CRYSTAL LAKE – A Crystal Lake company is betting that Americans want more than a flush from their toilet.
Since it’s invention in the 1700s, bidets have become a common item in countries around the world, especially in Japan and countries throughout Europe.
Despite its popularity in other parts of the world, the bidet hasn’t really become a staple commodity in the U.S., but this is changing, said James Amburgey, the marketing director of BBC Innovations, a Crystal Lake-based bidet company that markets mainly to U.S. consumers. BBC Innovations, also called Biobidet, faces competition from much larger companies such as Toto and Kohler, but has been in the game longer than some rivals, Amburgey said.
Amburgey said that the company has seen 20 percent growth each year for the past seven years, which shows there is an emerging market that has undergone “a long process and a long way.”
“There are some barriers obviously with it, but cleaning your body with water, in and of itself, isn’t foreign at all, so then it’s that product exposure,” Amburgey said. “It’s looking at something we do every day at a slightly different perspective that’s also familiar. I think people are really starting to piece that together in the United States.”
Many U.S. consumers have never tried a bidet. Amburgey said that once they do, the reaction is revolutionary.
“We hear all the time, ‘Why didn’t I try this sooner,’ ” Amburgey said.
A bidet, which started out as a bowl of water placed in the bathroom, today is known as a bathroom fixture that uses a stream of water to allow people to clean their backsides after they do their business. It seems to be a simple enough idea, but many Americans find it intimidating, confusing or unnecessary. Biobidet hopes to change that.
Biobidet has several re-sellers in Canada, but Amburgey said that the U.S. is the leader in the adaptation of this product.
This growth largely is seen in the coastal regions as well as pockets of the South.
An indicator of the market’s growth is the company’s recent move from Algonquin to a much larger facility in Crystal Lake, at 7900 S. Route 31.
The new space is about four times the size of the company’s former location. Its Crystal Lake office is the central system for the 20 countries it serves worldwide.
“There’s only a few companies that offer this kind of product in the United States,” Amburgey said.
Biobidet’s new location is open to the public, so customers can see the products in person or use the company’s repair facility.
Amburgey said that they are getting more foot traffic than ever before, which shows the amount of people they serve locally.
Rather than being a luxury item targeted to wealthier consumers, Amburgey said that the company mainly sells to middle class families. Biobidet sells toilet attachments rather than the completely separate units that are popular in Europe. This allows them to offer more inexpensive bidets.
Biobidet products range from the Simplet, which sells for about $50, to luxury items such as the IB835, which sells for about $1,700 and includes a heated seat, automatic flushing and power save. The company’s products are made in South Korea and distributed around the world from Crystal Lake.
The company also offers travel bidets and motion sensor kitchen faucets.
“I just think that customers are always looking to find new and innovative ways to enhance the functionality of their home,” Amburgey said. “I think we’ve been doing that for decades and if we look back, there’s certain waves of that that are a part of everyday life now.”
Bidet.org lists the different benefits of using a bidet, from it being environmentally friendly to a more thorough clean. The website states that about 60 percent of Japan’s households have bidets. In Venezuela and other parts of South America, this number is about 90 percent.
The website also claims that the use of a bidet leads to better skin care and can reduce plumbing issues and clogs.
The use of a bidet can provide relief and in other cases cure conditions such as anal fissure, hemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and ostomy, according to the website.
“A lot of customers are finding relief in the benefit of using water versus paper,” Amburgey said. “It’s got a softer delivery. It’s also more effective in the way that it cleans, so the variety of medical conditions – it’s really anything from [irritable bowel syndrome] and up. I would say our medical customer base is close to, like, a third of what we see.”
In Japan, bidets are not only found in most households but also are in public restrooms. Amburgey doesn’t know whether the product’s popularity in the U.S. will ever match that of Japan’s, but he said that he sees the market continuing to grow in years to come.
“It wasn’t every day that you found an outlet under your sink in kitchens 40 years ago, but when dishwashers came around and garbage disposals came around, it’s kind of a new standard,” Amburgey said. “I think we’re creating that in the bathroom.”