By SIM RISSO
Business Journal writer
COARSEGOLD — It’s not uncommon to hear about the decline of American manufacturing, but one Central Valley Company is building its business making water-efficient showerheads with made-in-California parts.
High Sierra Showerheads works with California vendors, including a screw manufacturer in Merced, to make low-flow showerheads.
“Most folks are willing to pay more for a product that’s made here and innovative,” said the company’s owner, David Malcolm. “If you’re going to charge twice as much, it better work twice as good. That’s kind of how our showerheads work.
Malcolm has been making showerheads since 2010, but the company really took off in 2015, when High Sierra Showerheads landed a contract to supply all the showerheads for correctional institutions in California. The U.S. Air Force Academy, Yale University, Purdue University and the Fresno Housing Authority also use High Sierra Showerheads to outfit their operations.
Malcolm said his company has solved one of the biggest complaints about low-flow showerheads: lower water pressure and the tendency to clog.
Most low-flow showerheads are designed as a large diameter disc with lots of nozzles. But High Sierra showerheads are fashioned as a smaller nozzle with only one large opening. That larger opening allows for more water pressure even with a lower flow. It also produces less clogging.
“We are limited to the amount of water per showerhead,” Malcolm said. “When you have too many nozzles, your flow per nozzle is going to be very low, and it probably won’t be coming out with much pressure.”
In California, showerheads are limited to two gallons per minute, while High Sierra’s showerheads use 1.5 to 1.8 gallons per minute.
High Sierra’s innovation in the industry caught the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2016, the agency awarded the company the U.S. EPA WaterSense Excellence Award for its work retrofitting more than 6,000 showerheads in California correctional facilities.
High Sierra’s low-flow showerheads are projected to save the state more than 385 million gallons of water annually.
“There are hundreds of applicants, and we were one of a few that got it,” Malcolm said of the award. “It gives us some credibility because we are a small company. Not too many people had heard of us. But when they find us and see we received this prestigious award, this national award, it helps give us some credibility.”
Malcolm took over his father’s business developing sprinkler heads for golf courses and agricultural irrigation in 1992. One of the golf course superintendents was looking for a nozzle that could be attached to a hose to hit hotspots on putting greens. Malcolm set out to design a nozzle that produced an even spray.
After many attempts, Malcolm came up with a solution by accident. He inserted a pin at the top and put a conical orifice plate, which is concave, over the top of it. He found the pin didn’t break the stream but divided it into two streams. The conical orifice cupped the two streams back together, which caused them to collide. That collision of the two streams produced an even spray of large droplets.
In addition to showerheads, High Sierra also produces the Reflections mirror, which the company sells as a shaving mirror. It is an aluminum disc with a mirror finish that attaches to the showerhead.
“It’s a 100 percent fog-free mirror,” said Malcolm. “It doesn’t require any kind of coating on it. It’s just the heat from the water flowing to the showerhead heats it up, keeps it hotter than the surrounding air, and that prevents it from fogging.”
High Sierra’s products are available on its website and through Amazon.com. Products range include handheld heads, classic showerheads and the Reflections mirror.
Sales have soared thanks to the drought and the increased emphasis on saving. In 2014, High Sierra sold 10,000 showerheads. In 2016, the company sold more than 30,000.
The company has six full-time employees. Malcolm would like to see sales continue to increase and to get a bigger piece of the market.
“We get a piece of the pie now, and it’s enough to provide a good living for me and my family, but I really would like it to get much larger,” said Malcolm. “Instead of $1 million plus in sales, I’d like to see it get to $5-10 million, and I really do believe it can.”