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In 1917, Harry Bradley, who worked for Allen-Bradley Corp., a Milwaukee-based manufacturing company, noticed that the factory workers had to wait in line to wash their hands. He got to thinking here had to be a more efficient way — one that would save not only time, but also water and space on the shop floor. He developed the concept of “group hand washing” and a new product to allow multiple individuals to clean their hands at one time — The Washfountain.
The product is a large, circular bowl several feet in diameter, with upward-facing, fountain-like spray nozzles, providing a larger area for multiple individuals to wash their hands in an efficient manner. The original material used was terrazzo, a durable cement product that meant the fountains were sturdy. The Washfountain saved washing time and space while reducing water consumption.
This simple idea launched a revolution in efficiency. Soon, a new company would follow that would continue to drive innovation and bring to market revolutions in washing.
A History of Modernization
In 1921, partners Howard A. Mullett, Gustav Grossenbach and Louis Schlesinger purchased the patent from Bradley and formed The Bradley Washfountain Company in Milwaukee. (bradleycorp.com.)
The Bradley Washfountain was used by many manufacturers in the early part of the 20th century, and became a hand-washing standard in schools because it helped get students in and out of restrooms quickly between classes. It didn’t take long for the concept to be embraced by sports and recreational facilities, transportation terminals, highway rest stops, post offices, movie theaters, retail stores and many other industries.
Since its inception a century ago, the company has innovated and developed commercial washrooms and emergency safety solutions. As a leader in healthy hand-washing technologies, Bradley’s product portfolio includes multi-function touchless hand-washing and drying fixtures, washroom accessories, partitions and solid plastic lockers. Emergency safety fixtures and electric tankless heaters for industrial applications round out its product offerings. Its customers include architects, specifiers, plumbing engineers and contractors in the commercial, institutional and industrial building markets worldwide.
In 1928, Mullett was named president of the company; his plans for continued innovation are supported in what is now the fifth generation to run the company. Today, the company is headquartered in Menomonee Falls, Wis., where Bradley has a manufacturing plant for its commercial products. The company also has specialized plants for its other product lines, with plants located in Germantown, Wis., and Marion, Ohio; and an office and warehouse that houses its western distribution operations.
Understanding the “I need it now” concept is standard; Bradley has four distribution centers. Its Ontario, Calif. location ensures its warehouses are specifically designed to turn around orders in 24 hours or less. If you order by 11 a.m., BradWest Time (PST), the order will be ready for pickup or shipped that same day.
The company is now in its fifth generation of family ownership and leadership. Howard’s son Howard G. Mullett rose through the sales ranks and was named president by 1953. His grandson Donald Mullett became president in 1980; he continues today as the company’s vice chairman. Don’s son Bryan Mullett, who has worked with Bradley full-time since becoming a regional sales manager in 1997, was named CEO in 2016.
The company is laser-focused on providing advanced commercial washrooms and comprehensive solutions for emergency safety and industrial applications. This is made possible by the company’s commitment to its tradition of treating customers and employees like family.
Bryan Mullett serves Bradley Corp. as its chairman and CEO. He carries the pride in workmanship and product innovation of the Bradley name, and reinforces the importance of family, from company ownership to employees to partnerships with its brand ambassadors — manufacturers’ representatives.
Cornerstones of Culture
The cornerstones of the company are family, customers, quality and innovation. What makes Bradley stand apart from others is how it incorporates each into the company vision.
At the core of the company is its vision: “We will create the most innovative solutions for commercial washrooms and industrial safety applications.”
“The business model has been carried on for generations,” Bryan Mullett explains. “Family is extremely important. We serve not only the plumbing industry to provide solutions, but we also serve the family here — our employees. We are in the service industry, and I am the servant for the next generation of employees and customers. They don’t work for me; I work for them — and that legacy is built into our culture.”
This profound statement encapsulates why the company, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, is a stronghold in the industry. “It’s remarkable to see the generations of family employees here at the company,” says Jon Dommisse, vice president of marketing and corporate communication at Bradley Corp.
Dommisse explains that the commitment to family culture and opportunity encourages the more than 500 employees to grow with the company — by encouraging the next generation to join the manufacturer. He notes that many of the employees have been with the company for more than 30 years (and he himself for 25).
And as he and Mullett stated, Bradley’s employees are its most important asset. This also includes manufacturers’ representatives. “The reps are fully connected into our company, and are viewed as part of our company,” Dommisse says. “It is built within the Bradley Corp. culture — treat the customers, the reps, the employees, everyone like family. It’s instilled in you the second you walk in the door.”
Mullett knows first-hand the importance of partnering to work together for the success of the company, as he himself was a manufacturers’ representative for many years. It would have been his professional route, until a phone call from his father convinced him that his talents would be best suited at Bradley Corp.
“Working for one of the best rep firms, I got to learn what Bradley did really well and what they didn't do so well from the outside,” Mullett notes. The manufacturers’ representative role is so ingrained within the company, Mullett explains a simple statement that carries a big responsibility: “When our reps visit with our customers, they understand they are an extension of us as a family. They say, ‘I’m from Bradley,’ which says it all.”
He adds: “Family is the first cornerstone and it is paramount; family refers to the full circle. We can't do anything without our employees and our manufacturers’ reps. They are the ones who make everything happen. We can't have quality without our people, we can't have innovation without our people. We can't have the industry knowledge without our reps to co-innovate new products. They serve our customers and they are a part of our company. For us, its’s people first.”
Success comes when quality is at the foundation. “We make sure we do what we say we're going to do, and quality is what we do. That's our brand, that's our reputation, and we stand behind those statements,” Mullett says.
Innovation comes into play when one witnesses how the company has modernized washrooms — and washing, in every sense of the word. “Bradley is an innovative company and our foot is always on the gas pedal — and tackling the problems that we can solve,” he says.
Rounding out the vision is customers, and Mullett says it best: “We are here to service and be a servant to our customers. If there's a solution that we can provide, to help out a particular customer or wherever it might be, we will do it.”
“As a company, we need to look and interact with the marketplace, understand the needs, and go beyond individual components to broader solutions,” says Luis de Leon, president and COO of Bradley. The company accomplishes this by offering a broad range of products. “Our vision is to try to bring together products – for inside and outside the washroom – to provide better, more aesthetic, functional solutions with high quality.”
Expansion in the portfolio with an eye on quality and need remains at the forefront of Bradley’s vision.
“We move the development of products based on research of what the needs of our customers are, and sometimes the research gets moved on us,” Mullett notes. An example would be the COVID-19 pandemic; touchless hand washing moved to the forefront. In 2016, the company developed its WashBar, an all-in-one completely touch-free fixture combining cleaning, rinsing and drying technology. It turns out to be the perfect commercial product to help combat the spread of the deadly disease.
With a vast array of products to assist in safety, the company has a working interactive mixing valve display within its manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, where customers can bring in rival products to test alongside the Bradley products. “It’s great to have our customers come here and bring other products in to see how they would match up against the Bradley products,” Dommisse says.
This hands-on approach and the commitment to excellence blends with its desire to ensure Bradley customers are the most informed. By providing the opportunity to see products working in the field — and offering an educational component as well — is one of the reasons the products, and the name behind them, stands out.
In addition to commercial plumbing products for restrooms, washroom accessories, restroom partitions and solid plastic lockers, the company has also innovated emergency safety and industrial solutions, including a range of products from drench showers and eyewash fixtures. Bradley’s products keep employees safe, and as a globally specified leader, its products are used across the globe. From eye-washing stations to barrier-free wall showers to drench showers — the company has safety accessories in the field for every need.
With so many products within its line, at the base is always health and safety. The company is known for its “Healthy Handwashing Surveys” as well as studies on keeping safe through enhanced hygienic handwashing, and regularly writes about the issue and posts on its website.
The company launched its new website late last year, and has made it easier for customers to get the information they need all in one place. From detailed descriptions on products and services - such as a virtual design tool, technical data and application data, and product gallery, it is easy to understand how the company places importance on bringing all options and solutions to the forefront.
Next Generation Investments
“We all struggle, and especially in the manufacturing world, on how to get young adults involved in the skilled trades,” Mullett says. The company is a champion of investing in its community as well as the industry channel and believes that change comes when one looks at the different angles to a challenge and finds solutions.
This is exemplified on how the company has partnered with a work-based learning program in Wisconsin called GPS partners. In the program, local high school students participate in academic classes at Bradley in a dedicated classroom space and learn about manufacturing by working on the shop floor. The company encourages collaboration with the manufacturing team , so young men and women can witness, firsthand, pioneering innovation and manufacturing.
Bradley Corp. is also part of a business/public school consortium that has installed a manufacturing innovation center on the campus of one of the area’s largest high schools. The program, which started just a few years ago, breaks down dated perceptions and misperceptions about careers in the trades. It also highlights how technology has advanced manufacturing innovation, which drives new product development.
“We broke down walls — literally — in this school facility,” Mullett explains. “We took out concrete walls and put in glass so when the student body of the school walks down the hallway, they can see what's happening on a next generation manufacturing plant floor that is clean and highly technical.”
Knowing that problem-solving is innovation at its core, this manufacturing innovation education model allows for hands-on experience in solving challenges. Knowing that the young adults in the program are eager to solve problems, this model encourages students’ creative thinking to innovate new product development. “We give the young adults problems to solve — from creating a lean manufacturing environment to new product development.”
By providing a hands-on, collaborative approach to manufacturing and careers in the trades, Bradley shines the spotlight on how innovation, creative problem-solving and the excitement of breaking technology impacts the next generation.
“We need to be nimble, flexible, and we have to adapt. Change is not easy,” Mullett says. “But yet, we're still a manufacturing company. We have to provide different tools or different methods to accommodate each generation.”
Bradley Corp. is full steam ahead in its quest for another 100 years of innovation to make public environments hygienic and safe.