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Commodity to Sought-After Brand: How Building Products Can Make This Jump

Learn how one manufacturer took his company from a commodity product to a sought-after brand, coveted by designers and celebrities alike.

May 28th, 2019



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Avi Abel joins the show to discuss how building materials manufacturers can elevate their brand and avoid competing as a commodity.

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Avi Abel, President of Watermark Designs, about how to transition building material brands to a higher-end market.


Avi Abel is President of Watermark Designs, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of faucets and other kitchen and bathroom-based products. He’s helped lead a third generation, family-owned company from commodity products to luxury products.

In doing so, the company has positioned itself out of the commoditized faucet industry and has become a sought-after brand by designers and celebrities alike. According to Avi, one of the key differentiators of building a luxury brand is truly paying attention to the details.

Watermark’s History

Avi’s grandfather started the business over 40 years ago as a plater. When his father got into the business, they started to become proactive and create their own product lines. They would buy faucets or accessories from competitors and refinish them. Back then, chrome was the only finish available, so they started offering new options. Today, Watermark offers 24 distinct finishes.

While the company’s customer base started off as home centers, most of those smaller retailers eventually went out of business. Plus, Asian companies started to come to market, making price a major factor. At that time, Watermark’s business struggled, until Avi decided to take them out of the commodity market that their competitors were working in and into a higher-end market.


Decommoditizing the Brand

Avi learned from a college professor that price, quality and service are the three things you can compete on. Watermark couldn’t compete on price; after all, their products are made in Brooklyn in a union shop. Instead, the company started doing a lot of custom work, particularly for architects and designers working on hotels and high rise condos in New York.

Avi notes that once you get into customization, people automatically assume they need to pay more, regardless of your actual production costs. One of Watermark’s strengths is the ability to offer faucets that are tailored to the customer, rather than just off-the-shelf solutions.

They don’t mass-produce their faucets which allows them to be flexible. The company can easily adapt as they identify and create new trends.

One example is their recent focus on split finishes, a trend based on conversations with designers as well as orders. To support this trend, Watermark just created an online configurator for customers to build their own faucets with split finishes. Many competitors can’t offer this type of flexibility because their manufacturing process is too big.

The downside, according to Avi, is that in many cases, competitors can quickly follow what Watermark is doing and can do it more quickly than they used to. The company, for example, came to market with the first industrial faucet in 2004. But once all their competitors started to make the same look, it was time to move on to the next trend.

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Identifying Opportunities and Taking Risks

Trends are cyclical, and it’s important to recognize when dips are coming and then find the next real opportunity. You need to be willing to take risks, even if they aren’t always home runs. The important thing is to consistently think outside the box.

While you can’t gamble everything, you can take calculated risks that are backed by more staple products. Watermark currently has 24 collections, but they also lead in terms of things like quality, lead time and service.

They have products that sell day-in and day-out and can serve as a cushion for the riskier product launches. While a recent product launch focused on a high premium price point because of the specialized manufacturing involved, they’re also coming out with a simpler, less pricey product at the same time, to provide customers with options.

The Growth of Social Media Marketing

The last five years of social media growth have been a game changer for Watermark Designs. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, for instance, have nothing but Watermark faucets throughout their entire house.

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But even without celebrity influencers, it’s important to use social media to your advantage as it lets you show what your product looks like installed. For faucets, there’s nothing like seeing them installed. Manufacturers need to recognize the power of photographs in any form. Products that are featured in finished room photos are the ones that will sell the most.

Advice to Manufacturers

No matter what type of building material you manufacture, you need to find a way to differentiate yourself in one or many aspects. Whether its a new design or manufacturing process or innovation, it’s all about finding your core competencies and competitive advantages.

The switch from commodity to brand can be difficult, but it’s well worth the effort.

Have more questions about becoming a sought-after brand? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at [email protected] with all your questions.

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