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Plumber contrives kid-friendly bathroom: Safety and cleanliness issues motivate father to market concept

April 25, 2005

Toilet training can be one of the most trying times of childhood for toddlers, and child-rearing for parents. But one local plumber's concept could make the chore easier, if mom and dad are willing to make the investment.

David Heffner, who has operated Heffner & Associates LLC from his west-side home since 2001, has developed the Child Friendly Bathroom. He's had the name trademarked and is beginning to market the high-tech features to customers with kids.

Inspired by his 7- and 5-year-old daughters, the New York native and former U.S. Marine installed three gadgets in his family's first-floor restroom that could make a child's early experiences on the potty easier.

The light switch with an adjustable timer includes a motion sensor that detects when a child enters the bathroom. The timer is adjustable to stay on from 30 seconds to 30 minutes and eliminates the need to have a parent turn the switch on and off.

A toilet manufactured by Georgia-based Toto USA Inc. comes with hidden hydraulic hinges that slowly close the seat and lid when they are tapped from the upright position. The convenience protects fingers from being accidentally slammed.

A hands-free faucet produced by locally based Delta Faucet Co. is equipped with a motion sensor that will turn the faucet on when hands are placed underneath the spout. The water will shut off after 30 seconds. Heffner said the faucet not only helps to prevent the spread of bacteria-faucet handles are the greatest source of germs in a bathroom-but prevents scalding and saves water.

The products are available to the public through various outlets. Heffner will install them separately or in a pack- age. Installing all three costs $1,100. Heffner is aware of concerns from clients skeptical that the price may be too steep for something that may be necessary only for a few years.

His response is: "That investment will be utilized throughout the life of that bathroom. Everyone can contract germs."

His bathroom not only promotes health and safety in the bathroom for children, he said, but teaches independence as well. And although the name indicates use for children, it can benefit all ages, especially the elderly, he noted.

To that end, Heffner has had conversations with Laura Frank, president of locally based Accommodating By Design, a company that designs and renovates homes for seniors and people with disabilities.

"Those things work equally well for people who are aging," Frank said. "If it works well for a 4-year-old, it should work well for an 84-year-old. We both run into clients that we can refer to one another."

Heffner, 43, has yet to sell a package but said a pediatrician is interested in having the items installed in her office restroom frequented by her young patients. He said a few setbacks hindered his attempts to market the concept sooner.

In the four years since he founded the plumbing company, annual revenue has grown to $230,000. To keep pace, he added staff and bought two additional trucks. He hired a sewer-and-drain specialist in July 2003 and another licensed plumber in January 2004. Heffner admitted he got ahead of himself, as the sewerand-drain business didn't grow as quickly as he anticipated. He laid off one worker, and after a few clients complained about his other help, he chose to fly solo once again.

The aftermath left him with a lease on a truck he didn't need anymore; he just unloaded that within the past month. Although Heffner said he is struggling to get back on his feet, he is making headway in paring down debt. He hopes the Child Friendly Bathroom will generate extra revenue.

Kent McCool, owner of Home Safe Homes in Noblesville, said his childproofing business has grown every year since he founded it in 2001, mainly through wordof-mouth referrals. He mentions Heffner's Child Friendly Bathroom during consultations and thinks the concept has potential.

"I'll talk about locking up bathroom cabinets [to clients] and I'll mention the service that David can provide as well," McCool said.

Heffner is unsure how his bathroom will play to parents already inundated with a plethora of child-safety products. But for now he views the offering as just another service he can provide.

"The whole goal is that it's not just about safety and fostering independence," he said. "The less things you have to touch, the less susceptible you are to picking up germs and getting sick."
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