By BRENT SNAVELY - Detroit Free Press
DETROIT American Dryer, a manufacturer of high-speed hand dryers, is benefitting from demand for environmentally friendly products that also reduce costs.
In June, the company moved into a 20,000-square-foot building that is 40 percent larger than its prior location and is preparing to launch a new line of high-speed hand dryers for public restrooms.
"Companies in general are looking for ways to save money, and our products are one of the few things that do that," said Dan Rabahy, 47, president of American Dryer. "Our dryers - the new ones - dry your hands as quickly as paper towels, and you don't have the mess and landfill issues you have with paper towels."
Rabahy also said the recession and downturn in the automotive industry gave the company an opportunity to expand because it drove down commercial property values.
The company spent less than $1 million to buy and renovate the new building, he said.
"Five years ago, you could not have done this," Rabahy said.
American Dryer was a division of Taylor, Mich.-based Masco Corp. from 1952 until 1985.
That's when Dan Rabahy's father, Donald Rabahy, left Masco and established American Dryer as a separate company.
Donald Rabahy, 75, remains chairman and CEO and provides crucial experience and guidance, his son said.
Donald Rabahy said high-speed hand dryers were first introduced in the 1940s but the industry has remained relatively small because many people prefer paper towels over the loud dryers.
Now, advances in technology have led to dryers with faster drying times and less noise.
American Dryer's new product line, called Extreme Air, features adjustable speed settings and is designed to operate at four voltage levels.
"It's going to be the most compact, high-speed, energy-efficient, hand dryer in the market," Dan Rabahy said.
"We already have new commitments from customers, so we are ramping up," Dan Rabahy said.
With the new building, American Dryer can triple its annual production capacity from about 30,000 to 90,000 units.
As production increases, the company said it will add employees to its current 20. Dan Rabahy said the number could grow to 40, depending on demand.
Donald Rabahy said American Dryer's new products are less expensive than those offered by what may be American Dryer's most formidable competitor: Dyson.
Dyson, best known for its creatively designed vacuum cleaners, entered the market in 2007 with a high-speed hand dryer with a slot that blows hot air on a person's hands from two sides. American Dryer sells its Extreme Air dryers for about $300 to $600 each compared with an estimated $300 to $1,200 each for competitors.
Rabahy said he doesn't foresee American Dryer ever becoming a large company. But with about 90 percent of public restrooms still dominated by paper towel dispensers, the company's new product line and location put it on track for slow but steady growth.
That's why the company felt secure in expanding during a slow economic recovery.
"It's hard to believe after 26 years," Rabahy said about the expansion. "I think it didn't fully hit some of us until we physically moved into the building."
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