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Willoughby Industries, Inc. has developed a strong market presence as a manufacturer of stainless steel and solid surface plumbing fixtures for the correctional, health care, behavioral health care, education, and parks and recreation markets. Recently celebrating 67 years in business, the now third-generation family owned business has maintained its dedication to quality products and U.S.-based manufacturing.
The company began its life as Willoughby Sheet Metal in 1947. It was founded in Indianapolis, Ind., by a sheet-metal fabricator named Raymond Willoughby.
“Our work at that time specialized in custom metal fabrication, mainly galvanized and hot and cold rolled steel for residential and light commercial projects,” said Rick Lewis, national sales manager at Willoughby. “Shortly after its founding, Willoughby became a residential heating and air conditioning contractor.”
In the early 1960s, Raymond’s son Tim Willoughby joined the company and focused on transitioning the business into stainless steel metal fabrication. From then and into the 1980s, Willoughby’s main business was fabricating stainless steel food service equipment for educational facilities and restaurants.
In that same era, Willoughby had dabbled in some other things, such as manufacturing stainless steel hopper toilets for Amtrak passenger cars. In 1981, the company was asked to manufacture a stainless toilet and lavatory combination unit for the Marion County Jail in Indianapolis.
“This was the event that caused Willoughby to enter into the industry as a full-fledged plumbing fixture manufacturer,” said Craig Alderson, president of Willoughby. “In 1982, Willoughby exhibited at the national ASPE convention in Boston, Mass., and left the show with a team of independent manufacturers representatives who began selling Willoughby plumbing fixtures. Today, we are viewed as one of the preeminent manufacturers of plumbing fixtures for our core markets.”
In all that time, Willoughby has only known three owners and has maintained ownership in the family. It began with Ray and Beulah Willoughby in 1947, then Tim and Pam Willoughby in 1987, and now Craig and Kathy (Willoughby) Alderson from 2004 to the present day. This continuum of family ownership has created a consistency in the way the company does business. One key to Willoughby’s success over the last several decades is a product of a very simple company philosophy: treat your customers well.
“We always work to treat the customer, whether they are a specifying engineer, installing contractor, or distributing wholesaler with the utmost respect and fairness so that when it comes time for that customer to select a manufacturer’s products again, they will want to purchase from Willoughby,” Alderson explained. “From top to bottom, our employees realize that an engineer or contractor working on a jail today may be the same engineer or contractor that will be working on a hospital or school tomorrow. It is important to ensure our customers’ experiences with us are positive so they will choose to purchase our products again.”
Willoughby primarily focuses on five core markets: correctional, health care, behavioral health care, education, and parks and recreation.
“We like to describe our presence in these core markets as our five-legged stool,” Lewis said. “Each of these markets has a need for products that are well built and able to withstand normal, everyday usage in their specific setting. Having products targeted across a variety of markets helps smooth out the business condition ups and downs any one market may experience from time to time”
The types of products offered for these markets cover a diverse range, including toilets, lavatories, sinks, urinals, washfountains, lavatory systems, showers, outdoor drinking fountains, bottle fillers, patient care units, infection control lavatories, surgical scrub sinks, dialysis and hose boxes and shower bases. Some products are quite market specific, such as bariatric lavatories and toilets for the health care market, or EVAC vacuum plumbing systems for the correctional market.
“What sets us apart from our competitors is that we are a true U.S. manufacturer. We domestically form, laser cut, punch draw, machine, bend, and cast the majority of the individual component parts that make up our wide array of final products,” Lewis explained. “We are not just assembling parts and pieces that were sent to us from overseas to make the final product. We have full control over the quality of the product from raw materials to finished fixture.”
To maintain the level of product quality and durability their customers have come to expect, Willoughby lives by the old adage, “if you want something done right, you better do it yourself.” The company has a stated and practiced belief in making its products domestically. All of its products are manufactured in the U.S. by approximately 100 dedicated employees in Willoughby’s state-of-the-art, 250,000 square-foot facility. All products are tested prior to shipment.
“We have always been of the belief that if we can make a component or a fixture ourselves, we will do it in-house. By taking on non-metal fabricating tasks like solid surface molding, injection molding, machining and tube bending, we have been able to control the quality and timely delivery of the end product,” Alderson said. “We are constantly looking to grow and improve our product offering, while maintaining our focus on the commercial/institutional plumbing market.”
Alderson continued, “We are especially proud of the fact that we will be introducing nine new products at the 2014 ASPE Convention in Chicago. These products include the all-new WMS II Water Management System, which can significantly reduce facility water and waste costs, especially when coupled with our 1.28 gpf [gallons per flush] toilets and 0.125 gpf urinals. Additionally, new fixtures to the health care market include a bariatric lavatory, a behavioral health care lavatory and an infection control lavatory.”
Considering the markets they serve, Willoughby’s offerings need to go the extra mile in terms of durability.
“The majority of our products are made with vandal resistance in mind,” Lewis said. “Our products have been referred to in the past as the ‘Sherman Tank’ of the industry due to extra provisions that have been put in place to ensure that a product can withstand normal daily use, whether in a maximum security prison or in a high school bathroom.”
Willoughby’s manufacturing capabilities have evolved quite a bit over the years.
“When we first started in business, everything we did was custom fabrication,” Lewis explained. “In the past 30 years in the plumbing industry, we have engaged in manufacturing a wide spectrum of products and have developed a highly sophisticated, engineering-first approach to our product design. Each of our products goes through an exhaustive engineering process prior to ever hitting the manufacturing floor. This ensures a high quality finished product that exceeds industry standards. We have a long standing relationship with CSA, and we have our products certified by CSA to all applicable plumbing industry standards.”
“Willoughby first exhibited at the ASPE Convention in 1982 in Boston. We have exhibited at every ASPE show since, and our personnel have been frequent presenters at local ASPE chapter meetings, as well,” Alderson said. “We are supporters of ASPE and treat its biennial convention as our springboard for introducing new products to the market.”
With specifications driving a good deal of their business, Willoughby makes sure to engage with plumbing engineers in every way they can. Part of that engagement is a longtime relationship with ASPE. Alderson and Lewis are both personally members of the Society and the company often participates in various ASPE events and initiatives.
Working with engineers and understanding their needs has always been part of the DNA at Willoughby, and continues to be today.
“We understand the importance of the engineering community being able to prepare accurate specifications and designs,” Lewis said. “Through things like our weekly presentations to engineers, our website, and our full library of REVIT drawings, we are committed to being supportive of the plumbing engineering community.”