25 Jul 2017

Watermark … Brooklyn Chic

I love American made products. I bust with pride when I discover them and can share them with my clients, colleagues, and friends.  Watermark Designs showcases true American manufacturing.  It’s a company that has stood the plumbing industry on-end by bucking the system. Watermark made a conscience decision to choose quality craftsmanship and materials over the less expensive, cheaper labor and materials of China.  What a great choice is was!  Some could say it was a gutsy gamble to hold the line on quality and more costly materials, especially during a softer economy, but it has yielded wildly successful results.

Here’s where the story of Watermark gets even more interesting.  After deciding to keep their exquisite products truly American made, they landed multiple contracts for luxury hotels and condominiums in Shanghai, Macau, and Hong Kong.  While other manufactures were shipping products from China, Watermark decided to send their products into China!

When Avi Abel, President of Watermark, granted me an interview last week I squealed.  Seriously I did.  He is innovative, witty, and just plain delightful, not to mention a wonderful dad and husband.  I hope you find Avi as interesting as his products.  I’m confident you will.


LD: Avi, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview.  I just love Watermark; it is an amazing company. Your company has been Brooklyn Chic, well before Brooklyn was chic!  It is impressive that you have remained in NY so long.  What has kept the company in Brooklyn for the last 30 years?

AA: Thank you for calling us Brooklyn Chic, I like that! Aside from the fact that 3 generations of my family have lived in Brooklyn, our employees also hail from Brooklyn – and we never wanted to uproot them and move them out of the area. So much of what makes Watermark ‘Brooklyn Chic’, IS the surrounding area and everything it brings with it. I source a lot of our materials locally; I can actually walk to our brass supplier. We have always felt, and continue to feel, that there was no need to move our factory out of Brooklyn.

We’ve actually been in Brooklyn 40 years! We are able to tap into some amazing craftsmen being in Brooklyn, and the proximity that we have to the largest concentration of architects and designers in the USA has enabled us to keep our finger on the pulse of new trends and designs.

Brooklyn Faucet

Brooklyn Faucet

LD: With many family businesses great memories were created while the business was being built.  Can you share one that stands out for you?

Avi sharing the installation with his children!

Avi sharing the installation with his children!

AA: Of the many great memories I have, one that really does stand out is how incredibly proud I was to bring my family to the South Street Seaport Museum a few years back to see our Brooklyn faucet on display in a “Made in New York” installation. That was a really proud moment for me.

LD: Avi, you are the third generation for this unique company, Watermark. Growing up watching the business, was it always your dream to run the company someday? What were some of your childhood dreams?

AA: Well I won’t go back as far as childhood, but when I graduated from SUNY Binghamton with a degree in Finance, I had wanted to start something of my own NOT involving the plumbing industry. Along with two other college friends, we built a website that catered to the trade show industry called tradeshowcase.com. The website ushered in the technology age to a decades old business model – trade show exhibiting and attending. That site never really took off so I began pursuing other opportunities. I will admit that I had limited understanding of the plumbing and manufacturing industries, but I began working for SEPCO, which was our family’s company, doing the classic mail-room scenario; learning the business from the ground up. After working at SEPCO for a year and absorbing as much as I could, I realized how much I enjoyed the process of building something tangible. Around that time, my father was considering selling the business, but I convinced him to give me a year to see if I could turn the company into something bigger. I renamed the company Watermark Designs and began re-branding the business. This was in 1999, when I was 22 years old. We’ve come a long way since (and I’ve aged!).

H-Line Faucet

H-Line Faucet

LD: I adore that you didn’t just skip right from college to a corner office! Understanding what is happening behind the scenes is critical for success in your current position.  Speaking of successful, all successful people have a passion for what they do, after all it’s the passion that makes us successful.  At some point there was a spark that ignited that passion, what was it for you?

Watermark factory, Brooklyn NYC

Watermark factory, Brooklyn NYC

AA: As we’ve discussed, I really love designing and producing tangible and useful things – products, displays, even our website. I love to start projects and finish them. Launching a new collection or catalog is always very exciting. Longer term, seeing the brand take on an emotion or spark in others has also been very rewarding. Also seeing the product via social media in real installations has been very rewarding. I usually only get to see our product by itself instead of in the designer’s vision of how all our pieces interact with other design elements such as tile, vanities, lighting, etc… Last, I love that I am able to provide and create jobs for some amazing people.

LD: Is there anyone who has influenced your work or styled your point of view?

AA: You might be surprised that I’m going to mention another plumbing fixture brand but I am. I would say Dornbracht and how they utilize the arts.  Also any successful business entrepreneur who had a vision and a means to fulfill it. Many people have great ideas but it’s the execution that is often most challenging. I’m reading a book on the Grateful Dead now and how they broke all the record company rules to become the most influential American band of all time. Fascinating stuff. They took chances while staying true to their core beliefs of how their music should be heard.

LD: Interesting, I’ll be adding that to my reading list! I realize this next question could be like asking who your favorite child is … but do you have a favorite Watermark product?

AA: Brooklyn. It was the design that changed the way I think about the industry and our faucet.  It put a lot of my ideas into perspective and into practice.


LD: Would you share both your biggest accomplishment and greatest challenge to date at Watermark?

AA: Collaborating with amazing architects and designers on product collections is really a great accomplishment for such a small company. That they trust and believe in our ability to articulate their visions while incorporating our own, has resulted in some amazing product collections. An on-going challenge for us is that so many larger manufacturers do ‘imitate’ our designs. We recently joined the trade organization called ‘Be Original’ whose mission is to help people understand the value of original designs.


LD: Personal life, who are you? Family? Hobbies? Can we have a glimpse of who is Avi Abel?

AA: I am married and have three children and of course when I’m not at the factory, I’m spending as much time with my children and family as possible. Brooklyn is a treasure trove of great places to visit and hang out with kids. I love spending time in nature whether it’s biking in Prospect Park in Brooklyn or hiking in the Catskills. Love going to see live music too and seeing artists express themselves without filters.

LD: It certainly seems you embrace Brooklyn, even find it inspiring.  I find quotes very influential … they are tacked up all over my studio. Do you have a favorite quote?

AA: I heard this quote the other day and I feel it really sums up what we do, “To sell something familiar make it surprising and to sell something surprising make it familiar.”

LD: I love that quote!

LD: Lastly, it appears you are ‘living a dream’.  Your passion and love for your work is easy to see … if you could have a second career what would it be?

Watermark factory

Watermark factory

AA: I’d start up an organization that helps young people learn trades through apprenticeships and technical schools. Too much emphasis is put on college education which only leads to low paying jobs and much debt. There are many companies looking for skilled labor and it’s hard to find. There should be a system in place to match companies looking for skilled labor and teaching those skill sets to people who are good with their hands and are creative.

LD: I couldn’t agree with you more.  My own son chose a trade over college and it was the best move he’s made.  He’ll most likely eventually further his education through a trade school, but learning to hone his skills on the job is priceless. Thank you so much for sharing Watermark with my clients and readers. Next time I’m in Brooklyn let’s plan lunch! 🙂


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