The Miriam Webster dictionary defines “altruism” as “the unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” While this certainly describes people who volunteer, there are certainly other reasons why people volunteer. Meeting others, making contacts for possible employment, developing an additional skill set, having fun – these are not exactly altruistic reasons, even if they are a byproduct of volunteering.
My entire life I was pushed to study computers and technology. When I was in college in New York, I was an IT guy for a small business. When I moved to California, I found a tech support job for a software company. There I was, following along in my technical career track, when on an outside support job for a plumbing wholesale distributor, I began to find myself fascinated by faucets.
Like many people, I’d always thought, “What is there to a faucet? You turn it on, you turn it off. The water is hot, the water is cold.” Clearly, I didn’t know anything.
During these on-site tech support trips, I began to have conversations with the owner of the plumbing wholesale company about plumbing fixtures. I was amazed by how much there was to know about decorative plumbing. I became obsessed with it and wanted to change the water delivery system from that day onwards!
At that time, my computer geek life was pretty miserable, and I’d decided to go back to New York to seek better opportunities. When I told the owner of the plumbing wholesale company my plan, he offered me a position: a position that didn’t even exist, but luckily he saw something in me that made him keep me in his employ for almost a year, doing everything and anything that had to do with plumbing fixtures.
He and his partner had always wanted to have a truly high-end faucet company with a product that was manufactured in the U.S. They had the capability and resources to do it, they just needed the person to run it. When all the pieces fell into place, they decided that I was that person.
By working on our first four complete lines from A-Z for about four years before we launched the brand, I learned a lot about plumbing fixtures. It was an amazing experience to see someone’s idea becoming a reality in front of you on the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. Now I was part of a process, making a product and knowing that it would be used every day.
I love knowing that something I’ve made is so useful. Making plumbing fixtures is like writing a computer program; it’s a tool that needs a benefit. You need to know your audience, the tool needs to be user-friendly and, in both cases, you have to install it.
I needed to do more market research on the decorative plumbing industry when I began my journey and that’s when I heard about the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association (DPHA). I decided that I needed to join this organization to really get the benefit of its knowledge. I began meeting people from all the different sides of the business: showrooms, representatives, trade professionals and other manufacturers. It was quickly apparent to me that these people have a passion for what they do.
Every industry has trade organizations. Many people join because they feel they have to, not necessarily because they want to. To use the tool metaphor again, my feeling is that you wouldn’t buy a tool without a benefit or if you knew the tool wouldn’t be useful to you, would you?
The decorative plumbing industry is a relatively small industry and the beauty of this is that the members, almost by default, become close to one another. This is why I like to volunteer my knowledge and experience within the industry, and I enjoy knowing that there are people who like to share their experience and knowledge with me. I am always amazed at how many ideas come out of what start as the simplest conversations. Being involved in your trade organization is about working together – brainstorming ideas and sharing the mistakes you’ve made – all for the betterment of the industry.
This year, I decided to volunteer my time on the DPHA Education Committee. If everyone took one moment to think about the one thing they’d like to see that would help them and their business, those programs might evolve.
Find it, become excited about it and bring it up to someone in your organization. Take ownership and run with it. I bet you will find many more people like yourself who thought the very same thing, and now you’ll have a network of volunteers and passionate people helping to make that one thing a reality. Try it! It works.
My “one thing” was how to make people aware of steam showers. I’ve spent almost a decade in this industry, and it wasn’t until I began working for ThermaSol in 2009 when I found out that anyone could have a complete spa in their own house. People are far less aware of steam and steam showers than they are faucets, sinks or tubs. When I brought my “one thing” up to my customers, they agreed with me, and they helped participate in brainstorming sessions about how we could increase sales in this category. These were my customers volunteering their time and resources.
Now, we have quite a few marketing campaigns and marketing materials that work to our advantage. We’ve even built a webinar on steam showers, which you can find on the DPHA website.
This may seem like a small thing to you, or a less than altruistic endeavor. But to me, education in any industry is key, whether you are an owner, a salesperson or the homeowner. Everyone benefits from understanding what they buy or sell.
My success depends on the feedback and input of other people, and while I was honored this past year with an award for my volunteerism, I will always feel as though I get more out of volunteering than I give. That is one truism that is undeniable. And to those who have helped me grow, learn, develop and mature in this, I just want to say thank you!
Martin Siwy has been in the decorative plumbing industry since 2001. He has worked as vice president of a decorative faucet company and regional sales manager for upscale furniture and accessory manufacturers in the luxury bath industry. He has brought award-winning product designs to market, and has worked with representative agencies throughout the country, building collaborative tools to communicate and manage them in the most efficient ways. DPH Perspectives is published regularly in KBDN under an exclusive strategic alliance with the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.