College Design
NC State University

Center for Universal Design Banner


www Center Google

    Projects and Services | Center Services | Center Projects | Past Projects    
    PROJECTS AND SERVICES: CENTER PROJECTS: Case Studies on Universal Design    

Gardening for All Ages and Abilities

American Standard Company
157 Water Street
Southington, CT 06489

"I have arthritis of the hands, and this is one product that I can use in my garden and yard that does not hurt my hands."

Testimonials like this from customers and therapists alike no longer surprised Judy Florian, head of Customer Service for American Standard Company and wife of the President. In fact, statements like this were scattered throughout their catalog of Florian Ratchet-Cut Pruning Tools.

As Nat Florian wrote in the Florian catalog, "Over the years we are pleased to find that our tools are not only widely used by the professional commercial market, but also by the average homeowner bridging all age gaps. Folks with diminished hand and arm strength who had given up pruning and working in their gardens now are able to resume their passion for gardening."


American Standard Company, maker and seller of Florian Ratchet-Cut pruning tools, was a third-generation, family-owned, tool and die and metal stamping business founded by R. Steuart Florian in 1937. Mr. Florian invented and patented the Ratchet Pruning Shear in the 1960's as a result of watching his wife struggle with conventional garden pruning tools.

Florian's ratchet design worked similarly to a hydraulic automobile jack, which generates its power through short, easy strokes. American Standard claimed that their hand pruners cut through branches up to ¾" thickness, with less than one fifth of the effort required with conventional pruners. Their customers seemed to agree: "I have apple trees that are twenty-five years old. Normally, it takes two weeks to trimÉwith your pruners it takes only three days," read another testimonial in their catalog.

Ratchet-Cut Prunersd

"Ratchet-Cut" Pruners

American Standard Company's sole facility was located in Southington, CT, and had about 53 employees and affiliates, including 13 sales staff, 10 office staff, and a production staff of 20-30. Since 1987, Nat had served as President. Most of Florian's seven children worked in the business, some later moving on to other manufacturing companies. Two of the sons, Nat and Jonathan, re-engineered their father's design, which led to a second patent.

Foreign Competition: Bad Copies are Good Publicity

The popularity of Florian tools spawned cheap imitations which 63-year-old president Nat Florian described as a "mixed blessing": The low-quality imitations focused attention on the quality of the genuine article, while also negatively reflecting on the Ratchet-Cut design if executed poorly.

American Standard's Customer Service Department was established in the 1990's by Judith Florian. The department protected the company's reputation by providing factory service for its products. However, occasionally the department received broken foreign-made imitations of their tools accompanied by customer demands for warranty replacements.

Marketing "by Hand"

The virtues of Florian products were difficult to convey through advertising. The reduced physical effort required of the ratchet action had to be experienced. Customers had to heft the larger tools to appreciate the unexpected lightness of these tools.

Florian products could be found in only several hundred nurseries and other retailers nationwide. Florian products were generally more expensive than competitive products, so retail shoppers might pass them by for less expensive alternatives. In the early 1970's, Florian tools were briefly marketed by Stanley Tools, although this alliance dissolved.

American Standard has determined that its most effective marketing is through personal selling. American Standard's Marketing Manager, Kit White, became interested in Florian garden tools when he saw them demonstrated at a state fair in 1975, when he was 15 years old. Since then he has traveled extensively to promote the advantages of Florian's products. White and his sales force attend dozens of trade and retail shows every year. They also attend state and regional fairs such as the Eastern State Fair, which attracts about 1.5 million people.

Meeting Customers with Disabilities

At the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, which attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, White would meet 75-100 wheelchair users each day of the 5-day show. White added that the total number of customers with less visible disabilities than these was impossible to measure.

Wheelchair users found the company's pole pruning system very useful, since pole extensions could be easily added and removed for either high or low pruning. One-armed customers found that the ratchet action of the long-handled Maxi Lopper allowed them to cut limbs up to 2" thick by holding the red handle stationary against their body, while pumping the green handle. With conventional pruners, both handles must be squeezed together.

Ratchet-Cut Loppersd

"Ratchet-Cut" Loppers

Product Improvements through Customer Feedback

Since the establishment of the Customer Service Department in the 1990's, a steadily growing stream of customer letters has developed, much of it from customers with disabilities ranging from heart disease to amputations to cerebral palsy. Both Judy and Nat found these letters heartening, but emphasized that their tools were good for everyone, as many other catalog customers stated: "I have 6 acres crowded with azaleas and all sorts of fruit trees and my lopper thrilled me with the effortless cuts on stuff the size of my wrist."

Field sales representatives had similar experiences with customers with disabilities. Sales Manager Kit White noted that, at garden shows, women attendees outnumbered men and ranged in age from 40 to 90 years of age.

With the exception of the original ratchet-cut patent born through the invention of R. Steuart Florian to address his wife's limitations, Florian products had not been designed to meet the specific needs of customers with disabilities. The advantages cited by these customers simply reinforced the logic of the design, according to Nat Florian.

Regular improvements in design and manufacture were conceived and executed in-house. These improvements focused on improving ease of use and durability for every user. Needs identified by the sales force were brought directly to the attention of the factory staff through Nat Florian.

Teaching Universal Design by Example

Florian's RP 701 Pruner was used in Universal Design seminars at "Designing for the 21st Century" and RESNA conferences in June, 2000. Not surprisingly, participants at these conferences were at first confused by the unique ratchet action of this product. Without instructions in its design, users felt that the tool might be broken. After learning how the design works, however, they were impressed. Several suggested that some description of the Pruner's unique design be printed right on the tool to overcome this initial confusion. This suggestion was passed on to American Standard's president.

Florian's Future

Ethel and Steuart Florian's son and grandson continued to manufacture and market the Florian line of garden tools, as well as a growing number of related gardening products produced by others. The number of home and garden shows attended by Kit White and his sales staff increased each year.

With an estimated 30% sales growth in 1999 and a natural appeal to the growing population of seniors and people with disabilities, American Standard continued to be an excellent example of the business appeal of Universal Design.


"Florian Pruning Tools". 2000 Product Catalog. American Standard Company. Southington, CT. 2000.

Richards, Salle. "Author Makes Life Easier for Disabled". Elmira Star Gazette. July 15, 1996. p. 4D

November, 2000
  © Copyright 2008 Center for Universal DesignCollege of Design, North Carolina State University
    PDF Accessibility