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Like many countries in the midst of World War II, France found its land decimated and agriculture on the decline. Many French citizens found themselves out of their homes and living in communal spaces. These spaces, commonly apartment buildings, featured community bathrooms that made the tasks of using the toilet and bathing a feat.
In 1958, Societe Française d’Assainissement (Group SFA), invented the macerator. The product revolutionized the plumbing industry, allowing people to bring bathrooms into their individual apartments. Today, Group SFA is recognized as a leader in the plumbing market.
“The main message to the public, upon the macerator’s introduction to the market, was to show people that they could add a bathroom to any space without having to do major construction,” said Stéphane Harel, deputy managing director at Group SFA. “The product quickly became a success.”
The first product to be manufactured by Group SFA was a water treatment system used in French municipalities. However, after the macerators were officially introduced, they became the company’s primary product category, with gray water pump systems following.
Group SFA’s expanding manufacturing capabilities, including injection, extrusion, electronic and motor applications, were key to the development of the 24 subsidiaries the company operates worldwide. Today, the company has subsidiaries in France, Sweden, England, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Holland, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Turkey, Japan, China and South Africa.
Manufacturing the product
Group SFA has three manufacturing facilities in France: Brégy, Marseille and Nantes. The first factory was established in the early 1960s in Issy Les Moulineaux, a suburb of Paris. At the time, Group SFA only assembled its products, which were actually manufactured by a third party. In 1977, Group SFA opened the Brégy factory to produce macerators and pumps.
From 1988 through 1993, the Brégy factory underwent a number of major expansions. And, from 1997-1998, a new lab as well as other additions were made to the factory. Recently, Saniflo, the U.S. subsidiary of Group SFA, brought some of its customers to the Brégy factory as part of the company’s “Trip of a Lifetime” promotion. PHC News attended the tour as an exclusive media guest.
On the Brégy tour, guests were shown how the plastic and rubber used in Group SFA products are molded. To begin, small pellets or particles are sent through an intricate piping system to be delivered to the machinery that facilitates the melting process. This intricate piping runs throughout the ceiling of the factory, allowing for space savings. Once the particles are at the press machine, they are melted to form the plastic. Finally, the melted plastic is poured into specific molds to create portions of final products, such as casing, non-return valves or lids seals.
In 2004, Group SFA expanded the Brégy factory specifically for molds and production. On the recent tour, guests were shown the fire-protected room that houses the molds. The company takes such precaution because Brégy is its largest factory and does the majority of its manufacturing.
“We wanted full control of the mold and mold quality, the heart of Saniflo business,” explained Hervé Genoud, vice director of the SFA Brégy factory. “One-third of our molds are active, one-third stored, and one-third in maintenance, in order to ensure top quality to our customers.”
Tour guests were also able to view the assembly area of the Brégy factory, where all of Group SFA’s macerators are assembled by hand, and the motor room where Group SFA has produced the motors for its products since 2008.
Plastic and copper are parts of the Saniflo motor “recipe,” as both materials help prevent bending of the motor. This helps extend the macerators’ product life, as sometimes the motors are working at very high speeds due to the different voltage allowances in different countries and regions around the world. The motors are also equipped with thermal technology that automatically shuts the motor off when it senses the temperature has exceeded its set point.
“While other manufacturers in the plumbing industry are sourcing from China and only assembling their products in-house, Group SFA is able to control the entire process from start to finish: injection, motor production, and assembly,” Genoud noted. “To do this, we have almost 200,000 square feet of manufacturing facilities and 160,000 square feet of warehousing facilities.”
Harel added, “We are focused on remaining vertically integrated. More than 70 percent of our production is internal to Group SFA. For the other 30 percent, we have worked closely with our European partners for many years, with quality as our No. 1 priority.”
In 2013, Group SFA added a larger lab to the Brégy factory to allow for increased product testing. On the recent tour, guests were able to see the new space and witness onsite product testing. In the continued pursuit of vertical integration, Group SFA now produces its own electronic cards for its simplex and duplex grinders — another step toward better control of product quality.
Making the move
After expanding in Europe between 1958 and 1995, Group SFA became interested in making a mark in the North American market. The company opened its first subsidiary in Canada in the early 1990s. Next, Group SFA brought Saniflo to the U.S., based on evidence of demand for its products.
“In the U.S, the first product we introduced to the market was our Saniplus, a macerating system that can be used to install a complete bathroom,” noted Regis Saragosti, CEO of Saniflo USA. “Today, we offer more than 15 different products in the U.S., and twice that amount in Europe.”
Saniflo, the U.S. subsidiary, officially opened its doors in 2000. Due to U.S. codes and standards that were different from other global standards, Group SFA dedicated time and resources to product modification that it had not before.
“Because we are vertically integrated, and therefore control the entire process – from the idea, to the beta product and finally to the ultimate product sold on the market – we have unique capabilities,” Harel confirmed.
After the Saniplus was introduced in the U.S., Saniflo released a series of macerators, grinders, drain pumps, simplex and duplex systems, and condensate pumps. All of these products are designed to solve expensive construction problems for contractors. In 2012, Saniflo introduced the Saniaccess3 to the U.S. market. It quickly became a standard for high-quality macerators by offering not just one, but two panels atop the unit, for easier access to the internal components for servicing.
“Everything starts with our Research & Development Department,” Harel noted. “Our president is a brilliant engineer, coming from one of the best schools in France, Polytechnique. He never stops inventing and bringing new solutions to the plumbing world. He has one end result in mind: providing the best products.”
The company’s latest product launch is the Sanicondens Best. This condensate pump has a neutralizer built inside to balance water acidity and keep drains safe from corrosive condensate waste water. Group SFA also recently redesigned its china offerings to meet the demand of customers seeking modern fixtures.
“Saniflo is doing extremely well in the U.S., mainly due to its innovative offerings,” Saragosti said. “While many U.S. manufacturers still focus on outdated solutions requiring massive construction, Saniflo has redefined the way you can add plumbing to a home.”
Maintaining the relationships
Group SFA has consistently dedicated resources to marketing, training, and a variety of other efforts that strengthen the company’s presence and contributions to the plumbing industry. The company makes such investments because each and every staff person believes that the products that Group SFA brings to market offer the best value in terms of installation flexibility, cost-effectiveness and pricing, and high-quality engineering and design.
One of the industry relationships that Group SFA values the most is with plumbing wholesalers. Over the years, the Saniflo subsidiary has immersed itself in the industry by aligning itself with local and national organizations in the U.S., such as Embassy Group Ltd., AD (formerly Affiliated Distributors), WIT & Co., OMNI Corporate Services Ltd., and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association.
Among the many wholesalers nationwide that Saniflo has grown to value as partners and advocates is Mid-City Supply Co., which has provided plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration, PVF, and industrial products to the greater Michigan and Indiana areas since 1947. The wholesaler began carrying Saniflo products just over a decade ago.
“Saniflo has always been a leader in their product category,” said Dan New, vice president of Administration and Operations at Mid-City. “We’ve had their competitors come in once or twice in the six years I’ve been here, but we’ve stayed with Saniflo every time.”
Group SFA takes advantage of each and every opportunity to work closely with customers like Mid-City, as well as end users.
“We are running a national TV advertising campaign that is a key driver in developing interest and demand in our products,” Saragosti explained. “We also offer a wide array of marketing and sales support options in order to tailor our message to the needs of our various wholesaler partners. By bringing innovative and valuable products to the market, we are driving demand for our customers. Assisting with marketing and sales for wholesalers is a bonus that makes them satisfied and encourages them to sell!”
Harel added, “Group SFA has always had a strong commitment to advertising and marketing, going back to our roots in France. We’re bringing the same approach to the U.S. with different tiers of marketing and advertising, ranging from simple mailers to a yearlong TV campaign. We’re constantly creating case studies on unique Saniflo installations in the hopes that other plumbing engineers and contractors will look to us for solutions to their needs.”
The assistance with marketing has been a game-changer for Mid-City. The wholesaler is a big believer in marketing, currently showcasing a host of its own promotions, flyers and brochures. New explained that the company made this commitment years ago, recognizing that contractors are not going to order and ultimately install products that they are not comfortable with. For Mid-City, having marketing materials to share with contractors will typically make or break a sale.
“We do a lot of marketing,” New noted. “We’ve done different mailings and post cards, and given away things like sweatshirts with the Saniflo logo. It’s a brand play. It all helps build awareness to keep Saniflo top-of-mind, so that a contractor thinks, ‘Oh yeah, that Saniflo product would be a good solution for this customer I have.’”
The Sanibest Pro has been the best-selling Saniflo product for Mid-City this year, followed by the Saniswift. The Sanibest Pro is a popular choice among contractors and engineers because it saves money for commercial end users.
A popular case study for the Sanibest Pro is a 2011 episode of DIY Network’s “Money Hunters.” In the episode, contractor Matt Blashaw and engineer Deanne Bell help a couple save money on plumbing, as they update the addition to their suburban home. The couple budgeted $7,500 for the entire project, which had to include plumbing, flooring, storage, painting, furnishings, and more. The already tight budget was further squeezed when Bell discovered the placement of the pipes.
“The poop [sewer] pipe is above the floor,” Bell said. “If you install a standard toilet below the sewer line, gravity’s not your friend and you’re going to have a disaster on your hands.”
Bell received an initial $3,000 plumbing estimate from an installer who considered breaking through the concrete to install a sewage ejection pump in a pit. But the installer also recommended the Sanibest Pro as a cost-effective alternative. Bell explained to the homeowners that to do the plumbing rough-in for $700 and then install the toilet and above-floor plumbing system at $900 would cut the initial plumbing estimate in half. In the end, the homeowners went with the “glorified garbage disposal” for human waste, as Bell affectionately called the Sanibest Pro.
Education has increasingly become a big push for Saniflo in the U.S. The company wants to share more stories like the one highlighted on DIY Network, so that industry professionals and end users can see the benefits of the products for themselves.
“Education is a big part of what we do,” Saragosti commented. “In addition to training sessions performed in conjunction with our distributors, we also support national programs that provide a platform for us to educate professionals about the advantages of our pumping systems over many traditional methods. Through local continuing educational courses and vocational schools, we are also reaching the younger professionals as they enter the workforce.”
Motivating the future
Group SFA has followed the global trends of cost- and energy-saving plumbing innovations very closely over the past five years. In the next decade, the company will release new products with solutions that will help the industry rethink outdated technologies.
“Expect a lot of innovation from us during the ISH 2017 show!” Harel said. “Of course, the innovations that you will see in Europe will likely not be available in the U.S. for a few years, but stay tuned.”
Saragosti added, “As the world’s leader in macerating technology, we’ve already helped millions of people across the globe. As long as Saniflo continues to produce high-quality, innovative products, with programs designed to help our distributors sell them, I have no doubt we’ll continue building a strong name that professionals can trust and rely upon for decades to come.”