Kohler Co. was founded by John Michael Kohler in 1873. It is an American company based in Kohler, Wisconsin. It manufactures plumbing products, cabinetry, furniture, engines, tile, and generators. It first got recognition from its bathroom products.
Destination Kohler is the real estate and travel arm of the company, which owns several properties in the US and in Scotland. Kohler acquired Clarke Energy, a UK-based company that specializes in construction, engineering, maintenance, and installation of engine-based power plants. It also acts as an authorized GE distributor for its reciprocating engines worldwide.
Kohler made global waves and graced the news headlines by being the first-ever sleeve sponsor for Manchester United, the popular English Premier League football team.
History of Kohler, Co.
1873 – Kohler Co. was founded by John Michael Kohler, an Austrian immigrant, and Charles Silberzahn in 1873. They purchased the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry for $5000, which belonged to Jacob Vollrath, Kohler’s father-in-law.
Their first products included castings for furniture factories, steel farm, and cast iron implements. And ornamental iron pieces such as settees and cemetery crosses.
1883 – They made a big breakthrough when John Michael created their first-ever bathtub by applying enamel to a cast-iron horse trough. Since that day, the company has been a plumbing brand primarily and is known best for its plumbing fixtures.
Early 20th Century – Kohler started making drinking fountains that featured a bubbling valve. This valve was later known as the “bubbler”, from which water was shot vertically. In a few places in Wisconsin and across the country, the term is still used.
1934, 1954, 1983, and 2015 – These are the four years in which Kohler strikes have taken place in the entire history of the company.
1998 – Kohler had plans of buying back all and any shares that weren’t owned by his family. Every family member had to exchange their common shares for limited rights shares, which cannot be sold. At this point, the company was not a publicly-traded one. This meant that any floating shares were very minimal. They offered $55,400 per share, but this idea was counteracted by certain shareholders, who later sued and challenged the valuation. On top of this, the valuation was further challenged by the IRS itself, who filed prosecution against the estate of Frederick Kohler (died recently with 975 shares to his name). In the end, Kohler won the case.
1999 – Another court case was filed against Kohler Co. by the US Department of Labor. They alleged that the company practiced discriminatory hiring procedures against women. At the time, Kohler did informally required all women employees to have a height of 5 feet and 4 inches minimum. This is the average height of adult females in the US. Due to its contract with the US government, Kohler was restricted from enforcing this height requirement. They also had to settle and agreed to hire 111 out of the 2000 women who applied for work between 1994 to 1995. They also had to participate in a study to get rid of unnecessary obstacles for women.
2005 – Kohler China Co. was accused by China Labor Watch for violating major rights of workers in the Foshan factory. The violations included excessive hours of work, low wages, lack of overtime compensation, work injuries that were uncompensated, unsafe work conditions, and denying the employees to form a union.
June 1, 2015 – On this date begins the modern corporate management history of the company. Walter J. Kohler, Sr., who was also a former governor of Wisconsin, served as the president of the company. He was succeeded by his son Walter J. Kohler, Jr., who was also a governor of Wisconsin, as he served several years in a senior management position. After Kohler Sr., the presidency of the company was given to Herbert Kohler, Jr., the grandfather of Kohler Co.’s founder. The seat was later passed down to his son on June 1, 2015, David Kohler.
Kohler’s Product Lines
Since its conception, Kohler has branched out to different fields of specialty. Its most notable niche, however, remains the bath and kitchen fixtures. These are widely available in most US hardware, DIY, and home improvement stores today. There are also a lot of authorized Kohler distributors.
To this day, they still produce their iconic cast iron bathtubs. In fact, they are one of the very few American companies that still do.
Aside from these, their bathroom fixtures are worth noting. They have become a standard of quality and durability in the market today. In addition, Kohler Co. also did customized artistic work, where sinks and toilets are hand-painted.
Kohler toilets are among the most highly rated in the US, competing directly with American Standard, Woodbridge and Toto among others. If you are shopping for a new toilet, you’ll want to check out our picks for the best Kohler toilets here.
The Builder Magazine named the company as the “best quality” and “most used” brand in the category of bath accessories. The magazine also gave Kohler Co. the number one spot for “most used”, customers’ “brand familiarity”, and “quality rating” for the whirlpool baths and bath fixtures categories.
Their walk-in bath division creates, designs, and engineers bathtubs that are more accessible and easier to use compared to conventional tubs. This division was created to specifically design solutions for people with disabilities or limited mobility. The division was founded in 2015 and has seen much success since. Its creations are sold through the US via independent dealers.
Recently, Kohler unveiled the Kohler Connect at the CES 2018. This new product line features smart connected plumbing fixtures, including mirrors, bathtubs, showerheads, shower valves, and toilets. The fixtures will have the capabilities of WiFi, voice assistance (using Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, or Amazon Alexa), and app control support, courtesy of their own Kohler Konnect app. The services of this system are made possible with help from the Microsoft Azure Cloud system.
Is Kohler a Good Brand?
The short answer is Yes. However, let’s take a look at the many reasons why Kohler is a good brand. Let’s talk about some points that make it worth it to invest in the company’s toilets, bathtubs, sinks, and other bathroom fixtures.
A Tradition of Quality
The company has been producing bathroom fixtures since 1873, and it has been considered one of the best brands to do so. That’s over one whole century of being on the market and maintaining the respect of its customers and competitors. Plus, it’s not just merely “maintaining” its good status, it’s constantly developing and improving its technologies, challenging the future.
Massive International Success
Kohler Co., without a doubt, is a huge name in the US — but you should know that it is also popular overseas. It has amassed high levels of success on an international level as it has domestically. In fact, some even say that Kohler is the Apple of bathroom fixtures. In fact, if you go to a home improvement store abroad – say, in Europe or Asia – you’ll find Kohler as one of the mainstay brands they offer. It’s also well known as a good quality brand overseas.
Pushing the Limits of Technology
As we mentioned earlier, the brand has been blowing our minds with its own app and various smart bathroom fixtures. These were first announced at the CES 2018. At present, it is investing heavily in more smart bathroom and kitchen products. They are currently using the Microsoft Azure IoT platform, with a team of engineers, to create the next generation of home products to make life just a bit easier.
It Practices Social Responsibility
Spearheaded by socially conscious administrators, executives, and managers, the company is constantly participating in efforts to give back. In 2017, the company has announced that they will also be putting in more effort towards creating energy-efficient and eco-friendly products.
It also has continuing efforts that benefit Habitat for Humanity and holds regular runs that benefit the race for clean and safe water via the Kohler Run for Clarity. Aside from these, Kohler supports several charities and nonprofit organizations that push for important and relevant advocacies in the US and abroad.
Compared to other brands in the US, Kohler might not be the most popular, but it keeps itself at the forefront of its specialty: bathroom products and fixtures.
All Kohler plumbing fixtures and products, unless specified otherwise, come with an automatic one-year limited warranty. This covers defects in workmanship and material, for one year after the date of installation.
Aside from this, there are several other warranties offered by Kohler, depending on the particular product or fixture that you have purchased. You can see all of them in detail on the Kohler Warranty Page.
Where to Buy Kohler’s Products
You can get Kohler bathroom fixtures and accessories directly from the company. Visit their website here.
They also sell their bathroom products and other offers on Amazon.
Alternatively, you can check them out on Wayfair.com and Houzz.com.
There you have it. I hope this Kohler brand review has shed a bit more light on whether or not Kohler is a good brand. While it might have had some corporate stumbles in its history, that does not change the fact that it continues to churn out amazing bathroom fixtures to this very day. Knowing that it continues to push the limits of technology for bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances, we can rest with the idea that we will keep seeing innovative products sooner than later.