking for Legacy Partners. The idea behind the legacy partnership with the Cubs is helping the organization build a winning team.
The naming rights to the ballpark in Arizona is a unique play for a company such as ours. The reality is ballparks are great showcases for Sloan products. From the standpoint that we can promote our products on a Major League level and bring some of what we can offer to organizations and communities, and to reach a larger audience; that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. Our message with the Cubs has very clearly been one of sustainability and water efficiency. That was something they were very interested in over the period of time we are going to engage is this partnership – which is a multi-year deal. Our plan is to help the Cubs organization reach some new sustainable goals.
Supply House Times: How has the commercial bathroom product landscape changed in recent times?
JA: The overwhelming trend is efficiency, without question. Owners, engineers and designers want products that are efficient that don’t sacrifice performance.
As far was water efficiency, I think the continuing trend in that landscape is doing more with less without sacrificing hygiene, cleanliness or performance and answering that need of the engineer, owner and designer with unique products.
Another trend in the commercial market is the larger focus or emphasis on design and ascetics. Everyone wants something as beautiful as an iPhone that you can hammer nails with in in the commercial environment. That’s what we challenge ourselves with; coming up with solutions that are elegant from an ascetic standpoint, but also meet that Sloan tradition of quality and durability.
Supply House Times: How does Sloan balance the demands of water efficiency with high-performance products?
JA: We have an ongoing discussion about this very question: How low can you go with gallons per flush? While we can design and manufacture a product that flushes a fraction of a gallon, does that mean we should? In other words, there is an existing, installed base of buildings out there that if you try to retrofit high-efficiency plumbing into an existing facility that maybe does not have good behind-the-wall systems, it is a recipe for disaster.
We realize we won’t have total control of where the products we offer the market will wind up. We want Sloan to be able to perform in any environment that it can. As we try and get that nexus of efficiency and performance, that usually is the result of a lot of testing. We don’t offer products to the marketplace that we don’t thoroughly field-trial or that we don’t thoroughly test within our own operations here.
Supply House Times: How does durability fit into the product design equation?
JA: Our products are largely made in the United States. We use high-quality gauge materials to make our products very robust. In our design process we use what’s called DFMEA – or Design Failure Mode and Effect Analysis – to understand the interaction of design with application and root out issues early in the design process, not just in testing. Part of that DFMEA analysis is the durability under various scenarios.
Supply House Times: How important is the wholesale distribution channel for Sloan Valve?
JA: You can make the analogy the wholesale distributor brought you to the dance and so we very highly value our relationship with distribution. It’s been our method for going to market for generations. It will continue to be important to our market strategy. It’s a very important relationship.
Supply House Times: How has your relationship with manufacturers representatives evolved?
JA: It is amazing. We have a lot of pride in our manufacturers rep network. We think we have some of the best reps in the industry. We realize the rep a lot of times in that one-to-one relationship with the customer is really representing our brand. When they are on the street, when they are a Sloan rep, they have a unique position in the value chain.
They have the relationships with the distributor, the engineer, contractor, architects and oftentimes the facility managers and owners. For us, giving the reps the tools they need to effectively tell our story is an important job and a job we take very seriously.
Supply House Times: What has been Sloan’s biggest product/technology innovation recently?
JA: Given our focus on water efficiency, product categories such as water-free urinals and our BASYS faucet category, which is a new platform of faucets for us, are top of mind right now. BASYS allows the designer to have the features he or she wants while delivering the efficiencies building owners want.
Another product that will be coming out soon is called KOR. It’ll be a revolutionary product. It’s a sink with a combination of soap, water and air drying. Typically, you have an air dryer outside the sink system that creates a hazard situation with water dripping or issues such as a man who might dry his hands on his pants. Hygiene elements to us are really important. This product is on our upscale, premium level. All three elements are right next to each other where the user goes from soap to water to the dryer in one motion. It’s also a very traffic-friendly product.
We want to improve the customer’s experience in the restroom. This is what designers and architects are looking for.
Supply House Times: What makes Sloan stand out as a company?
JA: We are an innovative company. We spend a lot of time and effort with research and development, and in product design. We don’t sit still and wait for concepts to come to us. We are actively engaged in the new product development process. Sloan is a leader and people expect us to continue advancing in new ways and new technologies.
In addition, we’re a 100-year old family business that manufactures products in the United States. We’ve made a commitment to keep jobs in the U.S. and that is an important element of our brand. It’s important to the family.