Hubbell Water Heaters is celebrating 100 years in business. With its third generation of family leadership at the helm, the company is a testament to the delicate balance of resilience and innovation. The manufacturer has come a long way from its beginnigs, expanding far beyond residential electric water heaters to its current status focused on serving the needs of the commercial and industrial markets.
As the company looks toward what it hopes will be another century in business, it has established a new motto, “2020, Coming Into Focus.” The company recognizes that to sustain success it must not lose sight of the proven processes and systems that constitute its foundation.
“The water heating marketplace is saturated, and engineers have no shortage of choices,” said Bill Newbauer, CEO of Hubbell. “For this reason, we understand that we must continue to exceed the expectations of our customers. With growth comes an influx of new ideas and change. Our motto, ‘2020, Coming Into Focus,’ reminds us of the importance of having clarity in our business as we manage growth.”
Newbauer spoke with Plumbing Engineer about Hubbell and its plans to move the business forward. The following Q&A sheds light on how the company looks to empower its team and see continued growth.
PE: Is there a part of Hubbell’s history or brand story that typically surprises customers?
BN: Hubbell is a third generation family business with a product line comparable to a large manufacturer, but with the customer service of a small family run business. Doing business with Hubbell is comforting and reassuring.
Hubbell’s roots date back to the late 1800s when an entrepreneur and inventor named Harvey Hubbell began designing and producing electrical products, most notably the plug receptacle and the pull chain light socket, in addition to electric water heaters. As the story goes, when Harvey went to the bank to seek an injection of capital, they wanted him to divest himself of a few products, the electric water heater being one of them. The water heater division was sold off, and in 1920 was incorporated under the name, The Electric Heater Company, while the tradename, Hubbell, was maintained.
What many people may not be aware of is that Hubbell is also the parent company of two long standing manufacturers in the industry, Vaughn Thermal Corporation in Massachusetts and Ace Heaters in California. Hubbell Heaters have traditionally been considered a boutique brand. They may not be the choice that comes to mind for the regular run-of-the mill project, but they are recognized as a highly respected and reliable brand that is well-suited for engineered projects and applications with non-standard requirements.
PE: What differentiates Hubbell from other manufacturers in the market?
BN: We are inherently nimble and uniquely responsive to the engineer’s specific requirements. Besides producing long-lasting water heaters for commercial applications, Hubbell is always working to improve the efficiency of water heating in general. Our latest development is a series of water heaters that utilize waste heat from a building to preheat the hot water. These units utilize a large flat plate heat exchanger, a variable speed pump and a special controller to extract as much energy as possible from the waste heat. The packaged design then allows the water to be brought up to temperature via electricity, boiler water, gas or steam. Because the water was preheated, the secondary system adds less energy and thus creates a cost savings for the end user. Hubbell also offers innovative products for emergency showers and pure water applications that most other manufacturers don’t.
PE: Can you talk about Hubbell’s current product categories?
BN: Hubbell serves several markets, which is one reason for our success. The main markets we serve are commercial, industrial, foodservice, defense, and commercial marine/offshore markets, along with some niche segments mixed in as well.
Our diversification strategy has served us well, insulating us from economic and market forces beyond our control. Over time, as one particular segment goes through normal cyclical variations, another segment has been there to offset any weakness in market dynamics. Furthermore, part of our strength involves finding opportunities to leverage our expertise in one market, and then applying that expertise to solve problems for customers in other markets.
The name The Electric Heater Company indicates a lot about our roots, as we have always been an electric water heater manufacturer. But as industry fuel sources have expanded, so have our products. We currently design and build water heaters and packaged heating systems across all major fuel sources, including electric resistance, air/water heat pump, steam, boiler water, and gas.
PE: Are there key or best-selling SKUs in each product category that Hubbell would like to highlight?
BN: There are always product categories which seem to accelerate at different times in the market; from tankless and semi-instantaneous to storage and indirect-fired. We manufacture water heaters in a wide range of configurations, sizes and materials, something that is essentially unmatched in the industry. For example, Hubbell was an early innovator of point-of-use water heaters, developing and marketing a one-gallon, 120v point-of-use storage water heater ideal for delivering hot water to a lavatory sink.
Products range from one to 5,000 gallons of storage, as well as instantaneous, tankless and semi-instantaneous designs. Materials of construction include carbon steel, stainless steel, copper nickel, cement lining, and more. With cement lining, the adage “an oldie-but-goodie” holds up. Despite its humble reputation, cement remains the most proven and reliable lining. They have been successfully protecting hot water storage tanks for over a century and are well-known for their robustness. Cement provides seamless coverage and protection from corrosion which ultimately ensures reliable performance and a long-lasting water heater.
PE: Who is the Hubbell customer and how do you cater your services to them?
BN: Hubbell supports its customers through an extensive network of manufacturers’ representatives across North America. Our rep network is a major reason for Hubbell’s success, as we rely on their expertise and professionalism to ensure our customers, namely specifying plumbing engineers, have the resources and confidence to do their job. We support our reps so they can support the engineering community. We provide technical training, materials, seminars, webinars, and other educational experiences for our reps and engineers. We recognize that an engineer benefits when there is a strong local expert who either has the answers or knows how to get them. In the end, we rely on this local, accessible, and responsive face to ensure the engineers’ needs are met.
PE: For our engineer and specifier readers, is there anything Hubbell would like to highlight about its products?
BN: Hubbell has experience manufacturing a wide variety of water heating equipment with many different materials of construction. We work with the engineer to determine the best materials for their application. We have over 100 years of experience designing water heaters for demanding commercial applications and can recommend appropriately sized units for any project. We know engineers have many choices when it comes to water heaters and the differences between brands can be very subtle. We are proud of our history as a U.S. manufacturer and we embrace our niche in the marketplace. Certainly one of our greatest strengths is the direct and accessible relationship we have with our representatives and specifying engineers.
PE: For our designer readers, is there anything Hubbell would like to highlight about its products?
BN: Water heating is constantly evolving, so Hubbell assists designers in determining the best option for any given application, whether its for a central or a distributed system. Because we offer water heaters that use boiler water, natural gas, steam, or electricity for their inputs, we also help the designer pick a fuel source that will help meet the efficiency objectives of the project.
PE: As it relates to codes and standards, is there anything about Hubbell products you would like to highlight?
BN: Most notably, we’ve integrated the use of high efficiency polyurethane foam insulation to reduce standby heat loss and improve the operating efficiency of all our cement lined storage tanks and water heaters. We expanded this technology into all of our ASME and Non-ASME cement lined hot water storage tanks and water heaters creating an extensive line of highly efficient water heaters and heating systems. Hubbell’s ability to utilize this foam insulation for larger tanks over 120 gallons is an example of our manufacturing flexibility and our ability to efficiently produce customized and low production volume storage tanks and water heaters.
PE: Related to product technology and innovation, is there anything exciting about Hubbell products you find notable?
BN: Hubbell shows its value to engineers and owners by being flexible, responsive and capable of solving problems. Hubbell’s strength is customizing and developing innovative solutions for our customers, not high volume mass production for the residential market. We excel in applications involving strict space constraints, unusual installation locations, unique power requirements, or a non-standard control logic requirement.
Hubbell is often the first to solve a difficult problem and/or find an innovative solution for an underserved market. For example, Hubbell was the first to provide a standardized solution for delivering high flow, continuous tepid water safely, efficiently, and reliably to emergency safety shower and eyewash stations. By combining the advantages of Hubbell’s cement lined storage tank with an integrated control system, our heaters can supply continuous tepid water for 15 minutes at 23 GPM.
PE: Related to technology, is there anything new to share from Hubbell?
BN: Our focus in 2020 will be enhancing customers’ experience with well-structured, organized and valuable content that speaks their language in both online and offline platforms. We will launch a new, responsive website, a critical component of the customer experience. The site will feature improved content and web elements for plumbing engineers, reps and existing customers. All this will simplify product selection and specifications, order fulfilment and customer service. We will continue to develop both industry and application-specific catalogs, including new catalogs for Safety Systems, RO/DI, Process, Marine, and Foodservice industries. We also plan to develop more educational resources for our customers such as whitepapers, quick facts and case studies which our customers can easily access via our digital and social channels.
PE: Will Hubbell be featured on any notable projects in 2019 or 2020?
BN: We are and will be involved in several exciting projects! These include Miller Coors Brewing Company in Colorado, Spotify in Massachusetts, the U.S. Capitol Building/Architect of the Capitol in Washington D.C., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Alabama Power in Alabama, Bechtel Uranium Processing Facility National Security Complex in Tennessee, Nordstrom Tower in New York City, Google Caribbean Campus in California, 9 DeKalb Avenue in New York City, and The University Of Kentucky.
PE: Has or will the business structure of Hubbell change in the near future?
BN: Hubbell has implemented a new management system to help manage and strengthen our business. Developed by Gino Wickman, the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) is a comprehensive methodology that ensures the entire company is aligned in vision and in process, while maximizing our most important asset -- our people. Getting all of these elements properly managed provides us with what EOS calls “Traction.” This means bringing discipline and accountability into the organization, becoming great at execution, and taking the vision down to the ground and making it real. As we gain more traction, we strengthen our business and further accelerate our growth in accordance with our core values and our goals.
PE: Are there any markets or industries Hubbell will be breaking into in the near future?
BN: There aren’t many new markets left for us to break into, considering the variety of markets we already serve with our wide range of products. However, the aerospace market is on our radar (pardon the pun). With Hubbell’s extensive experience designing and building water heaters and heating systems for U.S. Navy combatant vessels and submarines, we are well-equipped to engineer and build highly reliable water heaters for aerospace onboard aircraft. Our engineering expertise and proven track record for meeting stringent quality standards make us a natural fit for the aerospace industry. Our compact, point-of-use water heaters in both tank and tankless styles are ideal for space constrained and weight-conscious applications onboard aircraft.