Uponor North America celebrated the grand opening of its newly constructed Uponor Experience Center located at its regional headquarters in Apple Valley, Minnesota in September.
Boasting 4,500 square feet of hands-on displays, full-scale residential and commercial training areas, and cutting-edge innovation showcases, the new Uponor Experience Center is a flexible education and discovery space designed to advance the technical skills of current and potential customers. In addition, it will help foster innovation within the plumbing and HVAC industry and provide an immersive experience for employees and visitors alike.
The Experience Center, or “X” as Uponor employees have taken to calling it, occupies the company’s previous customer training area, which was originally built in 2000 and renovated in 2010. The newly constructed space features three distinct rooms. First is a welcome center and values showcase, featuring a corporate overview video, as well as the company’s unique value propositions, information about markets served, product categories and sustainability focus. Second, a product showcase, demonstrating real-world applications, interactive displays, videos, productivity case studies and more. Last, is a hands-on learning space with wood and steel structures where professionals learn about and then experience for themselves how to do proper product installations in both Residential and Commercial build environments.
“We wanted to create a space that tried to replicate a real job site as much as we possibly can within the confines and the restrictions that we do have,” says Uponor Director of Training Desmond Clancy. “They're going to get the chance to install systems with live applications. There's running water in these applications for them. Ultimately, the breadth of our offering is going to afford everyone the opportunity to develop themselves, whether it's personal development hours, continuing education, or just learning about products that can create new revenue streams for them and their business.”
Clancy notes the Experience Center represents Uponor’s significant investment in the labor force that propels the plumbing industry forward.
“The best way for us to do that is to offer more hands-on opportunities for contractors, engineers, developers, owners, builders, distributors and reps to actually get in, roll up their sleeves and use our product,” he says. “Over the last few years, many of our industry peers and competitors have gotten really focused on building really nice auditoriums and classrooms with world-class AV and technology in them. It's taken away from the opportunity to get back to actually do the work, which is how so many of these people learn. You're going to see a dramatic shift in our philosophy — we’re going to be spending more time in the hands-on area than we’re ever going to spend in a classroom. It's about finding that balance between both of them.”
Uponor describes the new space as flexible because the company can adapt the Experience Center to fit any kind of training depending on who happens to be attending. The manufacturer has created a very rigorous intake process which it uses to customize the training experience.
“The space is relatively static, but how we present it, where we spend our time, how we message it throughout is where the magic really happens,” Clancy explains. “It starts with a robust intake process to understand the unique needs of that customer. They're all experiencing some of the same challenges, but they all go through those challenges very differently. And we want to understand that before we can create that optimal experience for them.”
Uponor also provides its customers with a complimentary online learning portal that will provide resources to tap into at any time because the manufacturer knows how hard it is to get away from their businesses.
“That way, when they get here, it’s really about maximizing the time they have here so they can spend as much time in the hands-on areas as possible,” Clancy points out.
Uponor also plans to use the Experience Center for community engagement by brining school-aged children in to learn about STEM.
“We’ve built a relationship with the local school district here — we’ve been on their site, and they’ve been here,” Clancy says. “Once they see this space, we think they’re going to want to do all of those events here. That’s one of the reasons we built it. We can host everything from younger kids building hula hoops out of PEX to older kids learning about velocity, pressure and pipe sizing to move water out faster, it was a competitive activity and a huge hit. We can’t wait to host our first one here.”
A vision realized
Clancy jokes the plans for the Experience Center have been in the works for 30 minutes after he arrived at Uponor five years ago.
“I just thought we were underutilizing the space we did have,” he explains. “Formally, it became about four years ago. As you can imagine, it’s gone through ebbs and flows — at one point, we wondered if customers would ever get on airplanes and come do something like this again. Then it was supply chain issues — we had steel that was 10 months out and had doubled in price. It’s really gone through those ebbs and flows we’ve all experienced over the last almost four years now. But we’re here now, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Andres Caballero, president of Uponor North America, notes the Experience Center will be a great place for Uponor employees, someplace they can bring their families and be proud.
“We wanted to create a space like this for the last several years, but it had to be right,” he says. “The team really took the time to get a lot of impactful input from employees, customers and our distributor partners to develop the space we need. Because we wanted to be best-in-class, it took us a bit longer than we wanted, but I think it was the right thing to do. It’s clearly a showcase of our innovation, but it’s going to be a great place for our employees, customers and partners to learn about those technologies.”
Caballero notes customers are already signing up for the Experience Center, something Uponor is excited about. “One of the reasons we invested in this is because it clearly aligns with our purpose, our mission. Our purpose is to unlock the potential of water and protect the place we call home. That’s one of the drivers behind this space is to align with our purpose and demonstrate how our technologies help us fulfill that. It’s also very much in line with our core values — connect, build and inspire. Connect, how we connect people with the technology, how we build, how we use it as an instruction or learning space to be able to connect and build from our technologies into spaces in residential and commercial markets. And certainly inspire, which is where the innovation piece will come. We want to bring people in, show them new ideas and inspire them to be able to translate that into their applications in their building. There's a lot of innovation coming down the pipeline, and this is going to be the first place that those innovations are going to see the light.”
Matt Bahr, vice president of sales, notes the experience center helps fill a void within the industry in terms of training the next generation of plumbing professionals.
“Believe it or not, there are still customers who visit this space who have never utilized a PEX or PPRCT piping system. They will often we'll say, ‘Where's this been all my life?’ Well, it's only been here for 30 years, but we are glad you're finally coming around to learn about it.
“Our industry is certainly an industry that is in need of training and expertise in systems and system knowledge,” Bahr continues. “As we think about the installers and the folks that are retiring out of the industry and then trying to attract younger people into the industry and providing them with the skills to succeed, this is really a lot of what this space will be about. When we think about creating a holistic experience for a customer and focusing on the customer's need, this space really allows for us to customize the experience that a customer may be looking for.”
For those interested in visiting Uponor’s Experience Center, the manufacturer is currently upgrading its training tab on its website to showcase the new facility. Interested parties will be able to register for continuing education courses or the online learning portal. The alternative is to work through your local Uponor sales team — either a rep or factory sales team working in the field — to facilitate the registration process and identify scheduling times. For more information, visit www.uponor.com.