- Modest Beginnings
- The Big Break
- The Laboratory Market
- Continuing Focus
- Moving Forward
In 2009, WaterSaver Faucet Co. celebrates over sixty years of service to the laboratory industry. From modest beginnings, WaterSaver has grown to become the largest worldwide manufacturer of faucets, valves, safety equipment and related products for use in science laboratories. Quality, innovation and service have been our hallmarks.
We are always mindful that we owe our success to the efforts of a dedicated and skilled workforce and the loyalty of our customers. For over half a century, we have endeavored to fulfill the confidence placed in us by those who specify, purchase and use our products. We are dedicated to continuing that commitment for generations to come.
President, Watersaver Faucet Company
From Modest Beginnings
WaterSaver’s history goes back to the early 1900’s, when Samuel Kersten Sr. founded a small plumbing contracting business in Chicago. Although an orphan with little formal education, Kersten was a streetwise, shrewd businessman with an exceptional mechanical aptitude. By the late 1920s, he had built his plumbing company into one of the largest contracting firms in Chicago.
While successful in the contracting field, Kersten Sr. was an inveterate “tinkerer” and drawn to the world of inventing and manufacturing. He spent years working on a variety of plumbing-related products, obtaining twelve patents on his inventions.
His major interest was in developing a new, higher quality faucet. Dissatisfied with the quality of available faucets, his would incorporate two unique features. First, all of the working components of the faucet would be incorporated into a self-contained cartridge. The faucet body itself would thus have unlimited life. Second, the cartridge would have an adjustable orifice to control the flow of water through the valve. This volume control device—the “Water Saver”—would eventually become our namesake.
While Samuel Kersten Sr. was working on “water saving” faucets, his son Samuel Kersten Jr. was called to serve his country in World War II. Samuel Jr. served with distinction in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of captain and leading his unit on D-Day in the landing at Omaha Beach. Returning home from war, Sam Jr. was typical of his generation. Shaped by his experiences, and fiercely proud of his accomplishments, he was eager to resume his career and personal life after a four-year hiatus. The two Kerstens made the decision to close the contracting company and form a new company to concentrate exclusively on manufacturing the new faucet line.
At first, they offered a line of commercial and institutional faucets. However, they met with little success, for they were trying to sell a high- quality, premium priced product in a commodity-oriented market. Through a series of coincidences, Sam Kersten Jr. got an exposure to the laboratory field. He immediately perceived that there was an opportunity to sell his products based on their higher quality. He therefore introduced the “WaterSaver” line of laboratory faucets and valves.
The Big Break
Progress was slow. In the early years, the company consisted of little more than a handful of people and a few machines bought at war surplus auction. Sam Jr. went to trade school to learn how to operate a mill, a lathe and a drill press. He would make sales calls to sell his products and, if he was successful in getting an order, he would return to the factory and literally make the faucets himself. On Saturday afternoons, he would load a four wheel hand truck with the week’s production and wheel it down the street to the train station for shipment to his customers.
The first real break came in 1952, when the E.I. DuPont Co. embarked upon a construction program at the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. WaterSaver products were specified for this work. DuPont’s requirements took the company six months to complete. But completing this project for such a prominent user gave the company credibility in its industry. The revenue from the project enabled the little company to buy some much-needed machinery and raw materials, and WaterSaver was launched into its future.
Serving the Laboratory Market
Since the early 1950s, WaterSaver has specialized exclusively in manufacturing products for laboratory use. We are the only U.S. company to have so specialized. We believe that our success is based upon our single-minded focus on the laboratory marketplace. Our products provide the performance and durability demanded in the lab environment. Our manufacturing plant has been set up solely to produce lab fittings. For our competitors, a lab fitting is a “special,” often consisting of no more than an assembly of outsourced parts. For WaterSaver, it is what we do every day, crafted ourselves with our own hands.
In addition to offering laboratory faucets and valves, we also offer a comprehensive line of emergency eye wash and shower equipment designed for the needs of the laboratory environment. These products are produced by our sister company, Guardian Equipment. Guardian was formed in the mid-1970s with the goal of producing the highest quality emergency equipment. Today, Guardian has grown to become one of the largest manufacturers of such equipment in the world.
Our continuing focus is to enhance and expand the value that we provide our customers. To do so, we concentrate on:
Quality. Our products must continue to represent the highest standards of quality in their performance and durability. The name “WaterSaver” must remain synonymous with the highest quality laboratory service fittings.
Product Innovation. Today’s emphasis in lab design is on flexibility and mobility. Lab fittings that are connected tobuildingservices can be an impediment to the needed flexibility. WaterSaver has responded with a series of fittings designed specificallyfor the needs of the “flexible lab,” including service manifolds and quick connect fittings that provide complete freedom to reconfigure the lab.
Global Sales. WaterSaver products are now marketed, sold and installed all over the globe. To support our increasingly international customer base, we have established a global sales presence. We operate a sales office in Mexico to support the Latin American market, in England to support the United Kingdom market and in Singapore to support the Asian market. In addition, we have agents in Scandinavia and the Middle East. We are positioned to provide support for users literally across the globe.
Global Manufacturing. For most of our history, all WaterSaver products were manufactured in their entirety in Chicago. That changed in 2005, when we established a second manufacturing plant in Monterrey, Mexico. Our Monterrey facility is a smaller version of our Chicago plant, where we manufacture component parts for our product line. These components are then shipped to Chicago for finishing and assembly into the completed product. We established this plant in order to (i) provide us with much-needed additional capacity, (ii) assure that a catastrophic loss or work stoppage would not prevent us from servicing our customers and (iii) lower our manufacturing costs.
Speed. The current business environment demands speed in everything we do. From processing orders to shipping our products, we are faced with ever-shorter time frames. We have invested heavily in plant and equipment to assure that we have the capacity necessary to meet the ever-shorter lead times our customer expects. Flexible manufacturing cells, computer aided design and computer numerically controlled machine tools enable us to manufacture the product configurations we need in the time frame we have to do so.
Continuous Improvement. While the costs of raw materials, energy and health benefits are climbing dramatically, our customers demand stable pricing. The only way to meet their expectation is to continually become more efficient. We continue to invest heavily in new machinery, reexamine our business processes and streamline everything we do to take costs out of our operations.
The challenges of starting and building WaterSaver Faucet Co. must have been great. Looking forward, the challenges are different but no less real. To be sure, we live in an era of constant change and increasing globalization. Our mission is to sustain and build upon the sixty years of growth and success that we have had, in a world that is an increasingly smaller and faster place. To achieve this, we are focusing on several important initiatives:
Expanding Our Manufacturing Facilities. When we moved into our facility at 701 W. Erie Street, the company was much smaller than it is today. In fact, in 1970 the entire WaterSaver operation did not even occupy the full second floor of the building. Over the past thirty-seven years, WaterSaver and Guardian have gradually grown and expanded, to the point where we have now finally filled up the building. While establishing our plant in Mexico has given us additional capacity and relieved some of our space pressures, it is clear that our Chicago plant will not be able to accommodate the continued expansion of these two businesses. After looking at a wide variety of alternatives over the past several years, in late 2006 we determined our course of action. We acquired a 70,000-square-foot industrial facility that is located approximately one-half mile from our current location. Our plan is to (i) completely renovate the newly acquired facility, (ii) move production of the Guardian emergency eye wash and shower product line into the new facility, and (iii) renovate and expand our current facility. When this process is complete, we will have doubled our square footage and will be operating out of two “state-of-the-art” manufacturing facilities. This plan will provide us with the space we need to grow and to implement efficiencies in our manufacturing operations, while minimizing the disruption and dislocation that a complete relocation would entail.
Responsibility to the Environment. As a manufacturing company that fabricates metal products, we necessarily consume raw materials and natural resources in our operations. However, we are keenly aware of our obligation to use such resources wisely and to be responsible stewards of the environment. Therefore, our construction plans will be guided by the principles of sustainable design. We intend to achieve gold level LEED certification for both of our facilities. Going forward, we are committed in our manufacturing operations to the efficient use of energy, the reduced consumption of water and the recapture and reuse of all excess and scrap materials.
Employee Development. As manufacturing in the United States has declined, we find it increasingly difficult to recruit employees that have the skills we need to operate. Our decision to remain and expand in the City of Chicago may accentuate this skills gap. We have therefore made a significant commitment to invest in our human capital. We have implemented extensive programs to provide our employees with the training they need to perform their jobs. We teach our employees what they need to know, from reading and interpreting a blueprint, to using measuring instruments, to programming a computer-controlled machine tool.
We appreciate very much the support we have received from you, our customers, and the confidence that you have placed in us. We will endeavor to justify your confidence and serve your needs for quality laboratory service fittings and safety equipment for years to come.