Going bolder: Up close with Kohler’s president & CEO, David Kohler

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Mechanical Hub had the chance recently to speak with David Kohler, president and CEO, Kohler, about the company’s sustainability and marketing missions, and its positioning in a growing global market.

“The Bold Look of Kohler” has been highly regarded as a turning point in Kohler’s marketing, and, I believe, overall company success. Can you talk about this marketing campaign, the era, and any interesting circumstances surrounding it?

David Kohler: The Bold Look of Kohler certainly did mark a turning point for Kohler in 1967 in terms of its advertising and brand voice. I believe that the sentiment of this statement has been a strong element of the DNA of this company since its beginnings, and the campaign gave us, and continues to give us, an outlet to share this passion and drive with the world. There is a statement that I feel fits our brand very well, and helps to further define what once was a tagline but has essentially always been embodied by our company: Bold means never compromising, never settling for what has always been and always challenging what could be. Today, Bold continues to reinvent reality and define a lifestyle. We believe strongly in this mindset, and it permeates all aspects of our company.

While visiting Kohler, the beauty of the area and the respite feeling of the surroundings almost makes you feel—intentional or not—that you are not actually visiting a plumbing fixture manufacturing facility but you are getting a full “Kohler experience.” Can you describe the intention behind the Kohler experience for contractor visits?

David Kohler: Kohler’s mission of enhancing the level of gracious living experienced by every individual who interacts with our brands and services is one of the driving forces behind the “Kohler experience” here in Kohler, Wis. At the main entrance of our headquarters in Kohler, we have the famous John Ruskin quote “Life without labor is guilt; Labor without art is brutality.” This inspirational quote carries many meanings, one of which speaks to the overall design of our campus and surrounding community.

There is an intricate and beautiful marriage in Kohler, Wis. between industry and art. The presence of the factories is a daily reminder that labor, innovation and craftsmanship is crucial to our society, and the beautiful settings and experiences surrounding this factory campus reminds us that there is a need and desire for art in our lives. It is the harmonious existence of these two ideals that creates the Kohler experience – unlike any other in my opinion.

David Kohler, left, breaks ground on LODGE KOHLER in April 2016. Herb Kohler, executive chairman Kohler, center, and Mark Murphy, president and CEO, Green Bay Packers.

Can you talk about any Kohler’s initiatives toward sustainability? How do you achieve the goal of reduction of carbon and solid waste footprint by 3% annually to garner net zero by 2035?

David Kohler: Reducing our global environmental footprint to Net Zero by 2035 is the cornerstone of our sustainability goal. Given the types of products we manufacture, we believe monitoring and eliminating our output of greenhouse gases and solid waste along with decreasing our water consumption will have the greatest impact. Our initiatives vary from capital investment in process improvement and equipment to switching from incandescent to LED lighting fixtures. We still have a long road ahead to reach Net Zero, but every step puts us closer to our goal.

In Kohler, Wis., the more waste we repurpose, the less goes into the landfill. Kohler’s exceptionally high standards for our vitreous products sometimes create “rejects” that we remove from the production line. Because the material cannot be reworked, the rejects become “cull” – which in days gone by, would have gone to landfills. Today, we work with customers, like Wausau Tile, that can use our cull as a ceramic aggregate for concrete products, such as benches, tables and tile flooring. In Brownwood, TX, water reused is water saved. Our Brownwood pottery connected a condensate return system to eight air-handling units. The collected water routes to the cooling tower and irrigation system, effectively reducing the burden on the local water supply by 4.5 million gallons of water per year.

Is there optimism for growth in global markets? (India, Middle East, Latin America, etc.)

David Kohler: Absolutely there is optimism for global growth. We are seeing positive growth in many key global markets like China, India, and the Middle East. Our brand is number one in the U.S. and China, and the number one import brand in India. We see opportunities for growth in markets such as Brazil, Sub Saharan Africa, and throughout Asia. We aim to lead in every market that we have a presence in, and with our global footprint and global design centers, we are able to create specialized collections and experiences for each market to focus on the needs and demands of the consumers within that region.

Is e-commerce a significant driver for Kohler’s business? Explain.

David Kohler: In the U.S., e-commerce certainly is an important part of our business model. We know through extensive research that consumers not only research online, they are making purchases online, even for large items like bathtubs and shower doors. And, studies have shown that brick-and-mortar retail sales are highly influenced by online shopping activity and online shopper research.

We want to enhance the experience with Kohler during that process by ensuring that Kohler products are presented in a way that is reflective of the high quality of our brand. Kohler has established an Authorized E-Tailer Program designed to reward all the stakeholders of our brand: end consumers with the best possible online experience, authorized e-tailers with the exclusive right to sell KOHLER brand plumbing products online, and Kohler distributors with the opportunity to tap into this growing channel.

By partnering with authorized e-commerce sites, Kohler is simultaneously strengthening its online brand presence and its offline distributor relationships while also ensuring that consumers have a consistent experience with the KOHLER brand. The KOHLER Authorized e-tailer program has been positively received by our distributor partners because it supports the brick-and-mortar distributors and authorized e-tailers alike who are working synergistically to promote the KOHLER brand while providing an enhanced experience to consumers.

LODGE KOHLER

Finally, Kohler is all systems go in its LODGE KOHLER project, a Four-Diamond hotel development Titletown, a destination created on 34 acres immediately west of Lambeau Field, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. The hotel will have a panoramic 5th floor restaurant, bar and outdoor cigar terrace; a full-service garden spa; an indoor/outdoor pool; an indoor/outdoor café opening to the plaza, and 144 rooms and suites—all with unique showering systems.

One of three anchor tenants in the Titletown District, LODGE KOHLER is the first to break ground as construction begins for the destination. Part of the Kohler Co. Hospitality & Real Estate portfolio, LODGE KOHLER will offer guests a high level of accommodation, services and amenities.

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