KITAKYUSHU, Japan -- Japanese toilet manufacturer Toto believes that it may have finally found the secret to winning over American consumers: noise reduction.
Bathrooms in American homes are often close to bedrooms, making toilets that keep noise to a minimum particularly popular. Toto plans to offer a toilet that combines a rimless bowl using relatively little water per flush with the company's mainstay Washlet electric bidet seat, in a bid to challenge established players like Kohler and American Standard.
"Consumers in the U.S. have started to favor toilets that are antimicrobial, easy to clean and quiet," Toto USA President Shinya Tamura said.
"We'll expand the opportunities for people to experience the Washlet in everyday life," he said, citing public buildings, hotels and the homes of employees of Toto's business partners as possibilities.
Expanding business with Amazon.com and home improvement store chain Home Depot has led to "a lot of demand for Washlets to give as gifts to family members," Tamura said. Toto thus plans to focus on bolstering its lineup and installation systems for the early summer and year-end gift-buying seasons.
The company aims to raise annual sales in the U.S. and neighboring markets to 20 billion yen ($185 million) by the year ending March 2023, nearly triple the fiscal 2018 figure.
As part of this effort, Toto has reached an agreement with Georgia-Pacific Professional on joint marketing to corporate customers, including sharing of customer lists. GP Pro, America's largest seller of such disposable bathroom products as toilet paper and liquid soap, does a good deal of business in the public and private sectors. Toto has a geographical connection with the company, as its American headquarters is located in Georgia.
The Japanese company has gained a foothold in the U.S. via hotels and cultural centers, using the Washlet as well as the attractive design and water-saving capabilities of its toilets as selling points for businesses with an interest in making their restrooms inviting. It will market GP's products together with its own to these customers.
The two companies have also teamed up to develop efficiency-boosting maintenance services using information technology that can automatically detect when toilet paper runs out or when a bathroom needs cleaning. Toto's sensors in automatic faucets and Washlets can track water usage and bathroom traffic, while GP Pro has a system to convey this data to management or cleaning personnel.
In recent years, Toto has expanded its operations in such markets as China and Southeast Asia as the Japanese market matures. In Europe and the U.S., the company will focus on technology in its marketing in hopes of dethroning established players.
"The Washlet is our trump card for offering a new toilet culture," Tamura said. "Rather than selling toilets as a commodity product, we will promote a lifestyle that features a better restroom."