Bruce Santhuff isn't averse to hard work, but the St. Louis native admits he does enjoy a good daily pampering — sometimes even twice a day. So it was two years ago that Santhuff was taking a break from his demanding job as a toilet-seat importer when the idea hit him faster than a plate of curried eggplant.
For months Santhuff had wrestled with what to call the Japanese technology he longed to introduce to America. At one time, he considered calling his bidet-like toilet seat the "Stern Washer," for its ability to shoot a powerful jet of water into its recipient's posterior. But the device was much more than that. A separate "feminine wash" unleashes a torrent of warm water onto what Santhuff coyly refers to as the "little captain" of the fairer sex. For that reason alone, Santhuff and his wife and business partner, Kate, eliminated such unsavory names as "SaniCrapper" and "WashYourButt.com."
No, Santhuff needed something classy. A name that encapsulated everything his Japanese throne offered — including its heated seat, built-in blow-dryer and space-age control panel. "Then one day, while getting a massage, I came up with the word 'Spaloo.' I raced home to tell my wife," explodes the 48-year-old Santhuff. The word "Spa" works because the seat services your naughties nicer than a Geisha chambermaid. "Loo" because it all happens in the bathroom. "Finally," spouts Santhuff, "we'd found the right combination of catchy and informative."
So how does a working-class guy from south St. Louis become the oracle behind a bathroom revolution — the Grand Poobah to a better way of doing business? That's the question we had when Santhuff, who now resides in North Carolina, sent us an e-mail with the subject line: "1977 Cleveland High School Graduate."
"I know that you are interested in informing your readers about things that can improve their lives, so I thought you might like to know about a new product that can help millions of Americans," read the note's running commentary. "My name is Bruce Santhuff and I represent Spaloo — a new type of toilet seat that makes using the bathroom easier."
Does Unreal want to know about new toilet innovations? Does a bear... Yes! Yes we do. We dropped everything and called Santhuff. The Spaloo managing director answered on the second ring.
A television sound technician by trade, Santhuff says he first came across a device similar to Spaloo three years ago while on a business trip to Japan. "When I saw it in the hotel, I laughed harder than I ever have in my life," says the Spaloo executive. "But by the third day of my stay, I was convinced that the bidet seat is truly a better mousetrap. I came back to the States and knew I wanted to bring this to America."
Though the first bidet was invented in France in 1710, Santhuff maintains that the Spaloo is the first major innovation in toilet science since the dawn of indoor plumbing. Japan, with its historical fascination with spiritual and physical cleanliness, has long been the king of toilet technology. Toto Ltd. has set the industry standard for nearly 30 years with its high-tech Washlet, a veritable Mercedes of toiletry. The company has sold some 17 million Washlets, which can run as high as $4,000, since 1980. Santhuff notes that about 80 percent of Japanese households already enjoy the "hands free" cleaning provided by similar bidet toilet seats, says Santhuff. But the Spaloo, he adds, is a U.S. brainchild — like baseball or Kentucky Fried Chicken — which is just the rocket ship needed to catapult America to the forefront of personal hygiene. And besides, it's far cheaper at $399 a pop. (Still, if Toto wants to send us a free Washlet, we'll gladly take it out for a spin.)
Meanwhile, Santhuff notes that people have been using toilet paper for 100 years. "It may have gotten softer over the years, but that's about it. Water, on the other hand, is more sanitary and feels better." Not only that, the Spaloo virtually eliminates the use of toilet paper by washing and drying your undercarriage in one fell swoop. Efficient and environmentally friendly? You bet. Though getting the product to market, Santhuff confesses, wasn't the smoothest of movements.
After settling on a name for Spaloo, Santhuff says it took another several months to find a manufacturer who could make his pipe dream a reality. Then there were the annoying tasks of applying for a trademark, registering a corporation and setting up a Web site. "If I had known the magnitude of what I was attempting, I may not have undertaken the challenge," he confides.
No, Santhuff may not be the quickest man to get the job done – it took him ten years to graduate from Southeast Missouri State University – but then, what's the hurry? When you're seated atop the germ-resistant launching pad of the Spaloo, the last thing you want is for someone to rush you off the proverbial "pot."
"I just love the independence Spaloo gives me!" gushes the senior citizen at the end of Spaloo's television commercial. But wait, there's more! Spaloo — says the advertisement's silver-throated narrator — is also great for the bathroom-challenged, pregnant women, people with hemorrhoids or, heck, the entire family.
No sooner had his first shipments dropped than Spaloo headquarters became awash in thank-you letters and fan mail. "My mother, who is 90 years old and in a motorized wheelchair, loves her Spaloo," wrote a woman from Virginia. "When comparing it to her cold, hard shower seat, she patted her Spaloo and said: 'Now, I'm accustomed to better treatment!'"
Even fellow tinkers, like the inventor of the "Muff Vest" (a curiously named arm sling for stroke victims), wrote in to Spaloo to say: "Every toilet should have one." A woman with multiple sclerosis wrote a poem about her Spaloo. "It leaves me both refreshed and clean/The biggest smile you've ever seen/The people who take care of me/Are also glad as glad can be/So if you wonder what to do/Go right out and buy Spaloo!"
Perhaps the greatest praise came from a heavyset, bathroom-challenged woman who bought two Spaloos. "If I had to choose between my Spaloo and my dishwasher," wrote the woman, "I'd be washing dishes by hand!" Which begs the question: Couldn't you wash dishes with Spaloo? "I'm not ruling it out," says Santhuff.
Our Spaloo arrived last month in a slender white box emblazoned with the catchphrase: "The Future of Clean is Here." Within minutes we pimped our toilet, transforming it from an antiquated porcelain crapper to a 21st-century joy ride.
Setup is a cinch, requiring little more than a screwdriver, a wrench and a facile understanding of plumbing. (For an RFT instructional video on Spaloo installation, click here.)
Santhuff likes to say that the product's heated seat — especially in the winter months — is well worth Spaloo's price tag. And, yes, we also enjoy Spaloo's warm reception, but what we really love is its unprecedented "wow" factor. Forget that 52-inch flat screen TV your neighbor just bought or that robotic vacuum cleaner in the Sharper Image catalog. Nothing will impress guests more — and provide a conversation piece to boot! — than Spaloo.
Sure, a conventional bidet offers many of the same features as Spaloo. But who except the employees of a few French brothels knows how to operate those things? The Spaloo works so well because it looks and operates like a conventional toilet — albeit one with the unbridled thrust of Old Faithful.
After you finish your business, select either the "Wash Front" or "Wash Back" options. The latter fires a stream of water at your backside "bull's-eye." Push the "Wash Front" button and a pink arm (that disturbingly resembles a toothbrush) extends its way into the center of the toilet bowl and shoots a shower of water for the ladies. Quick word of warning: Spaloo comes with five levels of water pressure, the highest of which can easily launch an unexpecting recipient into the nearby shower or wall. (We like the medium grade and suggest you wiggle a bit to provide a thorough cleaning.)
But like any good performance, Spaloo saves the best for last. Push the "Dryer" button and a flap opens on the inside of the toilet seat and blows warm currents of air across your derriere. The experience must be akin to the sensation angels feel when they B.M. on the billowy clouds of heaven. Ethereal.
With no need for toilet paper, we asked Santhuff if Spaloo eliminates the need for post-bathroom hand cleansing. His response: "It depends on how dirty your hands were going in."
We're not wholly convinced about that, but this we know: When it comes to providing a better toilet experience, Spaloo is a winner — hands down.
Do you know a local inventor whose idea merits an Unreal test drive? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.