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Competition Redefined – Lessons from Wesabe’s Demise

Posted on October 11, 2010 by Sean

Competition breeds excellence and we all enjoy the fruits of the fight. It brings us better phones and better food and better experiences at (usually) better prices. Without competition we might not have Android smartphone software or the Macbook or the commoditized coffee chain from which I write this blog.

There are two groups of winners in any competitive arena, first and most obvious - the winner of the event, whether it’s a sports team who won the series or start-up who secured the most VC interest. The second group of winners is us - the market, those for whom the gadget was designed, for whom the game was played. If the winning team is at the receiving end of millions (or billions?) of dollars, we’re at the receiving end of a product polished, edited and refined by the competitive process; and for us, the more brutal the competition, the better.

In his post-mortem essay, “Why Wesabe Lost to Mint” Wesabe co-creator, Marc Hedlund responds to speculations surrounding the Wesabe vs. Mint competition, and debunks several misunderstandings associated with Wesabe’s eventual acquiescence.

If you haven’t used or heard of either, both Wesabe and Mint were/are personal finance web-applications. In his essay, Hedlund makes his intentions clear. “I prioritized trying to build tools that would eventually help people change their financial behavior for the better, which I believed required people to more closely work with and understand their data” he says.  A noble pursuit, to be sure, but in the end, not enough.

It wasn’t the name.  Hedlund mentions several examples of screwy-names-turned-profitable, listing Google, Yahoo and Amazon (I might also submit Hulu). While the term “mint” helps conjure images of fortresses full of gold bars or the literal creation of money, Wesabe supplements bland sushi. No matter, he says, it wasn’t the name that held them back.

And it wasn’t the timing, either. According to Hedlund, Wesabe had nearly a 10 month head-start on Mint. In the world of all-night programming binges and instant market feedback, 10 months is an eternity. While he admits that there are some advantages in not being first (learning from competition missteps, free market research etc.) it is generally valuable to be the first to market. Wesabe was first and they still failed.

“Most people simply won't care enough or get enough benefit from long-term features if a shorter-term alternative is available” Hedlund concedes. As someone deeply interested in personal finance (and well-versed in the usefulness of web-apps) I’ve tried both services and found Hedlund’s hypothesis true, without question. While Wesabe might have yielded the most permanent results (Long-term personal finance improvement) I never got past the myriad of fields and required data-entry. Simply put, Wesabe was too hard to use.

Mint, at the other end of the spectrum, might be too simplistic to effect real change. Yes, it gives me a nice macroscopic view of my finances. It sends me emails when I am approaching my determined budget-limit in certain financial categories. It’s effective in that regard, but I believe long-term, sustainable personal finance goals are met when the user develops responsibility and discipline - qualities likely to come through a series of repeated micro decisions. The sad irony is that while Hedlund and I are simpatico in this regard, he is the co-founder of an out-of-business personal finance enterprise and I am the user of a semi-ineffective personal finance web application.

In my experience, most of us slave over branding issues and domain name ideas and spend too much time doubled-over and panting with exhaustion trying to beat the competition to market. Mint wasn’t first, and yet they won because they gave us what we wanted.  Maybe it’s time to consider what the user actually wants, rather than what we want them to want.

For now, I’ll just check my email and make sure it’s okay to buy another cup of coffee.


Little Giant has been hard at work engineering pumps that their most loyal customers have been waiting for. is your destination for the new Little Giant TSW Sump Pump System and their NXTGen Condensate Pumps.

Should you Tweet? -Maybe

Posted on September 20, 2010 by Sean

With Twitter’s meteoric rise to popularity and its proven success as a marketing channel, many businesses are rushing towards it with arms open, hoping to embrace (and convert) the 105,779,710 existing users and the more than 300,000 active users per day.

Twitter Logo and Bird

But, though the service is evolving, we have to remember that human dynamics (largely) has not. Twitter is a real time conversation mechanism. The same principles that apply to actual, verbal conversation – the perceptions of trust, values, integrity, insight, responsiveness, which fuel our engagement - absolutely apply to this service.

So now, with tightening budgets and unprecedented buzz, a cash-strapped marketer might be inclined to adopt Twitter as a viable marketing channel.

But, if you weren’t an early adopter, maybe it’s time to pause before leaning into the social media giant as new, reliable marketing stream. There are already blog posts explaining “How to use twitter to grow your business” so I’ll leave the “HOW” to them. However, before you “join the conversation.”, pause to consider the WHY.

Whether you’re convinced that Twitter is congruent with your business model or, you’re of the “it’s free, why not?” school of marketing. I humbly submit two suggestions.

1)      Please ADD something to the conversation.

Keep in mind that Twitter, unlike many social networks is actually grounded in conversation. Each Tweet is a pithy, 140 character remark or reply made in real time, by real people. Whereas a blog post (or even Facebook status update) usually requires some level of pre-meditation, a Tweet is often a quick thought fired off (sometimes too) hastily by a person, to another person (or an assembly of followers.) A calculated advertisement is likely to fall on unmotivated eyes if you’re only trying to coax a “follower” to follow you back to your website and make a purchase.

2)      Please add something NEW to the conversation.

If you’re still vacillating on whether or not to market your product through Twitter, consider yourself a late-adopter. Active Twitter users are savvy, we follow selectively and, unlike Facebook or Myspace (yes, I said it), there is delineation between “Followers” and “Following” – meaning, there is more social currency in having an abundance of followers, than there is in following the population of a small country. Consider the hyperbolic, but appropriate example of perpetual comedian/Late Night host, Conan O’Brien – who has over a million followers, but follows only one person, Sarah Killen – who he seemingly picked at random. Companies like Southwest Airlines do well by incorporating personality and customer service into their tweets.

So, if you’re anything like me, you spend as much time as possible avoiding advertising, and Twitter is a great way to selectively reduce the amount of advertising in your life. Don’t go ruining that for us.

The bottom line to would-be Tweetvertisers: We control this conversation, what have you got to say?

For the best prices, on the largest selection of faucets, from your favorite brands like Kohler, Danze, and American Standard shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How to Nail (or Fail) the Interview

Posted on August 17, 2010 by Sean

I know this one isn’t a secret, but it’s so absent in so many interviews that I’m starting to believe that for some reason – it might be. While this issue does not necessarily secure a position, it could, if unanswered, cost you the opportunity. Personally, it would take a strong act of God for me to recommend the hiring of someone who failed on this issue.

Learn about the company.

That’s it. Sounds easy. It is.

If you’re applying for a job in a reasonably established company, they will have information made public somewhere on the Internet.

What’s surprising though is how few people actually take advantage of the resource (which is actually probably why it’s such an egregious offense). The Internet is free. If you don’t have it, go to the library, there will undoubtedly be a smiling older woman who would love nothing more than to help you stop slacking.

In my recent experience, probably 1/5 of candidates have any knowledge of the company they’re engaging, and even fewer can answer shallow-at-best questions about the industry in general. True, some companies hide their information better than others, but it’s out there – if you look.

If you’re totally without inclination, have a look at the company from some of these angles:

About Us/Contact Us – This one is pretty softball. Start here, read everything, memorize key names.

Products/Services – It’s absolutely amazing (by amazing, I mean decidedly un-amazing) how many, in interviews, have almost no idea what the company does. Also, trying to infer company details from the company name is usually not enough, “Uh, you guys generally make motors, right"? – Right.

Competition/Reputation - Once you’ve identified what the company does, have a look at what other, similar companies do. Pro Tip: if the competition is stronger, it’s best not to bring this up.

Blog/Social Media – Whether it’s run by a middle-manager with a paunch or a newly-minted college graduate with a URL for a middle name, most businesses have some kind of social media presence. This is a brilliant way to get a feel for company culture as well as raw opinion from sources other than copy-edited web content.

Given the instant, free access we have to the Internet, we’re all without excuse for not having some answer to the question. Actually, I think this is exactly why it’s so important to have one.


Kohler is arguably one of the most innovative brands in the home improvement industry. The new Karbon Kitchen faucet has completely transformed the kitchen and more specifically revolutionized the faucet. Meanwhile Kohler seems to effortlessly create bathroom fixtures that are not only sleek but save water, like the Escale toilet.

Learning from Lehman… What Not to Write in an Email

Posted on June 22, 2010 by Sean

A quick Google search will find countless blog posts discussing the rules, standards and etiquette for just about every kind of work-related correspondence. We know it’s stupid to send personal messages on work time, we know it’s dumb to share uncomfortable truths about our bosses or proliferate highly sensitive information, but as we’re spending more time than ever in the workplace (see chart below), even the most innocent of conversations can appear contentious. When social proximity creates friends out of co-workers, the lines of professional care can blur. Making the big mistake of blending these workplace boundaries can make it seriously easy to get into serious trouble.

Time use on an average work day for employed persons ages 25 to 54 with children

The folks at put together a list of words which could spell big trouble if found in your email. As we know, the financial giant has fallen in the wake of the subprime mortgage fallout amidst allegations of longstanding financial malpractice. Investigations have been lengthy. “The lawyer appointed to figure out what went wrong at Lehman Brothers used lots of different search terms to mine 34 million pages of documents from the bank” – The search terms below were used as criteria to isolate potentially incriminating documents and very confidential correspondence – some of which will likely be used as evidence in upcoming litigation.

  • stupid
  • huge mistake
  • big mistake
  • dumb
  • can't believe
  • cannot believe
  • serious trouble
  • big trouble
  • unsalvageable
  • shocked
  • speechless
  • too late
  • uncomfortable
  • not comfortable
  • I don't think we should
  • very sensitive
  • highly sensitive
  • very confidential
  • highly confidential
  • do not share this
  • don't share this
  • between you and me
  • just between us

Personally, I don’t think we should all start fearfully scouring our inboxes searching for the words on this list. In reality, these terms aren’t inherently incendiary – put in the right context, most of them are perfectly harmless. The truth is, most of us don’t work for a company as controversial as Lehman Brothers (thank God) so a better approach is simply taking pause before sending an email and reading over what we’ve written and eliminating anything we are not comfortable with. 

If I send you an email from my work computer – and you answer it from your work computer, we can be absolutely sure that, no matter the intent, the exchange is not just between us. Simply put, when you’re on the clock, you’re on the record (If you can’t believe that – ask your Human Resources representative, if you still cannot believe them – ask your IT manager, they know everything.) Most companies have an official policy regarding computer use – a quarterly brush-up on this policy might serve as a positive reminder.

So, it would be prudent to learn from the fall of giants, before we’re all left shocked and speechless in the wake of our own office-oversights. If there’s any question about the integrity of your inbox, clean it up now, before a small misstep becomes a huge mistake. Between you and me, for Lehman Brothers, it’s simply too late.

If you’re unsure about sending highly confidential information via email – don’t share this. While there are situations that call for the sharing of very sensitive information, the results of your exchange could be unsalvageable.

Note: you might not want to forward this email, as all of the earmarked words or phrases appear at least once.


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Oh, Those Customers – Five Great Customer Responses

Posted on June 17, 2010 by Sean

Here at – we love customers. No, seriously – we love our customers. Working in Customer Service gives us the opportunity - nay, privilege to interact with literally thousands of personalities each month.

It’s awesome.

From time to time, we get together to discuss the “gems” we’ve accumulated throughout our months of helping customers. We gather in the conference room and swap stories like baseball cards. Here’s a few we’ve collected from our recent “gem-jam.”

1) Customer responded to his account update email with the Taco Bell nutritional value menu.

Our customer was either hungry or set on proselytizing the nutritional values (or lack thereof) of delicious and convenient Mexican fare.

2) On St. Patrick’s day – a wonderful Irish customer bid Hannah adieu by sending her off with a traditional Irish blessing.

 “May those who love us, love us,
  And those who don't love us,
  May God turn their hearts
  And if he can't turn their hearts,
  May he turn their ankles
  So we will know them by their limping!”

3) A valued customer used "A as in abstinence." To better clarify the spelling of his name.

    I think we’ll leave it at that.

4) A customer once asked if we delivered to the moon. We informed him that we shipped primarily with UPS and sadly, the moon was outside of their delivery area.

5) "Thank you for calling this is Joelle"..."what’s your name?"..."Joelle"...."What?"....'My name is Joelle"...."Your name is Jello?"...."No, Joelle"....."Oh whatever I don’t even care, YOU SENT ME A BROKEN TUB..."

Personally – I think Jello makes every situation better.


Little Giant has been hard at work engineering pumps that their most loyal customers have been waiting for. is your destination for the new Little Giant TSW Sump Pump System and their NXTGen Condensate Pumps.

Five Reasons I Moderately Dislike List Blogs

Posted on May 26, 2010 by Sean

I read a lot of blogs. Ashamedly, I’ve fairly recently been introduced to a fantastic piece of technology from Google (only a few years late, right?) so now it’s easier for me than ever to read my favorite blogs in one sweet location.  In my ocular travels, I’m starting to notice a few things about list blogs.

Five Reasons I Moderately Dislike List Blogs

  1. They’re everywhere. With something like Google reader, all of my favorite blogs are aggregated into a neatly formatted page allowing me to consume or navigate away from the latest offerings from my favorite writers. This is great for convenience, but because it allows for almost side-by-side comparisons of different authors, the homogeny is often obvious.

  2. They promote the “lowest common denominator” - I suppose if you want your blog to read like journalism or quick info-fare, a list blog might be fine. What happens when we read list blogs (or anything with a list) is that readers are visually drawn to the list, leaving the requisite intro paragraph largely unread. For me at least, it seems that while they might generate readers, they do very little to convert readers. That is, draw them into your story, compel us to learn or feel, or support. These are the kind of viewers/readers/customers that companies pay billions for.

  3. Life isn’t a list. There are many days (all of them) I hope for neatly packaged instructions for life. Sadly, each of those days, I come to find that there isn’t actually “five keys to financial success!” or “fourteen keys to happiness.” I suppose financial success comes through hard work and discipline (two steps by last count) and there are probably far more than fourteen ways to become happier. But, we’re served convenient lists of ways to change our life, I suspect because…

  4. They’re easy. It’s easier to write in list format but it feels a little like suffocating the real writer. My favorite writers are ones who take sudden lefts when the reader wants to go straight. They hike the longer trail for the beauty of it. Or, simply, they give you two paragraphs of wisdom and move on. List blogs assume a dedicated format (listing, generally chronologically) and there’s little room for creativity – though it’s taxing, it’s necessary for real art. Conversely, sometimes it feels like writers really have two points to make, but because a two-point list is strange, they unnecessarily drag it out into five-points, sometimes essentially restating an original tip. See next point for proof of this phenomenon.

  5. They’re everywhere. They’re here, and here, and here. Writers covet readers, but readers covet newness and fresh ideas. Why don’t we treat readers with the respect they deserve? A person or company who asks us to read what they’ve written is an imposition on their time (read this, instead of that.) And it’s one of the most honoring and humbling and special feelings I can think of. We’re given so many minutes each day, to have someone to spend several of them learning with you is actually kind of profound.

I confess, originally the title was “Reasons I hate list blogs” but through writing a list blog, I kind of realized that I don’t hate them, I just hate what they sometimes represent. Sometimes, they’re absolutely necessary. They draw our focus to the point, and when constructed simply, it simply works.

It looks like another element consistent throughout this week’s blog aggregation is ending your blog with a question. So, as I’ve ironically (perhaps bitterly) written a list blog decrying list blogs, I will end with a deep and poignant question germane to the formula, typically used to inspire comments and conversation. Also, a generic stock-photo related to your blog topic doesn’t hurt (see above.)

What kind of blog do you prefer to read? Do list blogs hold your attention?


Kohler is arguably one of the most innovative brands in the home improvement industry. The new Karbon faucet has completely transformed the kitchen and more specifically revolutionized the kitchen faucet. Meanwhile Kohler seems to effortlessly create bathroom fixtures that are not only sleek but save water, like the Escale toilet.

Empty Inboxes and Fighting Lizards

Posted on April 22, 2010 by Sean

Despite stacks of paperwork and an inbox filled to capacity of new, necessary voicemails, I have accomplished the impossible.

Cracked iPhone

Today, almost a full year after I began here at Gordian Project as Customer Service Manager, I emptied my email inbox.

That’s right. Right now - at least for the next few moments, I have zero emails awaiting my reply. I worked furiously to realize this victory, through days packed-full of multi-tasking and nights spent rubbing a hole in my iPhone- forwarding, delegating and tending to issues, I have effectively “cleared” my inbox.


And now, I am overwhelmed with anxiety.

Seth Godin's Lizard Brain Reference

As I pause to take emotional inventory (and briefly take my sanity into consideration) I’m realizing that what I’m experiencing is the “Lizard Brain” in revolt. Seth Godin, who remains a favorite author of mine, has termed this kind of response “thinking from the lizard brain.”  After some introspection, I’m realizing that the anxiety is actually a response to freedom. It’s as if my spaceship had been burning fuel, pushing and fighting its way through the Earth’s atmosphere and all of a sudden, as I break through the Stratosphere and into the dark, infinite of space (the direction I had been so desperately fighting to go) I am longing for the pain and striving of my pained ascent. There is security in being overwhelmed; at the very least, it gives you something to do.

Godin explains the Lizard Brain as “a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive.” It’s the “voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise… [it] is writer's block and putting jitters and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn't stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door.”

So, he argues, living from this part of the brain is what keeps us living in perpetual contradiction. 

It’s what brings me anxiety when I clear my inbox.

The lizard brain is telling me that when my inbox is full, I am useful; I have a mission, no matter how insurmountable or mundane. To the lizard, an empty inbox represents not accomplishment, but a loss of purpose. In reality, the opposite is true (the opposite of the lizard is almost always the truth.) Now that I am done with my emails, I am available to work at the higher-level goals set for me by the executive team, I am free to indulge in the kind of creative “art” (another Godin term) that yields true progress. I am finally free to be truly productive.

The lizard brain wants us to stay small, to live in the security of perpetually answering emails, to strike off items for the sake of striking them off. But, the creative mind cannot fully exist while taking direction from the lizard – the lizard tells us to constantly check our Twitter feed (in lieu of creative, meaningful work) but it was the creative mind that invented Twitter. The lizard avoids confrontation for fear of exposure and the creative mind sees the confrontation for what it is, a necessary and temporary discomfort; a useful exercise in resilience.

The lizard fights freedom because it is afraid of being exposed as a lizard.

Kohler is arguably one of the most innovative brands in the home improvement industry. The new Karbon faucet has completely transformed the kitchen and more specifically revolutionized the kitchen faucet. Meanwhile Kohler seems to effortlessly create bathroom fixtures that are not only sleek but save water, like the Escale toilet.

A Few Questions for the Tablet

Posted on January 26, 2010 by Sean

Like many others, I’m feverishly anticipating the release of a gadget known simply as the “Tablet".  My technophilic speculations tell me that the “Tablet” will be efficient, convenient and ultimately revolutionary. If this really is the “Year of the tablet”.  I’d better start saving now. My initial questions are thus:

Who’s going to buy these things?

While the Kindle, Nook and other eReaders are targeting fervent bibliophiles, I’m guessing that’s too narrow a scope for the tablet. With its range of capability and opportunity, it’s likely to appeal to anyone seeking efficiency or entertainment. As shown here in the Sports Illustrated demonstration, users will likely be able to (and advertisers will happily encourage us to) take advantage of integrated interactive media.

Will people carry this in addition to their iPhone?

It seems like the iPhone’s only limitation in this area is size. The connection is fast (and getting faster everyday) and, while you can probably access all things published, the only limitation I see is the iPhone’s 3.5-inch widescreen Multi-Touch display. While these are liberal dimensions for an already supremely capable phone, by its very nature it limits hi-res and interactive experience.

How will this be monetized?

Tablet technology opens itself up for dynamic, real time, full-stream media advertising. Briefly touched on (no pun intended) in the Sports Illustrated tablet demonstration, advertisers will not only be an integral part of the tablet’s design, but I’m guessing they’ll be handed the keys to open-source software. From videos to embedded “hot spots” (a la Bing homepage image hotspots) for advertisers, the only limit is their creativity.

Needless to say, I’m excited to see how Apple and the rest of their doppelgangers will answer these questions.


Little Giant has been hard at work engineering pumps that their most loyal customers have been waiting for. is your destination for the new Little Giant TSW Sump Pump System and their NXTGen Condensate Pumps.

Focusing Productivity: The Garden Hose Philosophy Part II

Posted on December 15, 2009 by Sean

Focusing Productivity: The Garden Hose Philosophy Part II

In my last post, I likened our lives’ productivity to that of a garden hose. While I believe that human life is exponentially more important than a garden hose, the metaphor (while imperfect) underlines some striking similarities.

And, if you’ll allow, I’ll continue.

If our lives, like garden hoses, are measured by their output, whether professionally, physically, relationally or spiritually, and we’ve taken care to refine the input, then it follows that the product must be carefully managed as well.

Our lives may be defined by their output, but they are refined by focus.

An unobstructed stream is useful for very little. The amount of water expended will likely drown plants and won’t do much for washing down a muddy fence. Even with pressure at full capacity, the water falls uselessly from the hose. If you’ve ever washed your car (the old-fashioned way) you’ve likely covered a portion of the hose’s opening, either via spray attachment or your finger (the real old-fashioned way.) The stream narrows, allowing for a higher pressure stream to spray further and with more accuracy.

What you’ve done here is focus the hose’s energy. The same amount of water has passed through the mouth of the hose, but because you’ve applied rules, routine and structure, it’s able to spray further and faster than it could have ever done without it. Again, the hose-similarities abound. No matter how much information is retained, the success of its transmission is determined not simply because it is applied, but by how skillfully it is applied. How tightly it has been focused.


  1. No matter her epicurean prowess, a writer will find herself facing a difficult battle if she attempts to write a book about food. The subject is simply too broad, too massive to tackle without applying some filter of focus.

  2. An overwhelming to-do list is likely to never get done. Bouncing between impending tasks de-focuses your energies and limits potential for success.

  3. The Office - The Injury

  4. Despite being technologically similar, you should not straighten your hair with a waffle-iron. Conversely, attempting to beautify your Belgian waffle is ill-advised. The two appliances are specific to their uses. For an appropriate, but not exact example of what happens when cooking utensil meets body part, click here.


What I’m learning is that when much of our day is spent in this “unfocused outpour,” we squander our potential for power and distance. It seems counter-productive, that in order to achieve we must constrain – but it’s proven.

We’re capable of expending vast amounts of energy and intellect, but without directing this potential, we’re wasting time pouring resources onto drowning plants.



Kohler is arguably one of the most innovative brands in the home improvement industry. The new Karbon faucet has completely transformed the kitchen and more specifically revolutionized the kitchen faucet. Meanwhile Kohler seems to effortlessly create bathroom fixtures that are not only sleek but save water, like the Escale toilet.

Focusing Productivity: The Garden Hose Philosophy Part I

Posted on December 9, 2009 by Sean

Our lives are garden hoses, long, coiled conduits whose utilitarian value lies solely in their output. While it is important to closely monitor what comes in to each, a cursory Google search found approximately zero statistics associated with garden hose input, or for that matter, storage capacity. Our lives, like garden hoses, are designed for one use: action.

Focusing Productivity: The Garden Hose Philosophy

It is wildly unimportant to evaluate the amount of water a garden hose can contain. We measure the usefulness of a garden hose by its demonstrated performance and reliability. Our lives are much the same way; while there are dozens of higher-species dynamics at play, our lives are evaluated (professionally, physically, relationally – even spiritually) by what comes FROM them rather than what comes into them. A push and pull, tug-of-war between input and output. Any nurturing or care taken during the inputting stage is done wholly to improve the expected output.



  1. A man diets and exercises (input) to feel and look better (output.)

  2. A woman enrolls in graduate school (input) to increase self-confidence and professional opportunities (output.) – If the learned information does not guide new decisions or bear fruit within her life, she is, by our measure, unsuccessful.

  3. An investor purchases stock in a company (input) because he believes in the success of the company, and the eventual growth and profit of the stock (output.)

The largest, most expensive garden hose is useless unless it reliably and consistently facilitates the output of water. Similarly, a decade of medical school might add a few initials to your name and might even land you a job at your local hospital, but the second you do not perform (output) is probably the same second you’re terminated – hospitals tend to be very serious about output.

So often we pride ourselves in our potential, in our latent intellect - It might be wise to understand that a valuable life isn’t the one that consumes, but the one that gives, produces, and, like a garden hose – pours itself into the world.

Just pouring isn’t enough. This is part 1 of 2 in the Garden Hose series. My next blog will discuss why your output must be refined in order to reach your maximum distance.


For the best prices, on the largest selection of faucets, from your favorite brands like Kohler, Danze, and American Standard shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.