Funny Business with Jane Wells

The economy's in the toilet, and that's a good thing

American Standard CEO is flush with sales
American Standard CEO is flush with sales

Here's one indicator the economy is improving: Your favorite seat in the house costs more.

Toilet sales have risen 28 percent since 2011, according to American Standard CEO Jay Gould, whose company is a leading manufacturer of toilets.

"We lost about a third of our overall business from 2008 until 2012," Gould said. "I'm happy to say now, over the past two years, we've been growing at double-digit rates."

Most of the company's $1 billion in annual sales are tied to home remodeling projects, and the company is now trying to capture one of the fastest-growing trends: smart toilets. This summer American Standard started selling the $4,200 AT200, a toilet with a heated seat that automatically opens, closes and flushes.

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American consumers looking for a European experience can also use a retractable bidet wand. Competitors Toto and Kohler already sell smart toilets, and Gould said he thinks American Standard can sell $50 million worth a year.

American Standard

"In Japan, 75 percent of all households have smart toilets. Today in the United States, it's only 1 percent," he said at the company's DXV showroom in Manhattan. "I can definitely envision that growing to at least 10 to 15 percent over the next three years."

However, Gould faces a challenge in getting consumers to listen to the idea of trading up to what he calls a "Spa-let."

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"Americans don't like to talk about what happens in the bathroom," he said. "We always say, 'The kitchen is about 'we' and the bathroom is about 'me,' and American consumers don't like to talk about 'me' in the bathroom."

He said he hopes the company can persuade more Americans to talk about the "me" and see the bathroom as a luxury experience. Maybe then they'd be willing to swap out for a new product before the old toilet...craps out.

Smart toilets
The $4,200 smart toilet

Gould came to the company two years ago to help turn around sales. The CEO has also helped improve the company's image by teaming up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create "Flush For Good," an effort to improve sanitation and survival rates in areas where clean toilets—or any toilets—are non-existent.

When Matt Damon posted a video last year saying he was going on a bathroom strike until everyone had clean access to water and a toilet, Jay Gould responded with a video of his own—sitting on a toilet, to promote the work American Standard does. It's not every day you see an American CEO sitting on a toilet admitting, "When you gotta go, you gotta go."

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As part of "Flush for Good," American Standard donates a sanitary pit latrine toilet pan to a developing country for every Champion toilet sold. Sales of those products were up 62 percent last year.

—By CNBC's Jane Wells