Plumbing Brass is Sweet

In the machining world, plumbing products are a sweet spot again because even though new home sales are drifting, the rehab/refurb market is thriving. Faucets are fun again. Hot tubs are hot. India is big in plumbing brass, but a lot of its product goes to Asia, Africa, and South America. If you want quality at an affordable price, you buy American.

For me, this brings up many memories of Price Pfister. They used to make a million faucets in Los Angeles and had a name for quality in California. That was until they shut down all of the American production of brass goods and moved production to Mexico and China.

Pfister is now part of Spectrum Brands, based in Madison, Wisconsin, which owns Rayovac batteries, plus several pet care companies including Dingo and Lazy Pet, and makes insect repellent. Last year, Spectrum merged with another holding company called Harbinger, out of Rochester, New York. The Price Pfister that Izzy Familian ran successfully for so many years in LA is now a little piece of the Home Depot and Walmart supply chain.

Price Pfister’s real estate in LA would be worth a fortune today. The New Britain screw machines they ran hard have fanned out over the country or were scrapped. Could Price Pfister have survived in the US? Maybe if they’d moved to Nevada and invested in their people and equipment, but holding companies have no interest in people or continuity. Manufacturing is fungible. If Mexico isn’t working, move it to Shanghai. If Shanghai is a problem, Chennai in India is welcoming. Personally I think with commitment to quality and innovation, Price Pfister could have made it in America.

Question: Could Price Pfister have made it in America?

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7 thoughts on “Plumbing Brass is Sweet

  1. Victor

    14 years ago my wife and I bought and moved into a nice house. At that time we replaced all the bathroom sink faucets with a style my wife liked. One of them developed a leak last month. Turns out they were Price Pfister. Contacted them and they immediately sent out the parts to fix it – no charge. Lifetime warranty!

    I’d definitely buy Price Pfister again.

    1. jl

      I think you’ll find lifetime warranty from any of the major players in faucet industry. I had similar experience to yours with Moen, and since they’re on west side of Cleveland I was happy to use their product.

  2. Miles

    Not so sure that the happy ending of this story that you are enjoying has been written. California Prop 65 is lying there in waiting for any non-compliant brass recipe, and the diligence of the foreign suppliers to keep track and appropriately label remains unknown.

    North American shops are dealing with several varieties of Unleaded brass which have varying scrap stream incompatibilities with standard brass and their unleaded cousins.

    However the issue about remaining viable is more about not growing so large to attract the attention of the financial predators that seem to thrive on creating just such race to the bottom global arrangements. Where is the economic patriotism?

  3. r in nyc

    One problem is the ever changing market.
    new looks, new finishes, new colors, and new government regulations.

    Here in the US you get a machine set up with a part and let it run, and it can be economically feasible.
    Of course that is if it is in a business friendly, tax friendly and weather friendly State.

    Then you have companies like Lowe’s and Home Depot that take a long known name brand, including Price Pfister and force them into a deal with the Devil himself. If they want the action/volume, bring costs to down significantly, (generally achieved via cheap foreign volume production, don’t care about quality anymore, just low price) and OBTW you have to accept every return, reject, and damaged by anyone without verification or dispute.

    And we wonder why so much manufacturing left our country?

    Could it be made in America?
    YES – IF
    and that is a BIG IF
    IF they cut ties with Home Depot and similar, get into an “exclusive high end” marketing program – looking again towards quality, durability, and value. sacrificing volume.
    It would be a major downsizing.
    I am not saying it is justified, the Genie is out of the bottle and there really is no going back.

    The deal with the Devil was made and you are stuck with it….

  4. Cello in So Cal

    I interned for Price Pfister in the quality department somewhere in the late 90’s. There were 400+ employees during my time. The foundry had already been put out of commission, but they did have a massive plating line as well as the screw machine, hydromat, and injection molding departments.
    A few times a week I’d have to make my way to the screw machine department and while there I’d get to watch all their machines in action. Acmes, and Davenports mostly. Some fitted with Cucchi barloaders. Walking into that shop was pretty awesome. It sounded like 20 locomotives running at the same time and you couldn’t even hear yourself talk let alone yell no matter where you were in the shop. There was so much brass being machined that they’d have daily pickups of a full 18 wheeler flat bed trailer like the ones you see lugging around veggies from a farm.
    The building across the way was the injection molding department. Very hot in there and parts spitting out about just as fast as the screw machines. They were making parts for the faucet internals as well as parts for Black and Decker.
    At that time the big thing was “outsourcing”. Never heard of it before then. But the big push was to outsource all their component parts. They had a whole department dedicated to this and the only thing I could think was that these guys were working themselves out of a job. (In hind site, that was probably the beginning of the end.)
    Several years after my internship was over I went to the auction and watched all those machines get sold; at least most of them. It was very sad to see something like that just vanish in a day. Later on they completely leveled the site and now there’s a Lowes there.
    Given the way our global economy has developed in the past few decades I think they took the easiest route that allowed them to stay in business.
    I’m glad I got to see it while it was in action.

  5. Dave

    As far as I know, Kohler, Delta, and Moen still make at least some of their product in the USA, I have products from all of them in my house and they have been trouble free for 20 years. They do also have a lifetime warranty. Don’t know why Price-Pfister (Black and Decker) couldn’t make it, but Black and Decker pretty well stopped making anything in the USA.

  6. Eric

    Could it be made in America today?
    People are thinking about it all wrong. Make the product AND sell it yourself on the internet.
    The internet has been the great equalizer. Why give up 50-70% of the money to someone else just to sell it. Cut out the middleman. If you have to, set up your own sales department and give them a piece of the action.
    I’ve done it myself for years.


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