New product innovations, networking abound in Huntsville.

In addition to being the home of a Sterling plant, Huntsville houses the U.S. Space and Rocket Center where numerous really cool life-size replicas dot the outer property. Photo credit: Mike Miazga/PM

Huntsville, Ala. has quite a history to it.

Did you know it’s the birthplace ofHelen Keller? It’s also known as the watercress capital of the world and has more engineers per capita than any other place in the country.

Of course, Huntsville is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The city’s roots in the U.S. space program run deep (the city’s civic center bears the name of Wernher von Braun, a man who played a major role in the space program boom).

Huntsville also is home to Kohler’s Sterling brand plant. The folks atSterlingrecently held their 43rd Sterling Summit, which brought Kohler-Sterling sales reps, distributors, plumbers, remodelers, homebuilders and members of the media together for two days of education, networking and plenty of fun.

Now in its 10th year, the Sterling Summit provides attendees with information on the latest Sterling bath and kitchen products, as well as the latest technological innovations.

Sterling demonstrated its Dual Force high-efficiency toilets at the event. My room at the Marriott hotel was equipped with one of those dual-flush toilets.

Around 100 attendees from the U.S., Canada and both coasts of Canada learned about Sterling products in categories such as kitchen sinks, toilets, faucets and shower enclosures and shower doors.

Of note, contractors in attendance say roughly 70 to 80 percent of the kitchen sinks they install are of the stainless-steel variety. Additionally, the single basin sink continues to grow in popularity. Sterling had both stainless-steel sinks and sinks made with its popular Vikrell material on display.

Free tip of the day: One contractor said he uses a 50-50 mix of water and bleach to help bring the luster back to stainless-steel sinks.

Sterling’s dual-flush high-efficiency toilets also were a big topic of discussion. Attendees watched a demonstration where a couple of rubber toys were flushed down the Sterling Karsten Dual Force toilet using the 1.6-gpf button (liquid waste uses the 0.8-gpf option). The company’s Dual Force toilets flush in the neighborhood of 2 pounds of material per flush.

What I found rather interesting was the results of a couple of Sterling-specific studies pertaining to toilets and shower installations. One study reveals 79 percent of homeowners queried were not familiar with dual-flush toilets. However, 87 percent said they would consider purchasing a dual-flush toilet.

“It went from not knowing to maybe wanting to buy,” saidJohn Brown, Sterling’s product manager for toilets.

Elongated toilets and 16 1/2-inch heights (a greater ADA awareness) are gaining in popularity, Brown also revealed.

Sterling’s Vikrell kitchen sinks were on display at the 43rd Sterling Summit.

An independent study pertaining to Sterling’s Vikrell shower compartments reveals a reduction in installation time of 15 minutes on average compared to a one-piece unit - which is of significance when talking about dollars and cents in the field.

On the faucet and shower valve fronts, the UltraGlide valve and DTV Prompt technologies stood out. The UltraGlide makes sure water never touches the stem of the valve. The DTV Prompt digital shower interface allows end users to program the length of the shower, as well as pause the shower if needed. The unit looks like a regular cable television box.

Attendees also toured the Sterling manufacturing plant in Huntsville. What struck me here was the use of robotics in the plant. One robot in particular was really getting after it, performing two tasks at once. Robotics certainly helps with efficiencies on several fronts. Work is done faster and there is less wear and tear on employees’ bodies, which also aids efficiency.

Beyond the product and technology education, it was great to see a heavy amount of networking occurring over the two days. Sales people and distributors shared stories about the latest happenings in their neck-of-the-woods and contractors compared notes on various business-related subjects and offered technical and installation-related tips during the educational portion of the presentation.

And let’s not forget about the fun. Just ask my left shoulder. He and I won’t be on speaking terms for quite awhile after I pounded the butt-end of a rifle into him 130 times at a Huntsville-area shooting range. I’m sure our trapper and my four teammates wanted to pound me with the butt-end of the rifle after my abysmal performance on the range. My apologies to my teammates from Florida and Puerto Rico. There is that sports cliché about not bringing your “A” game. I didn’t even have a “Z” game.

On a serious note, I can see why Sterling continues to run these events (43 now over the last 10 years). They are extremely beneficial to many different segments of the industry from both an education and networking standpoint. I saw a lot accomplished on both ends in the span of just 36 hours. If you ever have the chance to go to No. 44 or ones after that, don’t pass it up.