Flush with good deeds
What does a humanitarian mission in Bangladesh have to do with the growth of an iconic American brand, or a new color scheme for American Standard?
Actually, a lot. And the connection between the three — and several other initiatives at Piscataway, N.J.-based American Standard Brands — revolves around relatively new CEO Jay Gould.
What’s happening in Bangladesh is basic human improvement. “When I joined the company, I was shocked to learn that 2,000 kids die every day for lack of access to proper sanitation,” said Gould, who took over as CEO in January 2012, replacing Don Devine.
Under Gould, the company flexed its humanitarian muscle when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation solicited ideas to develop innovative sanitation solutions in the Third World. During all of 2013, for every Champion toilet sold, the company donated a sanitary toilet pan for distribution in Southeast Asia. (Gould himself toured Bangladesh on a follow-up mission in 2013.)
For Gould, a self-confessed believer in “purpose-driven companies,” the effort that became “Flush for Good” was more than cause marketing. It was an event to boost morale at American Standard, following successive cuts and restructurings. The company had seen about three years of twice-a-year restructuring or downsizing.
“Frankly, [employees] were tired and beaten,” Gould said. “Survival is not a stirring reason to get out of bed.”
American Standard employees who talked to HCN confirmed the new-and-improved culture. And there’s also a new-and-improved strategy at work. To wit: The company is working to flush its low-cost-provider reputation.
In talking to major customers, the same three desires appeared on the top of the list: brand building, demand creation and product innovation. “They were all asking for the same thing, and it wasn’t ‘What’s your lowest price?’ ”
The company’s new look is playing a role also: updated, refreshed and described as slightly more feminine than previously — a marigold, teal and charcoal color scheme that was selected for its “bold and optimistic” message. (It’s also more distinctive within the industry than the classic red, white and blue, Gould said.)
A two-month-old deal with Ferguson, the nation’s largest kitchen and bath showroom company, is an important step for American Standard, which can help it begin to compete on a “level playing field” in a high-quality showroom environment, he said.
With a five-year plan firmly in place, the company is on pace for core revenue to increase 9% to 10% in 2013, with double-digit increases in 2014.
Behind the scenes, the company’s supply chain was revamped, leading to improvement in gross margins from 15%, when Gould became CEO, to its 22% level currently.
For Gould, the idea of doing good around the world goes hand in hand with business success. “I’ve actually been amazed by the response to Flush for Good,” he said. “It’s bringing humanity back to the category.”
Toolmakers build support on Kickstarter
If you were hoping to launch your quick-drying spackle on Kickstarter last fall, you may have been out of luck. Or at least that’s how the story at Lockitron goes: In October 2012, co-founders Cameron Robertson and Paul Gerhardt took to TechCrunch to explain how their smartphone-enabled deadbolt was rejected by the crowdfunding platform for falling under the prohibited category of home improvement.
To be sure, it’s not entirely clear whether this was a categorical ban or an isolated case. According to Kickstarter’s Justin Kazmark, there was never an outright injunction on home improvement, but the company did introduce new guidelines for hard-lines and industrial design projects around the same time that Lockitron submitted its bid. Makers and builders who fall within this purview are now required to show their work: no product simulations, no product renderings, and no “pre-ordering” via multi-quantity pledges on what’s essentially an unfinished product.
Though Kazmark acknowledges that the company’s guidelines have evolved over time, it’s possible that a couple projects were held to different standards, or that someone on staff misrepresented the rules, he said.
In either case, here’s where we stand one year later: Lockitron raised $2.2 million (nearly 15 times its original goal) via pre-orders on its own website; a new upstart called Christie Street was launched to answer the call for a hardware-friendly crowdfunding platform; a number of home improvement products have, after all, had success on Kickstarter.
For some products, this may be what it takes to get ahead in the post-recession marketplace, but not for the reasons you’d expect. Rather than established, cash-strapped companies trying to gin up their liquidity, it seems that new brands are launching concurrently with their Kickstarter campaigns, and money isn’t even the biggest motivation. What these start-ups are seeking is feedback on product demand — before the fact.
Take LIFX, for example. The WiFi-and smartphone-enabled light bulb with its full spectrum of color settings saw wild success on Kickstarter (more than $1.3 million pledged of its $100,000 goal), but even the makers behind it didn’t anticipate the level of demand it would see. Having put the product on everyone’s radar, the company has been busy scaling its business accordingly and getting ready to ship to international retail stores.
“Kickstarter was more for idea validation than a capital banking exercise,” said Simon Walker, head of global marketing at LIFX. “It has the added bonus of allowing people to pre-purchase and to [amass] a large amount of customers before you ever go to product, which is a great advantage.”
Outlaw Fasteners, which aims to solve several pain points associated with deck screws via an innovative product design, tells a similar story: The point of its campaign was to “begin at the grassroots level with a demand for the product before any kind of retail strategy is put together,” said marketing director Ron Elmore.
When considered from this perspective, Kickstarter begins to seem much more hospitable to those outside the traditional tech community — say, the minds behind a fastener company — who are trying to thrive in an increasingly digital age.
“We knew that if any demographic would find validity in the concept, it would be the Kickstarter community” and its host of early adopters, Walker said. “There’s actually a huge opportunity [for home improvement]. Connected home is an exploding industry right now.”
Both Outlaw Fasteners and Bosse Tools, the maker of an ergonomic shovel, exceeded their funding goals.
Elmore stressed that it wasn’t enough to build a good Kickstarter campaign, though the quality of presentation is what makes or breaks these kinds of efforts. Outlaw hired social media pros to launch a PR campaign in tandem with the Kickstarter campaign.
Beyond reaching the correct audience, it was the demonstration of the actual use of the product that proved especially challenging.
“We assume [the video] is being watched by a knowledgeable user of home improvement,” he said. “We wanted to test the viability of the product in the hands of the person who’s operating the drill, so our content had to show people using it and clearly explaining its benefits, whether you’re a professional in the industry or if you’re just putting up curtain rods. The campaign couldn’t leave anything unanswered. [Questions like] ‘How did you coat the screws?’ would be asked by a pro.”
At the end of the day, the components of a successful crowdfunding campaign ring true for all market segments: high-quality video content, branding, packaging and product display, as well as a certain amount of restraint.
“There’s no magic,” Walker said. “It comes down to having an engaging product that people see value in and that they ultimately want. The whole idea was [it being] something the market hadn’t seen before.”
Deck screws with a grudge against stripping, wobbling and bit changes
Raised: $109,926 of $100,000 goal
Story behind the story: It won Pro Tool Review’s “Innovative Product of the Year Award” while it was still in its fundraising phase.
Where are they now? Getting ready to fill all those freshly minted orders.
The 16-million-hued, everlasting light bulb you control with your smartphone
Raised: $1,314,542 of $100,000 goal
Story behind the story: The campaign raised $1.3 million in just six days — more than 13 times that of its original goal.
Where are they now? Proliferating their wares internationally.
The futuristic shovel your back will thank you for
Raised: $64,142 of $60,000 goal
Story behind the story: The 24-year-old founder won several entrepreneurship competitions in college before deciding to launch Bosse Tools upon graduation.
Where are they now? Gearing up for production, whilst scheming about future ergonomic tool innovation.
The world’s only multi-function hammer with a built-in crowbar
Raised: $135,250 of $100,000 goal
Story behind the story: The Cole-Bar Hammer was a joint vision shared by Indianapolis inventor Lance Hyde and his 11-year-old son Cole, who died in an accident months after conceiving the idea. Cole-Bar is the first hand tool ever to be successfully launched on Kickstarter.
Where are they now? Taking pre-orders online
The never-panic-over-your-front-door-again app
Raised: $2,278,891 of $150,000 goal
Story behind the story: Was only surpassed this July as the most successful self-funding campaign (ever).
Where are they now? Taking on additional pre-orders in the midst of its official launch.
Wrap it up
You can’t stop the weather, but you can sell a barrier.
The debate over the necessity of weather barriers is over — they’re necessary. But the question remains: Which barrier is best suited for any given project?
“A house needs some kind of drainage plane,” said Allison A. Bailes III, PhD., president and founder of Energy Vanguard, a building science consulting firm in Decatur, Ga. “A housewrap’s main purpose is to serve as a drainage plane. When water gets behind the cladding, it drains the water down. And a housewrap is only one of a number of products that can do that.”
Generally speaking, weather barriers permit water vapor transmission from inside the house, but they also prevent bulk water from penetrating the building envelope, the Upper Marlboro, Md.-based Home Innovation Research Labs writes on its website. If moisture is allowed to build up in the wall cavity or between building layers, it becomes a breathing ground for mold and rot.
Products such as Tyvek (spun-bonded poly-olefin) from DuPont and Typar by Fiberweb have become popular choices for many single-family and multi-family builders. The manufacturers tout the products as lightweight and easy-to-install options and extol the virtues of their performance as moisture and air barriers.
But those types of housewraps aren’t the only game in town. “Other options are felt, which some builders still use; foam board, which is used for exterior sheathing and, if taped properly, can be used as a drainage plane; and there are products like the Zip Wall System [from Huber Engineered Woods],” Bailes said.
In recent years, the weather barrier category has swollen with new introductions and technology, such as Weather Tex by Fortifiber Building Systems Group. The manufacturer claims the two-ply product is the industry’s first hybrid weather-resistive barrier.
The drainage plane on a home is important, and choosing a product or materials should not be taken lightly. Plus, builders and architects need to consider a range of issues, such as the cladding material to be used.
Other issues include the rise and fall of temperatures within a certain range, the type of wall assemblies and, most importantly, climate. “In general, water vapor moves from the warm side of building assemblies to the cold side of building assemblies,” writes Building Science Corp. “This is simple to understand, except we have trouble deciding what side of a wall is the cold or warm side. Logically, this means we need different strategies for different climates.”
The final piece of the puzzle, of course, is proper installation. A drainage plane should be installed before windows and doors, and it should be installed in a shingle lap fashion and have enough space to drain moisture down and out to the exterior. Horizontal joints should be lapped at least 6 ins. and vertical joints should be lapped 6 ins. to 12 ins. All joints should be taped.
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