Celebrating 100 years...
Sloan Valve continues to build on strong foundation
BY MARY JO MARTIN
Sloan Valve Co. has been headquartered at this 400,000-square-foot-facility in Franklin Parl, Ill. since 1970.
Sloan Valve Co., founded by prolific inventor William E. Sloan (1867-1961), is marking 100 years of continuous production in 2006.
Early in his career, Sloan was an apprentice pipe fitter in his native Missouri before moving to Chicago and working as a foreman, superintendent and, later, an independent contractor. His experiences and self-study led Sloan to a lifelong interest in inventing — over his lifetime, Sloan was credited with 64 inventions.
Likely his most notable invention —and what became the start of Sloan Valve Co. — was the Royal Flushometer. This revolutionary, yet simple, diaphragm-type valve was the original product of Sloan Valve Co. when it began doing business in 1906 on Dearborn Street in downtown Chicago. One hundred years later, the Royal is still the largest-selling Flushometer in Sloan Valve’s line. And amazingly, the valve’s fundamental hydraulic design and its working principle have not changed. Flushometer valves use pressure from the water supply system rather than the force of gravity to discharge water into the bowl of toilets and urinals. The diaphragm technology allows the flush valve to open and let water into the bowl. The same pneumatic mechanism automatically closes the valve.
While there were many benefits to using Flushometers rather than toilet tanks in commercial structures — water savings, reduced maintenance, less opportunity for breakage and vandalism, little recycling time between flushes —Sloan encountered much resistance and discouragement when selling his product in those early years.
Contractors, architects and building engineers were reluctant to pay the somewhat higher initial cost of the Flushometer installation. Toilets fitted with a Flushometer required a larger branch supply line than traditional tank models, which added cost. They also were resistant to change, making new introductions such as the Flushometer tough to sell. Sloan even encountered some fixture manufacturers who refused to furnish product if Flushometers were to be used with them.
|Here are just a few of Sloan's vast line of plumbing products. Sloan is a pioneer in infared flushing devices such as its Optima flush valve in the center of this group.
In fact, in Sloan Valve’s first year in business, Sloan was able to sell only one Flushometer. The second year, he sold two. While that was not exactly an auspicious start, by the third year, Sloan Valve sold 150 Flushometers — and the company was on its way to solid footing.
Much of Sloan Valve’s early success can be attributed to W.E. Sloan’s persistence. He often would install Royal Flushometers for demonstration with building engineers so they could see the savings and benefits for themselves. This helped the trade relax their opposition to these new devices.
In addition to the Royal, Mr. Sloan also invented piston-type Flushometers, known as the Star, Crown, Gem and Naval, along with urinal flushing systems and the Act-O-Matic showerhead.
As sales and production grew, Sloan Valve moved several times to larger locations in downtown Chicago. Around 1920, Sloan commissioned noted architect Alfred S. Altschuler to design a new plant on Lake Street. That facility underwent four additions and was the home to Sloan Valve until 1970. The company purchased a 400,000-square-foot building in Franklin Park, Ill., in June 1970, which continues to serve as the headquarters and plumbing division plant.
With the exception of a period of time in the 1940s and early 1950s, Sloan Valve has been under the leadership of W.E. Sloan’s descendents, including his son Jim Sloan, son-in-law Charles C. Allen, and current president and CEO, his grandson Charles S. (Chuck) Allen.
“Over the years, Sloan Valve has continued to focus on its core business — flush valves,” said Allen, who has been president for the past 29 years. “In the late 1970s, Sloan Valve made a very important strategic move into electronic plumbing. For years, the company had evaluated different technologies, but finally identified infrared sensing as a reliable, cost-effective solution. Sloan Valve has now become a market leader in electronic plumbing with its Optima flush valves and faucets.”
Sloan Valve has also grown through line expansion and acquisition:
- The Flushmate Division, based in New Hudson, Mich., is a leading manufacturer of flushometer tanks used by many of the industry’s fixture manufacturers. Sloan Valve acquired Flushmate in 1986. “Under the leadership of its general manager Joe Bosman, Flushmate has continued an aggressive product development schedule,” Allen said. “Today, its one-gallon flushometer tank is leading another industry round of water conservation initiatives and is a cornerstone of Sloan Valve’s Water Conservation Division.”
- Arichell Technologies Inc. in West Newton, Mass., is the design center and manufacturing facility for the electronic plumbing line. Sloan Valve purchased Arichell in 2005 from its founder, Natan Parsons. Arichell produces electronic circuit boards on a surface-mount technology line, as well as Sloan Valve’s patented isolated solenoid.
- Sloan Valve’s Foundry Division is based in Augusta, Ark., and supplies all the castings for Sloan Valve’s machining operation. “Every day, trucks travel to and from the facility bringing castings up North and returning to Arkansas with machine scrap, which is reprocessed into new product,” Allen explained. The foundry also houses Sloan Valve’s rubber molding operation. Robert Beard heads up the Augusta facility.
- A plant in Suzhou, China, has permanent molding capability, CNC machining and automated polishing. “Our China operation supplies Sloan Valve’s Franklin Park facility with faucet spouts, which are then outfitted with electronics from Arichell,” Allen explained. “The Suzhou operation also serves as a sales and distribution center for our products sold in China.”
- Sloan operates three remote distribution centers in Montclair, Calif., Alpharetta, Ga., and Bohemia, N.Y. “Sloan has focused on customer service for the last several years,” said Allen. “These distribution centers play an important role in reducing delivery time as well as serving as a training and education facility.”
To maintain their position in the marketplace, Sloan Valve has relied on strategic product development. The company’s research efforts focus on finding advanced technologies to improve the customers’ value proposition.
“All new products must provide an element of value for the owner who invests in properties, for the contractor who installs it, to the maintenance person who ultimately interfaces with the product on a daily basis,” said Pete Jahrling, director-design engineering. “We are constantly introducing new technologies into our products in small advancements and complete customer solutions. We have a proprietary process that requires a fixed percentage of product sales come from new product development. There is a full-time team which identifies customer needs and wants in an effort to align expectations between Sloan Valve and our customers.”
Working hand-in-hand with new product development, marketing is a critical link between Sloan Valve and its customers.
“You only have to look at the early ads to see that W.E. Sloan was a born marketer,” noted director-marketing Susan Kennedy. “For example, long before it was popular, he targeted end users of his product - not just the distribution channel. This benefited the entire value chain.
“Marketing is identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer needs effectively and profitably. Throughout the years, Sloan has demonstrated its ability to do this in a very competitive marketplace. Sloan has built its 100 years of success on the tenets of integrity, respect and dedication to employees and customers.”
Customer training is also an area of emphasis at Sloan Valve. The company offers several different training courses that are conducted at its distribution centers. Sloan Valve will also provide training at customers’ facilities when requested.
“Our most popular courses are the Basic Session, which is a one-day seminar, and the Advanced Session, which is a two-day class,” explained director-technical support John Watson. “Both cover the fundamentals of Flushometer operation, but the two-day session includes more in-depth coverage of our electronic products. We also offer a Parts Series that is designed to cover the basic operation of the valve and how to keep it in proper working order. These and other sessions can be tailored to customers’ specific needs.”
Throughout its history, Sloan Valve has continued to build on the processes that have made the company so successful, while being flexible enough to adapt to changes within the marketplace.
“Sloan Valve has always been able to change with the times,” noted water conservation manager Jim Allen, great-grandson of W.E. Sloan. “Meeting and exceeding industry expectations has been what sets us apart. Many times, Sloan has been the driving force between an industry change. During World War II, we reacted not only to the needs of the industry, but also the needs of the country. We turned our production over to assist in the war effort. We’ve led the industry into the age of the touchless bathroom, and have developed what we believe is the most comprehensive package of water conservation products on the market. Sloan will continue to pioneer innovations that drive change within the industry.
“We are committed to use the next 100 years of our industry leadership to transform water use in this country and around the world. We began this effort focused on those same fundamentals that led Sloan to our first 100 years of success — revolutionary designs, an uncompromising commitment to quality, and a devotion to serving our customers.”
Graham Allen, also a great-grandson of W.E. Sloan and the company’s architectural specifications director, is extremely proud of the leadership and innovation shown by Sloan Valve over its history. He believes the company’s corporate culture is a major factor in its ongoing success.
“We know there are others out there gunning for us,” he said, “that’s the fate of a leader. But it’s our job to stay out of reach of their slings and arrows as best we can. We’ve taken our licks over the years, but we always come back — and come back swinging. That’s how we’ve seen over 50 competitors come and go from our niche in the marketplace, and there are more on the horizon. I guess we should feel proud that we make an incredibly difficult business look so darn easy.”
Another obvious area of change is the emphasis on electronic technology for the ordering process. Currently, one-quarter of Sloan Valve’s business is done via electronic data interchange (EDI), while 65% is done through the company’s website ordering system. Only 10% of orders are still entered manually.
“Sloan Valve has invested in the development of both edi ordering technologies and website business-to-business ordering technologies,” explained Tom Coleman, director-information technology. “We use Inovis and SAP EDI technologies and SAP CRM internet sales web technologies.”
Chuck Allen has witnessed first-hand the significant growth of Sloan Valve during his 34 of years with the company. For him, it has been exceptionally rewarding.
“My greatest satisfaction as the CEO of Sloan Valve is, of course, to see the company grow and prosper,” Chuck Allen said. “But more specifically, I have been very proud of my contribution to Sloan’s growth in electronic sensor technology, the company’s demand/pull manufacturing strategy, and the fact that my three sons chose to come to work for Sloan Valve Company.”
In reflecting on his family’s continuing leadership, fourth-generation executive Kirk Allen — another of W.E. Sloan’s great-grandsons — noted, “I can’t speak to the other three generations before my own, but for my brothers and me it is all about family. Not only our own family, but also the greater Sloan Valve family. The three of us have been coming out to the factory since we were in diapers, and we know almost everyone. We were raised by our father to respect and appreciate the unique value and culture of the company, and that has drawn all of us to the business. We want to be a part of growing and preserving the business for future generations.
“Sloan Valve will engage the challenges of its next 100 years with the people, processes and resources necessary to remain an industry leader. We will partner with the value change to drive business to our partners in distribution that have supported us throughout our history. We give our thanks to the community of loyal Sloan Valve distributors, and look forward to serving their needs in the future.”
For more information, call 800/982-5839 or visit www.sloanvalve.com.