Price Pfister, Inc. History
Foothill Ranch, California 92610
Telephone: (949) 672-4000
Toll Free: 800-732-8238
Fax: (800) 713-7080
Employees: 2,300 (2003 est.)
Sales: $218.7 million (2003)
NAIC: 332913 Plumbing Fixture Fitting and Trim Manufacturing
For over 90 years Price Pfister has been a leader in the plumbing fixture industry. As a company, we pride ourselves in the development of high-quality kitchen & bar, tub & shower, and lavatory faucets, as well as our kitchen and bath accessories. Price Pfister products are backed by the Pforever Warranty, one of the most comprehensive warranties in the industry. We provide unparalleled customer assistance via our toll-free phone lines, 1-800-PFAUCET, and website. Professionals know we are committed to their needs through our dedicated technical support line, education, training and industry sponsorship programs.
- Emil Price and William Pfister begin manufacturing generators in Los Angeles.
1910s:Garden faucet is the company's first plumbing offering.
1920s:The company expands its product line to include valves and hose nozzles.
- The company is sold to Isadore Familian.
1940s:The company begins to focus on residential faucet production.
- A new plant is built in Pacoima, California.
- The company is sold to Norris Industries, Inc.
- Peter Gold acquires the firm and remakes it as a supplier to the retail market.
- Emhart Corp. purchases Price Pfister for $215 million.
- Black & Decker buys the company through the acquisition of Emhart.
- Price Pfister pays $2.4 million to settle a lawsuit over lead in its faucets.
- The company's Pacoima foundry is closed and its operations shifted to Mexico.
- The firm becomes part of Black & Decker's new B&D Hardware and Home Improvement division.
Price Pfister, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of plumbing fixtures. Best known for its stylish faucets, the company also makes other kitchen and bath accessories. Price Pfister produces a number of different lines, ranging from the budget-priced Contempra to the higher-end Parisa, Marielle, and Catalina. The firm's innovations include the first faucet with a built-in water filter, created in association with Water Pik, and TwistPfit, an easy-to-install replacement faucet.
Price Pfister was founded in 1910 by Emil Price and William Pfister in Los Angeles, California. The company's first product was a gasoline powered generator that was marketed to farmers who did not have electrical service. Several years later the firm began to make garden faucets, and during World War I Price Pfister produced items for the U.S. military.
In the 1920s, the company's product line was expanded to include other types of faucets, valves, and hose nozzles for indoor sinks and bathtubs. More new products were added in the 1930s, including the "Make-A-Shower" fixture, which could convert an existing bathtub into a shower.
In 1941, Price Pfister was sold to Isadore Familian, and during World War II the firm again turned to military production, hiring women to replace men who had left for military service. The company manufactured aircraft fittings and hand grenade shells until the end of the war. With the postwar housing boom, Price Pfister began to specialize in producing residential faucets. This led to the introduction of color-coordinated fixtures in hues like cotton candy pink and sea green, which were designed to coordinate with the colored tile bathrooms popular during that era.
In the 1950s, Price Pfister introduced designs evocative of the atomic age, with swooping curves and rocket-like shapes. The company was growing at this time, and in 1960 a new plant was constructed on 25 acres in Pacoima, California, near Los Angeles. During the 1960s, more new products were introduced, including the Flowmatic Shower Handle, which featured a fingertip control lever to adjust water volume and temperature.
Sale to Norris Industries in 1969
In 1969, the company was purchased by Norris Industries, Inc., a maker of military, commercial, and household products. At this time, the company, known as Price Pfister Brass Manufacturing Company, had annual sales of approximately $27 million. In 1971, the firm's new automated foundry began operations at its Pacoima complex. It was the largest foundry in the western United States.
In 1972, Price Pfister opened warehouses in Georgia and Texas. The company was making 1,500 faucets per day. In 1974, Peter Gold, who had started with the firm as a salesman in 1956, was named president. The 1970s saw the addition of new translucent faucet handles with bronze fittings in a variety of colors, among other items.
In 1981, parent firm Norris was purchased in a leveraged buyout by Kravis, Roberts & Company and became known as NI Industries. When NI found itself strapped for cash two years later, Price Pfister was sold to company president Peter Gold and two partners for $35 million. To finance the deal, Gold had turned to childhood friend Sydney Irmas, then a well-known Los Angeles attorney, and David Rousso, a former partner at accounting firm Touche & Ross & Co. With their established credentials, the partners were able to borrow enough money to finance the deal. The interest rates at this time were high, however, and Price Pfister would have to increase its revenues in order to service the debt.
Focusing on Retail in Mid-1980s
Up to this time, most of Price Pfister's products had been sold directly to the construction and plumbing industries, and there was little awareness among the general public of the firm's name. Noting the growing popularity of stylish, expensive plumbing fixtures imported from Europe, Gold decided to introduce a new line for retail sale under the Society Finishes brand name. The firm used European crystal, porcelain, polished brass, antiqued bronze, black nickel, and hardwoods to create a line of striking faucets and accessories. The company focused on producing these quality products at an attractive price, typically 60 to 200 percent lower than the imports.
This move coincided with a growing trend among homeowners to do more of their own plumbing work, which was facilitated by the rise of retail chains like Home Depot and Builder's Square, outfits that offered discount prices and assistance with projects. The company soon launched a television advertising campaign that used the tagline, "The Pfabulous Pfaucet with the Pfunny Name," which was devised by L.A. ad agency Eisaman, Johns and Laws. The 30-second spots were run regionally at first, then given national exposure beginning in 1987.
By the latter half of the 1980s, Price Pfister was deriving 60 percent of its sales from the so-called "aftermarket," which was largely comprised of do-it-yourself remodelers. The firm's ability to sell quality fixtures at a reasonable price was made possible by its vertically integrated manufacturing process. At its 525,000 square foot Pacoima plant, the company had a brass casting foundry; die-casting, stamping, and injection molding machinery; automatic screw machines; machine and finishing shops; and tool-building, testing, and research and development facilities. Some 55,000 faucets were now being built each day.
Under Gold, the company grew from $50 million in annual sales to $117 million in 1987, and captured 14 percent of the U.S. faucet market. It also began exporting its wares to South America and Asia. Products introduced during the 1980s included the lower-priced Genesis line and a new ceramic-cartridge faucet, the Pforever Seal, which was guaranteed for life against leaks.
In April 1987, the firm, which now employed 1,600, went public on the NASDAQ, selling 18 percent of its stock for $34.5 million. Peter Gold and his partners retained a majority stake. A year later, in April 1988, Farmington, Connecticut-based Emhart Corp. reached an agreement to acquire the company for $215 million. Emhart was a maker of industrial, high-tech, and consumer products.
Black & Decker Buys Company in 1989
Just a year after the sale to Emhart, Price Pfister's new owner was acquired by Black & Decker Corp. of Towson, Maryland for $2.8 billion. Black & Decker, founded in 1910, was one of America's leading makers of power tools and appliances, and was seeking to broaden its offerings.
In December 1992, a lawsuit was filed against Price Pfister and more than a dozen other manufacturers of faucets by California's attorney general, which alleged that the firms had violated Proposition 65, the so-called "anti-toxics" law enacted in 1986. The companies' brass fixtures were manufactured with lead, which over time leached from the brass and entered the water supply. A similar suit was also filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law Foundation. Price Pfister and the other named companies countered that the method of measuring the lead had been flawed, as it was based on new faucets only, and noted that lead levels decreased significantly after a faucet had been in use for several months.
In the summer of 1994, the California attorney general's suit was decided in favor of Price Pfister, but a short time later competitor Delta Faucet's parent Masco Corp. filed suit against the company, alleging patent infringement on a new faucet in its Genesis line. Delta won the suit, and the judge blocked Price Pfister from making or selling the infringing faucet.
At about this time, the firm redesigned its packaging to reduce the number of faucets that were received in damaged condition or with missing parts. These sometimes amounted to as much as 30 percent of the total items shipped. The 1990s also saw the firm introduce the Pforever Warranty, which covered finish and function for life.
Environmental Lawsuit Settled and Foundry Closed
In January 1996, Price Pfister agreed to settle the lawsuit of the two environmental groups for $2.4 million and to decrease the amount of lead in its faucets to levels that complied with the law. This meant that the firm would have to change its manufacturing process from sand casting to machining, which was more expensive. The company had already begun reducing lead use and had spent a reported $40 million toward this end in recent years. At this time, Price Pfister's annual sales stood at approximately $200 million.
After the lawsuit was settled, the company announced that it would move its foundry operations out of the country, blaming the high cost of doing business in the United States. Price Pfister soon began laying off workers at the Pacoima facility and moved their jobs to a plant in Mexicali, Mexico. Another 750 workers in manufacturing, marketing, and administrative positions would remain in Pacoima for the time being. A number of protests by laid-off workers followed, including a November hunger strike over their severance pay, but Price Pfister officially closed its foundry in January 1997.
In late 1997, the company reached an agreement with CheckOLite International, a maker of lighting, fans, and lamps, to create complementary lines of faucets and light fixtures under the Matchmakers brand name. Also in 1997, Price Pfister began working with oral care and water filtration products maker Water Pik to create a kitchen faucet with a built-in water filter. The resultant "Pfilter Pfaucet" was introduced the next year and priced at between $150 and $170. The year 1998 saw the company double its bathroom faucet offerings with three new collections that were affordable yet stylish.
TwistPfit Debuts in 1999
In 1999, Price Pfister introduced TwistPfit, a new replacement faucet and valve assembly that was easy to install. Unlike a typical faucet, it could be installed above, rather than below, the sink using only an Allen wrench. The first model, dubbed the Georgetown, was available in October for a suggested retail price of $227. Also in 1999, the firm also combined with Black & Decker's Kwickset security hardware unit to form the new Black & Decker Hardware and Home Improvement Group. The two companies' administrative operations were subsequently moved to a new building in Lake Forest, California.
In 2000, the firm awarded $20,000 in scholarship money to three industrial design students and their schools in its "Pfaucet of the Pfuture" contest, part of the company's 90th birthday celebration. Also during that year, Price Pfister received International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification for ISO 14001 and ISO 9002 compliance.
In early 2001, Price Pfister eliminated 60 administrative jobs and moved 60 to Lake Forest. Its Pacoima office space was closed, though 350 manufacturing jobs remained in place there. During the year, the company's sales dipped as the U.S. economy tightened. In 2002, the firm suffered a further sales decline when Home Depot decided to stop selling its products east of the Rocky Mountains. The company bounced back the following year, however, when Home Depot rival Lowe's agreed to boost its offerings.
In 2003, Price Pfister moved the last of its Pacoima staff to Lake Forest, and a year later it put the now-closed plant up for sale. The site required significant decontamination, as high levels of industrial chemicals and metals such as lead were left behind in the soil. It was later sold to a developer who planned to build a shopping center there which would, ironically, feature a Lowe's store that sold Price Pfister products.
In 2004, the company introduced the Catalina pullout faucet, the industry's first such faucet for the bathroom. Customers had the option of using it like a regular faucet or pulling out the 55-inch braided stainless steel hose for tasks like hair washing. It featured an aerator that gave either a standard stream or a spray of water. Price Pfister had earlier introduced pullout kitchen faucets in its Marielle and Parisa lines. The year 2005 saw the company regain some of the shelf space that it had previously lost at Home Depot.
In nearly 100 years of operation, Price Pfister, Inc. had grown into one of the leading manufacturers of faucets and other plumbing fixtures in the United States. It continued to offer products that were both innovative and stylish under the stewardship of owner Black & Decker.
Principal Competitors: Moen Inc.; Masco Corporation; American Standard Companies, Inc.; Kohler Company; Eljer Plumbingware, Inc.; Elkay Manufacturing Company.
- Adamson, Deborah, "Ex-Workers Plan Hunger Strike at Price Pfister Plant," Los Angeles Daily News, November 21, 1996, p. N3.
- ------, "Outpouring of Job Insecurity; Plant Workers Protest Layoffs," Los Angeles Daily News, October 5, 1996, p. N1.
- Beatty, Gerry, "Price Pfister's Pfilter Pfaucet Finds an Audience," HFN, August 10, 1998, p. 40.
- "Black & Decker Profit Rises but Stock Falls," Reuters News, January 26, 2005.
- Blizzard, Peggy, "Price Pfister ... Pfabulous Pfaucets," Southern California Business, March 1, 1988, p. 7.
- Cavanaugh, Kerry, and Rachel Uranga, "Retail Complex to Bring Jobs Back to Former Pacoima, Calif. Plant Site," Los Angeles Daily News, July 19, 2004.
- "Emhart, Black & Decker Announce Merger," Dallas Morning News, March 21, 1989, p. 15D.
- "Faucet-Makers Defend Work," Dallas Morning News, December 17, 1992, p. 9A.
- Ference, Jeff, "Delta Says Price Pfister Copied Faucet," Contractor, August 1, 1994, p. 3.
- Finz, Stanley, "Price Pfister to Close Foundry in Pacoima Today; City Officials Seeking Tenant for Site," Los Angeles Daily News, January 31, 1997, p. N4.
- Garcia, Shelly, "Pacoima Site of Price Pfister Plant Put up for Sale," San Fernando Valley Business Journal, March 1, 2004.
- Hack, Roxanne, "Stylish Faucets Won't Soak You," Orange County Register, December 11, 2004, p. 1D.
- Hooper, Larry R., "Faucet Mfrs. Stunned by Calif. Suits," Contractor, January 1, 1993, p. 1.
- Miondonski, Bob, "Faucet Makers Win One," Contractor, June 1, 1994, p. 1.
- "New Box Cushioning Helps Faucets Arrive Safely," Packaging, October 1, 1993, p. 27.
- "Price Pfister Offers Builders Style, Great Features and Value Projects," Builder, October 1, 2001, p. 204.
- "Tap Water Lead Suits Pose Problem for Price Pfister," Associated Press, January 27, 1993.
- Weber, Joseph, "The Corporation: Black & Decker Cuts a Neat Dovetail Joint," Business Week, July 31, 1989, p. 52.
- Wilcox, Gregory J., "Faucet Firm Settles in Lead Suit," Los Angeles Daily News, January 31, 1996, p. B1.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 70. St. James Press, 2005.