What began as a smart investment for Lowell Stonecipher has become a powerful conglomerate of “best-in-class” bathing fixture brands. The orthopedic surgeon had no experience in the bathware industry, but his investment acumen was brilliant. His initial purchase in 1987 was a line of gel coat bathware named Pinnacle Fiberglass Products. In 1992, Aquarius® Bathware was acquired, and the Pinnacle name was dropped. The following year, Stonecipher’s sons, Rick and Scott, and his associate, Fred Silverstein, took over the companies. They created the Praxis Companies, LLC, and success was written all over the horizon.
An Ever-Evolving Company
Five well-known brands currently comprise the Praxis Companies. Its leadership is also continually improving manufacturing capabilities and working closely with premium suppliers. “Our number-one goal is to provide the best products to the market at a fair price,” states Tony Ricketts, CFO, the Praxis Companies. “Our future is to take those principles and apply them into the new markets that the new plants will allow us to reach.”
Approximately 150 products proudly carry the Aquarius name today, and it remains the fulcrum for new design innovations in the Praxis family. When Stonecipher acquired Aquarius, they were the leading manufacturer of onepiece, acrylic, ANSI-compliant showers and tub-showers. “In 1993, we decided to focus on residential building opportunities as well as commercial,” states Fred Silverstein, Vice President of Marketing and Sales. With redoubled design and marketing efforts, Aquarius became the leader in the premium bath fixture industry.
Hamilton Bathware’s premium products have always had an excellent reputation. Silverstein explains, “Our reputation for quality products is a result of being keenly aware of the needs of the plumbers/installers and addressing those needs in the design and craftsmanship of the products.”
For example, additional reinforcements are placed in strategic areas of products that will experience potential abuse on the construction site and high use by the end user. “Our reinforcements for grab bars and seats are literally over-engineered and over-manufactured by some people’s standards,” says Jim Davidson, Marketing Director at Praxis. “We do that so someone isn’t going to have a problem or issue with our products.”
The Praxis Companies created Comfort Designs in 1999. Originally, it was an extension of Aquarius’ commercial product line, but as architects saw senior living needs evolving, Comfort Designs was refocused to answer the call. Rick Mallard, a pioneer in universal housing design, was hired to lead the efforts.
Universal design refers to designing a home that one can live in through all stages of life. It encompasses fixtures, doorways, stairs, and levels, as well as bathroom designs. As mobile Americans, we don’t tend to stay put too long, but for some, building a dream home means living in it as long as possible. Single adults become families with young children. They raise their children and become empty nesters and look toward retirement and old age. Today, many baby boomers are taking care of their parents while still raising their own children. A universal house design is adaptable to these ages and stages of life.
The safety and comfort of the bather remains paramount at Comfort Designs. However, Mallard also insisted that Comfort Designs’ products be usable, aesthetically pleasing, durable, and high quality without looking like commercial products. One of its best-known innovations is a lower shower threshold from 6 or 7 inches high to 3 to 4 inches for people who may have balance problems, hip or knee restrictions, or poor eyesight. Another is a shower design that has additional, strategically placed seats below the standard height. A person can sit in the shower and use the lower seat for a footrest, or a younger child can use it.
Praxis developed CenturyStone in 2004. They use spray-on technology and Silmar® NPG®/iso solid surface resin to create a seamless, solid surface bathing fixture. The faux granite look is available in eight standard colors, plus custom colors for showers, tubs, shower pans, and walls. Its nonporous surface is renewable and repairable because the product is homogeneous — it is not limited to a thin film applied over reinforcement. CenturyStone is paired with Aquarius and American Whirlpool products and is the ultimate upgrade in a luxurious bathroom.
American Whirlpool, a recent addition to the Praxis Companies, manufactures premium whirlpool baths and spas/hot tubs for the residential market. They have worked more than 20 years to make the perfect bath and take pride in providing a product that accomplishes what a bather is looking for — a soothing, relaxing bathing experience.
Its products include soaker and water-jetted tubs and air baths, plus some of the newest accessories, thanks to American Whirlpool’s design leadership. Sequencing jet components can direct air or water to body parts that need relief for a more therapeutic experience. And these premium spas and baths have innovative cleaning systems and nonporous, brilliant finishes that resist fading, staining, cracking, scratching, and wear.
Expert Suppliers, Premium Materials
Praxis is more interested in a total package from a supplier than just good raw materials. Technical support is the lynchpin, according to Scott Stonecipher, Vice President of Operations. “The bathware industry is challenging,” he says. “The support we receive from experts within the industry, particularly from raw materials suppliers, is a value added to their products and a ‘must have’ in our purchasing decisions.” Praxis has standardized raw materials wherever possible as an additional quality control measure.
Hexion™ Specialty Chemicals is a good example of an excellent supplier relationship. The Praxis Companies purchases the majority of its resin from Hexion. “We have found that the technical support provided by Hexion is superb,” says Stonecipher. “Not only are they very knowledgeable about the performance of their resin, but they are also very knowledgeable about how their products should perform within the bathware industry. Many of Hexion’s technical support and sales personnel have a background in bathware. This is an excellent added value that allows them to be a very supportive vendor to us.”
All Praxis companies use Interplastic Corporation’s white gel coat. The gel coat needs to cure in approximately three minutes without cracking in hand spray-up and in robotic application. “Interplastic’s gel coats are very consistent and perform very well,” states Stonecipher.
All acrylic Praxis products use Lucite® International acrylic. “Lucite’s product is competitive,” says Stonecipher. “They have excellent product support, and they stand behind their product with great integrity. This makes them a valuable supplier to us.”
“Competition is fierce in our markets,” relates Davidson. “From my perspective, we have always tried to fix every problem and resolve every issue to prevent future occurrences.” According to Davidson, it even includes re-engineering a process or product so every future product is corrected too. “We are very diligent in doing this,” he says. “We do not want to just pacify a customer. We want to eliminate the problem forever.”
Davidson cites the design efforts for Easy Base® as a good example of tenacious design. Commercial roll-in showers (ADA-compliant showers) are used in all types of care centers. After a significant engineering effort, a process to fill in the underside of the shower bottom for strength and reinforcement was developed. The bottom is then machined to a flat, level, and strong shower base that is easy to install properly. Praxis received a patent for its meticulous work and excellent solution.
“Easy Base is just one example of our commitment to redesign a product to make it better than anyone else’s,” continues Davidson. “It is a prime example of our commitment to making all our products ‘best-in-class’.”
The Praxis Companies recently increased its manufacturing capacity by adding two facilities in its northern markets. These additions have enabled the Praxis Companies to greatly increase its production capabilities and to address ongoing concerns about freight costs. “Now our manufacturing facilities are closer to some of our major markets,” relates Stonecipher. “The new facilities also have long histories of manufacturing quality bathing products, with experienced workforces and management depth. They are strong additions to our manufacturing teams. We are building a good company here.”
A robotic production line is a fabulous improvement to Hamilton Bathware’s manufacturing line, according to Davidson. Each mold has a different spray pattern, and the computer tells the robot what to make and how to make it. “We have reduced waste, improved our finished parts’ quality, and made our working environment more pleasant for our employees,” he says. Employees were cross trained and retrained, and eventually, Praxis wants to incorporate robotics in all its plants.
The advent of baby boomers at retirement age creates tremendous opportunities in senior independent living, assisted listing, continuing care retirement communities, Alzheimer’s care facilities, and others. You can bet the Praxis Companies will be there to help make the transitions more smooth, safe, beautiful, and comfortable.
Learn more by visiting these Web sites.
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