Flush With Success

Hal Bregman's good manners know no bounds. Hence, any conversational topic -- even hygienic concerns arising from our most personal daily function -- may be tackled without fear of offense. Could it be that his vocabulary, which, with its specificity and lack of rude informality, inspires confidence? Or is it his South African accent that lends the proceedings a certain tone -- perhaps because we Americans associate anything that sounds remotely British Empire-ish with being terribly correct?

"Yes, what is it with you Americans?" he wonders. "It matters so much to you to be so terribly fastidious and clean, and yet certain areas of the body you insist on cleaning with a dry piece of paper?"

He would love to continue this line of inquiry, but the phone is ringing again, and he has to fill another order.

"It's actually intriguing," remarks Hal's wife, Judi, who has just popped in from a room at the back of the warehouse where she creates gift baskets for corporations. "Americans are immaculate, they insist on their daily showers, and yet there's this peculiar taboo around toileting habits and the area that's affected..."

"Ah," Hal says, as he hangs up, "that was a woman who had found an ad for our product in a 1998 issue of Mainstream magazine. Her husband has ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease, you know. A deterioration of the nerves. She has been having to assist him with toileting. At first she didn't want to go into it, but once people start telling me these squeamish things, the floodgates open."

The phone rings again.

"Good afternoon, Lubidet USA. And how did you hear of our product? Well, absolutely. Ah, he does. And so then he requires assistance on the commode? Yes, I believe so. We'll send you some materials out straight away then, shall we?"

"We never," he insists, as he disconnects, "send out any sales materials unrequested. For every ten calls that come in, we sell three units."

"But we could do better," Judi says brightly. "You just must try it! You'll absolutely never feel better in your life. I use it every day. Not to have it is a hardship."

And this is why: According to the Bregmans' oft-stated position, the practice of cleansing the perineal region with dry tissue is woefully inadequate. People with European backgrounds have long been accustomed to using a bidet for such matters, but even most Americans, even if they've seen a bidet, don't know how to use one. "And who," Judi asks, "has time to disrobe from the waist down? And who has room?"

Enter the Lubidet, the ingenious device that Hal invented nearly a decade ago, when stricken with ulcer-induced constipation. Essentially a toilet seat attached to a water reservoir and a hot-air fan, the Lubidet makes it possible to turn any toilet into a wet-cleansing, bidet-like device.

"All right, this is our bare-bones model," Hal says, as he begins a tour of the warehouse's showroom. "It offers a jet stream of cold water, and that's it, $49. Very adequate. Go up to three hundred and you get warm water. For another fifty, a warm breeze dries the region. They can be operated from the right or the left side and attached to any toilet, any size, from Australia to Cyprus to Israel to Switzerland. They eliminate the need for toilet tissue. We go through perhaps one roll every six months at our house, and that's probably used by our guests, who don't understand the Lubidet."

Of course, they could learn, if they just asked. But they don't. And therein lies the Bregmans' central business tragedy: People don't want to talk about Hal's invention, because they don't want to talk about what it was invented to do. "People think I'm absolutely nuts," Hal says. "For this reason, and also because of this terrible American squeamishness about the bathroom, they just won't try my product. They'll look me right in the eye and say that it sounds wonderful, but they won't sit down upon it."

When he began mass-producing the Lubidet, Hal was no stranger to marketing. The founder and CEO of Roberta's Schmaltz, a Capetown-based manufacturer of kosher, cholesterol-free, vegetable-based chicken fat -- "Even the chicken won't know the difference," went the slogan -- he'd built such a loyal customer base that Denver's surprisingly large population of South African Jews still clamors for the product during major Jewish holidays. But after a messy divorce put an end to that 25-year-old business, Hal moved to America, met his new, also elegantly accented wife, Judi, and decided to concentrate his marketing efforts on selling the Lubidet. Within a decade, he predicted, few American homes would be without his bathroom device.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff

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