If you asked the average American which company makes the quality fixtures and faucets most commonly found in their kitchens and bathrooms, invariably the answer is going to be Kohler Co. (Kohler). Kohler is one of the oldest and largest privately-operated family firms in the United States and one of Wisconsin’s largest employers.
The company is currently headed by Herbert V. Kohler Jr., chairman and CEO of Kohler. Herbert is also the grandson of the company’s founder, Austrian immigrant, John Michael Kohler. The company got its start in 1873 when John Michael purchased the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry from his father-in-law for $5,000. The company’s early products included cast iron and steel farm implements, ornamental iron pieces for cemetery crosses and assorted castings for the country’s emerging factories.
John Michael was blessed with the genius mind of an inventor. In 1883, he introduced a line of enameled plumbing fixtures that then led to a line of enameled sinks, reservoirs, kettles and pans, and most notably, the common bathtub. In four short years, the company’s line of enameled products comprised nearly 70 percent of Kohler’s business. Just 10 years after the enameled products launched, John Michael struck again with the creation of the country’s first drinking fountain.
One of Wisconsin’s Largest Employers
Today, Kohler’s products have become a global household name. Worldwide, the company employs over 30,000 individuals and has 50 manufacturing facilities in 16 countries around the globe. Kohler’s corporate headquarters is located in the planned community of Kohler, Wis.
The company’s flagship, Kitchen & Bath Group, enjoys a leading global plumbing presence within the industry; designing, engineering, manufacturing and marketing kitchen and bath products across six continents. A leader in innovation, design excellence and high performance, Kohler continues to delight those who experience its products that meet a singular level of quality. In the U.S., the company manufactures and distributes plumbing products under the brands Kohler, Sterling and Kallista.
While its name is synonymous with high-quality bathroom and kitchen products, it’s less known that modern Kohler is divided into four dynamic business groups handling a wide variety of products and services. Kohler’s Interiors Group manufactures high-end furniture under the brands Baker, McGuire and Mark David. In addition, its decorative tile and stone product lines are under the brand name Ann Sacks.
The Kohler Global Power Group is comprised of Kohler Power Systems, SDMO, UPSL, Kohler Engines, Lombardini and Kohler Rental Power. Kohler Power Systems (KPS) is a global manufacturer of power generation equipment for residential, industrial, mobile and marine applications. SDMO Industries is France’s largest manufacturer of industrial generators and gasoline and diesel powered portable generators. Kohler Engines and Italy-based Lombardini manufacture gasoline and diesel engines for residential, commercial, agricultural, turf and industrial applications across the globe, from four to 74 horsepower.
The Kohler Hospitality & Real Estate Group includes: The American Club and Kohler Waters Spa, one of only 57 Forbes Five-Star hotel properties and 30 spas internationally, both located in Kohler, Wis., as well as world-renowned championship golf courses Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. Its sister property, The Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa – in the birthplace of golf, St Andrews, Scotland, – is a AA Five Red Star property and also includes The Duke’s golf course. In 2012, Blackwolf Run will once again host the U.S. Women’s Open international golf championship, and is set to host the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in 2015 and 2020, respectively.
Two-time EPA WaterSense Partner of the Year
Even though the company has diversified over the years, the family ensured that Kohler remained at the vanguard of new product offerings. In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the WaterSense campaign to help promote water-efficient plumbing products and educate consumers on how to use less water.
Kohler was the EPA’s WaterSense Partner of the Year award winner in 2008 and 2009, the first two years the award was handed out, and subsequently earned EPA WaterSense Excellence awards in 2010 and 2011. The company has a full line of high efficient toilets, showerheads and bathroom faucets that are WaterSense-labeled, alerting consumers that these plumbing products conserve water while still meeting expected performance standards.
Stewart Yang, Kohler’s vice president of engineering for global faucets, outlines one of Kohler’s newest product offerings. “We are a leader in what we call performance showering and digital showering. We just launched the DTV [digital thermostatic valve] Prompt, a digital control system that allows consumers a simple way of controlling the water’s temperature and multiple outlets in the shower. It removes the risks of accidental scalding and temperature fluctuations, and allows them to pause the water delivery while shampooing their hair for example.”
The company is also actively marketing its newest toilet: the Kohler Numi toilet. “It’s our most advanced design to date. It incorporates a large number of features that are unknown to the average consumer including a motion activated lid and seat, heated seat, a built-in bidet and air dryer, a deodorizer, a foot warmer and illuminated panels,” says Yang. “You can even hook up your MP3 player and listen to your favorite music from the toilet’s internal speakers.”
Kohler has been an American institution since its founder discovered the benefit of coating common household products with enamel over 140 years ago. Under the Kohler family’s excellent and consistent leadership, the company has evolved into a household name with a worldwide presence. This diversified company continues to live out its mission in providing a higher level of gracious living for all of those who experience our products and services, while continuing to live on the leading edge of design and technology. From here on out, the Kohler Co. is well-positioned to capture an even larger market share and, in the process, delight throngs of customers with its products and services.
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