Vitreous China Plumbing Fixtures and China and Earthenware Fittings and Bathroom Accessories

SIC 3261

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry classification consists of establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing vitreous china plumbing fixtures and china and earthenware fittings and bathroom accessories. Items manufactured in this industry include flush tanks, lavatories, bidets, urinals, toilet fixtures, closet bowls, drinking fountains, and sinks. Other items include vitreous china and earthenware bolt caps, bathroom accessories, faucet handles, soap dishes, and towel bar holders.

Industry Snapshot

Manufacturers of vitreous china plumbing products function in the larger plumbing industry. The industry imposes strict standards that regulate everything from the width of pipe holes to the number of gallons used in each toilet flush. In 2005, U.S. shipment of vitreous china plumbing fixture and china and earthenware bathroom accessories was $916 million. Sales grew slowly but consistently in the late 1990s and early 2000s, from $1.1 billion in 1997 to $1.12 billion in 2001 before starting to drop. A majority of the goods shipped were vitreous china lavatories.

Vitreous china is a ceramic product made primarily with specially treated clays and other chemicals such as feldspar and silica, then glazed and fired at high temperatures in a kiln. Because vitreous products last forever and do not absorb water or other materials, it changed plumbing around the world.

In the late 2000s, vitreous china plumbing products manufacturers were negatively impacted by the economic downturn. Based on unit shipments, the U.S. plumbing market fell by 16.5 percent in 2009. Plumbing manufacturers reported sales were down by 15 and 20 percent across the board. Kohler Company fared better holding its share of the market, while competitor American Standard's fell.

Organization and Structure

The vitreous china plumbing industry is driven by trends in construction spending. Therefore, when the housing starts and remodeling trends plummeted in the 1980s, the industry suffered tremendously. Since vitreous china plumbing products are needed in residential and commercial settings, both construction industries affect the industry. Foreign-trade conditions also affect the manufacturers since imports still provide much of the plumbing ware in the United States.

Many manufacturers sell their wares only to distributors, who in turn sell the products to contractors and plumbers. Home centers, which changed the way many Americans furnish or remodel their homes and businesses, have affected the vitreous plumbing industry as well. For example, one large manufacturer, American Standard Inc., sells to independent wholesalers who sell to the trade. The company allows their wholesalers to sell American Standard products to home centers and other retailers. Their new line is actually being manufactured in Thailand to be sold in the United States.

Conversely, another major U.S. manufacturer, Kohler Company, continues to insist on selling its products only through distributors. Many manufacturers began to sell their wares directly to the home centers to prevent competitors from gaining too much market share.

Background and Development

From the time civilized populations became centralized, plumbing has been an important concern. Typhoid fever and dysentery spread during the Industrial Revolution when sewage systems continued to be combined with systems for drinking water. Separate systems were designed, allowing different plumbing fixtures to deliver drinking water and to remove waste materials from buildings.

Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet, or water closet as it was known in England, in 1884. He designed a mechanism with a float, valves, and arms to regulate the water in the flush tank that continues virtually unchanged in the twenty-first century. Early toilets as well as the earliest bathtubs, washbasins, and drinking fountains were made from enameled cast iron. Vitreous china plumbing products were not introduced for several more decades.

By 1927, Walter Kohler was making vitreous china lavatories and toilets in his Wisconsin pottery operation, which emerged at that time as the third largest plumbing products company in the United States. As consumers began to customize their bathrooms, Kohler created vitreous china plumbing products in colors that matched the enameled cast-iron bathtubs and accessories. In 1964, Kohler began to manufacture a self-rimming lavatory that eliminated the need for a metal frame or rim on the counter.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the attitude toward the bathroom changed in the United States. People spent more time in their bathrooms, using them not only for hygiene purposes, but also as a bastion of relaxation. Manufacturers also thrived as a result of the increasing numbers of bathrooms being placed in each home.

Competition from Abroad.
Imports of foreign vitreous plumbing fixtures have had a harmful impact on U.S.-made products. The value of U.S. imports of vitreous china fixtures jumped nearly 35 percent in the late 1990s, while U.S. exports declined. The U.S. Bureau of the Census measures apparent U.S. consumption of vitreous plumbing fixtures by subtracting exports of U.S.-produced fixtures from the total of imports plus U.S. manufacturers' shipments. In the late 1990s, this apparent consumption rose to $886 million, and the percentage of imports to apparent consumption rose to 7.7 percent.

Competition from Other Materials.
The vitreous china plumbing fixtures industry also experienced stiff competition from plastics and fiberglass. In the late 1990s the value of vitreous china fixtures was $883.7 million and had slipped to just over 51 percent that of plastic fixtures, which reported about $1.7 billion. Although vitreous china retained much of the toilet bowl market, it lost ground to plastics in the manufacture of lavatory sinks and toilet water tanks. Included within the plastics category are cultured marble and fiberglass-reinforced plastics (FRP).

Environmental Consciousness.
Water conservation became an important issue in the industry beginning in the 1970s. Most flush toilets used an average of 3.5 gallons per flush (gpf). A federal bill known as the National Plumbing Products Efficiency Act (NPPEA) was signed into law at the end of 1992 as part of the Comprehensive National Energy Policy Act. The bill regulated the amount of water required per flush of a toilet or urinal. It also regulated the flow rate of showerheads and faucets. The American Society of Plumbing Engineers Research Foundation conducted field studies in the early 1990s to explore the possibility of replacing 3.5 gpf toilets with 1.6 gpf fixtures. Despite the fact that they found more clogging in the low-flow fixtures, environmental concerns overrode their criticisms, and the new U.S. code was enacted.

Manufacturers of vitreous plumbing fixtures worked with other plumbing industry advisors to coordinate low-flow products, as well as other new products that were developed in response to consumer concerns. One group of these products featured so-called universal design. These plumbing fixtures were equally accessible by wheelchair-bound and elderly consumers. Another recent trend was the development of lead-free plumbing. New requirements for plumbing systems came as a response to several lawsuits involving faucets. California's 1986 law, known as Proposition 65, specified toxic substances that were prohibited from being discharged into drinking water. These changes, which required the implementation of lead-free plumbing, meant that entire plumbing systems had to be reworked.

Because of intense competition within the United States as well as from abroad, manufacturers had to expand their product lines, innovate with new technology, cut production costs, and improve their relationships with distributors. Advertising costs rose, and consumers exhibited a greater interest in the plumbing fixtures they bought.

Between 1997 and 2001, the value of U.S. shipments of vitreous china plumbing fixtures increased from $1.1 billion to $1.12 billion, but dropped to a low of $869 million by 2004 before rising marginally to $916 million in 2005. The cost of materials also rose from 2004 to 2005, from $251 million to $262 million, while employment decreased slightly from 6,902 to 6,704. The construction boom reportedly helped boost the industry in 2005.

In the mid-2000s, vitreous china was the leader in the lavatory segment, although it was challenged by cultured marble products. Factors affecting the plumbing industry in 2005 included high prices for raw materials, continuing consolidation of suppliers, and an emphasis on environmentally conscious building practices and materials. According to Contractor magazine, plumbing contractors and manufacturers were optimistic about the future after a record year in 2005.

Current Conditions

The overall plumbing industry was suffering from on of the worst economic downturns in U.S. history in the late 2000s. Residential construction fell 14.3 percent in 2009, while home remodeling fell eight percent and commercial construction by 20 percent. This led to a depletion of inventory by a number of plumbing wholesalers, home centers, hardware stores, and kitchen and bath stores by as much as 25 percent compared to 2008. Some analysts predicted new residential construction and home remodeling to resume in 2010, however, commercial construction wasn't expected to turnaround until the third-quarter of 2011 at best.

The Annual Survey of Manufacturers reported, the vitreous china plumbing fixture manufacturing industry was valued at nearly $591 million in 2008, falling slightly to $546 million in 2009. Additionally, a total of 2,856 employees worked in production in 2008 (of 3,516 employees), putting in an estimated 6 million hours to earn wages of more than $95 million. In 2009, a total of 4,536 employees worked in production in 2009 (of 5,711 employees), putting in nearly 8 million hours. Companies in this industry tended to be smaller in size, with about 35 percent employing less than four workers.

The largest industry sector with nearly 41 percent in market share was vitreous china or earthenware bathroom accessories and fittings generating $61 million in 2009. Manufacturers of vitreous plumbing fixtures followed with 25.9 percent in market share valued at $23.8 million, while Manufacturers of vitreous china plumbing fixtures held 10 percent in market share and shipments totaling an estimated $246 million.

Industry Leaders

Two of the biggest players in the vitreous china plumbing fixtures market in the mid-2000s were Kohler Company and American Standard Companies Inc. Family-owned Kohler, headquartered in Kohler, Wisconsin, sold its vitreous fixtures under the Kohler and Sterling brand names. The company had revenues of approximately $3 billion in 2005. Founded by John Kohler and partner Charles Silberzahn in 1873, the company was originally known as Kohler & Silberzahn. Charles Silberzahn left the company seven years after its founding. It was not until the mid-1920s that Kohler added vitreous china lavatory sinks and toilets to its product line. Operating more than 44 manufacturing facilities worldwide, Kohler employs 31,000 people. Kohler Company reported $5.5 billion in 2009 with 30,000 employees.

American Standard, recovered from financial difficulties during the 1990s and posted 2006 sales of $11.2 billion. The company was created in 1929 when American Radiator and Standard Sanitary merged to form American Radiator & Standard Sanitary, which was shortened to American Sanitary in 1967. For a time during the 1960s, American Standard was the world's leading manufacturer of plumbing fixtures. Headquartered in Piscataway, New Jersey, the company operated 116 manufacturing facilities in 33 countries and employed 62,200 people worldwide.

Other key manufacturers of vitreous china plumbing products in the United States include Eljer Plumbingware of Dallas, Texas. Raymond Crane, one of Eljer's founders, introduced the vitreous china toilet tank (replacing wooden or copper-lined cisterns) in 1907. Formerly a subsidiary of Jacuzzi Brands, Eljer was sold to an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners in mid-2005. Eljer's estimated sales in 2006 were $114.3 million, and it had 1,300 employees. Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Inc. of Chicago had three manufacturing plants in North America and two in China in the mid-2000s and sold most of its products to professional plumbers through wholesale distributors across the United States. Gerber Plumbing Fixture had 500 employees and sales of $110.3 million in 2005. While no sales were available for Gerber Plumbing Fixtures, the company employed 700 people by 2009. Crane Plumbing of Evanston, Illinois, manufactured products under the brand names Crane, Universal-Rundle, Fiat, Sanymetal, and Showerite. In 2004 it employed 2,700 people in 20 facilities in the United States and Canada and had sales of $154.3 million.

Workforce

In 2005, there were 6,704 employees in the industry, 5,582 of whom were production workers, earning an average of $16.37 an hour. Many of the plants where vitreous china plumbing products are manufactured are unionized. Some belong to the Glass Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union (GPPAW), while others are part of the local United Auto Workers (UAW). The GPPAW publishes a health and safety manual that identifies potential workplace hazards for manufacturers of vitreous china products. Unions also negotiate wages, certain workplace standards, vacation time, and other benefits for their members.

Many workers in this industry spend their entire careers perfecting one job. Each job in production is unique, from the creation of the special clay mixture (called slip) to the packaging of the final products.

Some plants have a sliphouse where machine operators and mixers bring the raw materials to exactly the right consistency before it is cast. Casters pour the slip into plaster of Paris molds, where it dries. Finishers remove coarse edges and seams. Glazing is done manually or with glazing machines before fixtures are taken to kilns to be fired. Kiln operators must deal with intense heat of up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit needed to meld glazes and ceramics. Inspectors and selectors check the finished products, sending some to packaging and others to be reground, reglazed, or refired.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters was expected to increase 18 percent by 2012. The industry reported approximately 41,200 employees in 2000. That was expected to reach about 584,000 by 2012. The anticipated growth was based on predictions for the construction industry, which was expected to grow 15.1 percent from 2002 to 2012.

America and the World

The manufacture of vitreous plumbing fixtures is a labor-intensive business. Costs for U.S. manufacturers rose dramatically at the end of the twentieth century, and foreign competition increased as a result of low labor costs of foreign companies.

Research and Technology

Vitreous china materials and basic toilet designs did not change significantly in the last half of the twentieth century. Much of the industry's research efforts concentrated on perfecting manufacturing methodologies. Quick-dry glazes, for instance, enable manufacturers to upgrade their rate of production. Many experiments in plumbing fixtures have gone by the wayside, while others are constantly being introduced. For example, Kohler recently introduced the Rosario Lite toilet, which flushes automatically when the user closes the lid.

Several foreign companies have proven adept in their aggressive efforts to improve their product line. Toto, one of Japan's largest plumbing products manufacturers, introduced several new features for plumbing fixtures that are not available in the United States in the mid-2000s. The company's Washlet toilet features hot-water cleaning and hot-air drying. Toto's Sound Princess, developed in response to the practice of many Japanese women of flushing repeatedly during one sitting, plays a recording of flushing water so that the user does not feel compelled to flush to mask conspicuous noises. Japanese manufacturers also produced toilets that send urine for medical tests. Another new product features an armrest that can simultaneously measure one's blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. As the population ages in the United States, these features might be requested more often, and local manufacturers may begin producing them.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

News and information about Vitreous China Plumbing Fixtures and China and Earthenware Fittings and Bathroom Accessories

Research and Markets Adds Report: Vitreous China Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing Industry in the U.S. and its International Trade - 2010 YE Edition
Manufacturing Close-Up; December 29, 2010; 599 words
...and the Manufacturing Sector (31- 33). Its SIC equivalent code is: 3261 - Vitreous China Plumbing Fixtures and China and Earthenware Fittings and Bathroom Accessories. Revenue, Profitability & Foreign Trade Preview The industry's revenue ...
Research and Markets Adds Report: Vitreous China Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing Industry in the U.S. and its International Trade - 2010 Year-End Edition
Manufacturing Close-Up; December 30, 2010; 700+ words
...and the Manufacturing Sector (31- 33). Its SIC equivalent code is: 3261 - Vitreous China Plumbing Fixtures and China and Earthenware Fittings and Bathroom Accessories. Revenue, Profitability & Foreign Trade Preview The industry's revenue ...
Research and Markets Adds Report: Vitreous China Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing Industry in the U.S. and its International Trade [2010 Year-End Edition].(Report)
Entertainment Close-up; December 28, 2010; 610 words
...and the Manufacturing Sector (31-33). Its SIC equivalent code is: 3261 - Vitreous China Plumbing Fixtures and China and Earthenware Fittings and Bathroom Accessories. Revenue, Profitability & Foreign Trade Preview The industry's revenue for...
Silicosis among pottery workers - New Jersey.
MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; June 12, 1992; 700+ words
...industry is classified under standard industrial classification (SIC) 3261-vitreous china plumbing fixtures and china and earthenware fittings and bathroom accessories. In the United States, 34 manufacturing facilities have a primary SIC of ...
Research and Markets Adds Report: Vitreous China Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing Industry in the U.S. and its International Trade - 2010 YE Edition
Manufacturing Close-Up; December 29, 2010; 599 words
...Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing...manufacturing vitreous china plumbing fixtures and china and earthenware...Ceramics, and Plumbing Fixture Manufacturing...3261 - Vitreous ...
Research and Markets Adds Report: Vitreous China Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing Industry in the U.S. and its International Trade - 2010 Year-End Edition
Manufacturing Close-Up; December 30, 2010; 700+ words
...Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing...manufacturing vitreous china plumbing fixtures and china and earthenware...Ceramics, and Plumbing Fixture Manufacturing...3261 - Vitreous ...
Research and Markets Adds Report: Vitreous China Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing Industry in the U.S. and its International Trade [2010 Year-End Edition].(Report)
Entertainment Close-up; December 28, 2010; 610 words
...Plumbing Fixture and China and Earthenware Bathroom Accessories Manufacturing...manufacturing vitreous china plumbing fixtures and china and earthenware...Ceramics, and Plumbing Fixture Manufacturing...3261 - Vitreous ...
Table 6. Producer Price Indexes and Percent Changes for Commodity and Service Groupings and Individual Items, Not Seasonally Adjusted
PPI Detailed Report; December 1, 2013; 700+ words
...5 246.5 fittings Vitreous china 1052 147 7 - - plumbing fixtures and china & earthenware bathroom accessories Vitreous china 1052...accessories Vitreous china 1052-0114...104 8 - - plumbing fixtures and ...

Search all articles about Vitreous China Plumbing Fixtures and China and Earthenware Fittings and Bathroom Accessories