11.  The Safemix

Whilst we were despairing on how to find the answer to our problems we took stock again of what we were trying to achieve and we listed the weaknesses of all known competitors in the UK, Europe and the USA and decided that none of them could match all these requirements:

a not to lime up in hard water
b not to dezincify in soft (or acid) water
c to be highly responsive in a thermostatic manner
d to be able to pre-set a maximum temperature which could not be exceeded.
e not to suffer back pressure problems
f to have one control operating through “Off-Cold-Tepid-Hot”.

After more heartbreaking failures there appeared on the scene an enquiry from Courtaulds of Coventry who wished to enter the market of shower cabinets with their own model and they wanted us to supply a valve.  We offered the Red Triangle Mixing Valve to which they replied that the function was excellent but that it should be thermostatic.

Lionel Meynell found a small wax filled copper capsule which was ideal for perfecting the control of the hot water clack and, as this itself was a type of neophrene, it would not lime up in hard water any more than a kitchen tap.  Safemix was born and now had to be developed.  I have always attached great importance to getting the right sounding name for our product and I firmly believed that Safemix was ideal for a description of a thermostatic mixer.  However, I went on a course in Liverpool on marketing sometime in the mid-sixties and was a bit rattled when we were invited to put forward our products names and Safemix was decried as it was said to sound like a type of ready mixed concrete. However, I stuck to my guns and although it would have been possible to change its name at that time I have never doubted that its name is descriptive of its excellence.

Although we had excellent grounds for believing we had achieved a technical breakthrough in the design and accuracy of thermostatic water mixers, it was quite incredibly difficult to sell.  Our biggest problem was that there was no domestic market at that time and the hospital and schools market had been brainwashed for over 30 years that the Leonard mixer of Walker Crosweller meant mixers in the same way that Guinness means stout and Hoover means vacuum cleaner.  We had visited most of the County Council Architects’ Departments for school work but, although we were always given a polite hearing, the message we got was:  “Yours looks good and we would like to try it.  But all the present ones are of your competitor’s type and we understand them and how to work them and stock their spares, etc.” 

The first large contract which became available for tendering soon after Safemix was launched in 1965 was for the supply of thermostatic showers to the new Cunarder to be built at John Brown’s Shipyard in Clydeside.  I was desperately anxious that we should get it and the challenge became an obsession. I worked hard on the bid, ferreting out Cunard’s decision makers, fitting a test sample on the SS Sylvania and even having the luck to sidestep an attempt at sabotage by one of our rivals.  But eventually Cunard told us: “Your mixer is the best we have tested or seen and if your prices are right you have the contract”.

We got a reasonable price after some civilised discussion and the contract for 1496 ½” Safemix thermostatic showers (including over 100 for the Crew’s Quarters) was the largest single contract ever awarded for this type of product.  And its importance to our company cannot be over-emphasised.   Up to that time we were losing ground, losing money and this appeared to be our only hope.  In my own position I had stated, privately and publicly, that we just had to get this contract to break into the apparently luscious field of supplying the institutional market of hospitals and schools, etc with this product.

The drawing the QE2 used in our advertising.

Our success in obtaining the contract for the QE2 was published nationally by such important newspapers as the Financial Times, by most of the trade and technical press and by some of the consumer press.  Better still, when our salesmen called on hospital boards, consulting engineers and County Council architects for school work, to be asked “Where do you have Safemix installed?”, they could reply : “We have been awarded the top prestige contract of the QE2”.  We were no longer told that we would be considered for future work but, rather, “Oh!  Just a minute!  There are some drawings here on which we could specify you.”   In short, we had arrived.    

Safemix has been described as “A technical breakthrough in the design and accuracy of water mixing valves”.  It is fitted in Royal palaces in different parts of the world, the Royal Yacht “Britannia”, at Wimbledon Tennis Club, Lord’s Cricket Ground, Wembley Stadium and most Hospital Boards in the UK.  The supreme test of the Meynell Company’s reputation for reliability and technical accuracy must be at the Open Heart Surgical Unit at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge. Rigorous tests proved that Safemix was by far the most accurate and responsive thermostatic mixer to control the temperature of the hot water required when the heart is temporarily removed from the patient and his blood temperature is maintained by the hot water circulating around. The hot water is at a preset temperature which demands the highest possible accuracy.  

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