During the 1980s it seemed like the domestic manufacturing industry had completely collapsed as a large number of companies moved manufacturing operations overseas. Elkay, America’s number one selling stainless steel sink company, resisted the trend by maintaining its production operations in the U.S. Timothy Jahnke, president and CEO of the nearly century-old company, is proud that Elkay continues to remain an American tradition.
When Leopold Katz, his son, Louis, and friend, Ellef Robarth, launched Elkay in 1920 on the north side of Chicago, they wanted to create high-quality sinks and deliver the best possible customer service. More than 90 years later, the three-person shop has grown into a leader in the kitchen and bath industry, making everything from sinks and drinking fountains to cabinets and countertops. The high-quality products and personalized service have helped this third-generation family-run business become a fixture in the business community.
Growing for More Than 90 Years
Elkay increased the number of employees from three to seven at the end of its first year in business, 1920. By 1927 Elkay’s residential butler and pantry sinks had become best sellers.
Elkay introduced its first stainless steel sink in 1935 and the company became America’s first mass producer of stainless steel sinks by 1938. Just 10 years later the company became the largest manufacturer of stainless steel sinks by using an innovative new production method that cuts costs in half.
Due to rapid growth the company built a new plant and corporate headquarters in Broadview, Ill. in 1960, which still functions as one of Elkay’s main manufacturing facilities today. However its corporate headquarters moved to Oak Brook, Ill., at the end of the ’70s. Elkay also began producing its own line of water coolers in 1969, and by 1976 the company expanded this business with the acquisition of Cordley/Temprite.
The company now has more than 20 manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S. and employs approximately 3,000 personnel. Jack Krecek, a vice-president and the general manager of commercial channels for Elkay, says that the company has retained its market-leading position due to the quality of its products. “Our goal is to always offer our customers the highest quality products at the best value, while providing unsurpassed customer service,” he says.
As Elkay moved into the ’80s and ’90s, the company continued to grow and transform. The company won awards such as the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) Award, and ultimately expanded internationally with its purchase of Wessen Plumbing Ltd. in Canada, E.B. Técnica Mexicana, which is the largest stainless steel sink producer in Mexico, in addition to Vinca, a manufacturer of composite sinks. Elkay additionally created a cabinetry division in 1993 through the acquisition of Yorktowne Inc. and Medallion Kitchens. The company added a third cabinet company, MasterCraft Cabinets in 1996 and a fourth in 1998, Westwood Custom Cabinetry. The four cabinet companies combined to make Elkay one of the largest cabinet suppliers in the U.S.
From 2000 through 2010 Elkay continued its expansion entering the world’s largest market with its purchase of Zhuhai Daya S.E.Z. K&B products based in Zhuhai, China. Today Leopold and Louis would be proud to know that their company is still making the best quality sinks, along with a huge array of other kitchen, bath and plumbing products.
“At Elkay, our word is our bond and we honor our commitments with integrity to our customers, employees, suppliers and the communities in which we live and work,” says Ron Katz, Leopold’s grandson and chairman of the board at Elkay. “We continue to look to the future, staying focused on our goal to ‘be in business forever’ and always provide our customers with new and innovative solutions for their homes,” he continues.
Award-winning Creative Designs
The company has also retained its position as a market leader by continually developing new, innovative designs. From creating a four-foot Mystic sink in the shape of a river to the company’s latest introduction, the e-dock sink system, which is a magnetic sink coupled with an array of magnetic accessories that fasten to the side walls of Elkay’s most popular sink models. Also, Elkay’s water coolers and drinking fountains business has continued to expand with its award-winning new EZH20 rapid bottle filling stations.
Elkay has additionally been honored by a wide range of leading industry magazines including Interior Design magazine’s Best of the Year Awards, MarCom Awards and a variety of other industry accolades. Elkay is also a member of key industry associations including the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), the Plumbing Manufacturers’ Institute (PMI) and the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA).
Elkay has been an excellent example of American enterprise and leadership from its humble beginnings to its position as the largest manufacturer of stainless steel sinks for more than 70 years. Leopold and Louis Katz’ vision to always produce the highest quality sinks and provide the best service has sustained the company throughout its history and continues to be a cornerstone of the company today. The company’s decision to retain its manufacturing in the United States despite market pressure to move overseas is commendable in and of itself, but Elkay’s commitment to the American consumer is what makes it a true American tradition.
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