On January 1, 2010, California Assembly Bill 1953 took effect, limiting the maximum lead content of any plumbing product made to deliver potable water at 0.25 percent — down from the 8 percent limit that still prevails throughout most of the United States under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the “lead-free” bill into law back on September 30, 2006, AquaBella Kitchen & Bath Showroom and its parent company WHCI Plumbing Supply Company in Union City, California had already begun preparations for this milestone. Five years ago, when it first opened its doors to retail consumers, the 2,200-square-foot showroom had positioned itself to meet the growing concern for environmental conservation and consumer product safety.
WHCI started 55 years ago repairing water heaters and now distributes a wide variety of plumbing supplies, hardware, and tools. The company serves a unique market: California, where standards are set for consumer and environmental protection that the rest of the nation, by and large, eventually emulates. California consumers are proactively going green.
AquaBella showroom manager Jenn Franco and her staff see daily evidence of the transition, finding themselves fielding questions first and foremost about the green attributes of products they carry. In a state that fuels the nation’s political furnace of government intervention in private-sector environmental compliance and where eco-awareness motivates constituents to call on their representatives for reform, AquaBella finds itself in an advantageous position by featuring American Standard products.
Green without envy
“There are a limited number of manufacturers offering green products with the high-end design of American Standard,” Franco explains. Meanwhile, like most savvy American consumers today, AquaBella customers have demonstrated a demand for value, as well as style, in the products they purchase.
“American Standard offers many popular and stylish designs at mid-range price points,” Franco continues. “This is a great selling point for the times we live in. Our customers love that they can select a water efficient product – like the Tropic® FloWise® toilet – and build an entire bath suite around it. We also refer customers to American Standard’s website, which has a water-savings calculator they can use to determine how much money they can save with a specific product.”
The showroom has a boutique feel with a calming, minimalist mood. Just beyond the entry, visitors walk past a large Tuscany mural and a saltwater fish tank toward a number of kitchen and bath vignettes accessorized with soaps, towels, bamboo, toiletries and more. Also on display is a wide array of water-saving products from American Standard, JADO® and Porcher® – toilets, showers and faucets, including lead-free models introduced in 2009 to comply with California’s new lead-free legislation. Showcasing both distinctive style and practical functionality, AquaBella displays empower the staff to meet the eco-friendly living needs of its customers.
The grass is greener on the other side
Most would agree that water conservation should play a role in our daily routine to some degree. In addition to the environmental benefits, consumers save money on their utility bills. Standing on this greener side of the fence, Franco and the AquaBella staff can see no downside.
“Many of our customers are doing their entire homes green,” says Franco, “and water conservation is especially important to them. They’re educated on rebate programs of their local water districts, and they ask to see everything we have that qualifies. Since half of our showroom is American Standard, we have an extensive selection to show them.”
To better assist their customers, the AquaBella staff built a list of EPA WaterSense-certified products from American Standard and other manufacturers, including rebate-qualifying toilets like the Cadet 3 Right Height FloWise and H2Option Siphonic Dual Flush.
“The American Standard brand name with its history of quality reassures our customers that they’re buying a product that doesn’t compromise functionality or design to help the environment. Of course, these products also save them money.”
Not green on green
Most promotion for AquaBella is done by word-of-mouth. Having forged strong community ties through WHCI’s history of participation in the Union City Chamber of Commerce and various industry associations, including PHCC, DPHA, and NKBA, the staff is regularly exposed to sponsored events, shows and training. This has resulted in value-added promotions on new green technology for its contractor customers.
Before California Assembly Bill 1953 took effect, AquaBella invited its manufacturer-partners, including American Standard, to educate its staff on the steps necessary to comply with the new “lead-free” law. The briefing also targeted plumbers and contractors, who make up approximately 75 percent of the showroom foot traffic and who refer their customers directly to the showroom to choose their products. Valuable facts gleaned from the information sessions ranged from product installation instructions and functionality, down to specifics on fines for non-compliance.
Adds Franco: “American Standard has a dedicated webpage, called ‘Lead-Free in 2009,’ that has helped us become a frontrunner on the technology involved in compliance. It allowed us to get the right products into our showroom and pass the knowledge on to our customers before the law took effect. No one was caught on the wrong side of the law.”
As the Golden State drives yet another mile down the road toward saving our planet, AquaBella is right there, too – just ahead of the green curve.