"Kohler is like a sleeping giant in the UK," says Kohler Mira UK MD Craig Baker. Given that the 147-year old premium level bathroom brand has a market leading position in America and a strong presence around the world, particularly China and India, its UK performance – which represents about 5% of the £140million-£150million Kohler Mira business – shows room for growth.
In April 2019 Craig Baker took over as UK MD of Kohler Mira from well-known industry figure Liz Hazeldene after she left to run her family’s brewery business and he’s candid about the brand’s performance.
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“Kohler [US] bought Mira back in 2001 and brought the Kohler brand to the UK in around 2004, founded very much on a retail footprint,” he explains.
“For all the excitement about Kohler around the world, the product line is so wide and some of the barriers to entry here have been a big challenge.”
Company profile:Who are we? Craig Baker, UK MD Kohler Mira
What do we do? Multi-specialist bathroom and kitchen tap and sink manufacturer
Sales stats “Global annual turnover is in excess of US $7 billion,” says Craig Baker. “In the UK, we turn over £140million-£150million per year”
Staffing levels Just over 800 in the UK, and 38,000 globally
He goes further. “There have been beautiful products launched around the world that have been nothing short of torture to bring into the UK, because of the approvals required and installation nuances.”
Now, says Baker, the business has been re-focussed with a curated “narrower but deeper” core range of Kohler product, complete with UK approvals, including WRAS certification.
This includes some six brassware and vitreous china ranges, plus iconic pieces such as the Karbon five-point-pivot kitchen mixer.
Business historyFounded in 1873 in Kohler, Wisconsin, Kohler Co. is one of the oldest and largest privately-owned companies in the US.
Today, it is run by fourth generation family member David Kohler, President and CEO. His father, Herb Kohler, is executive chairman.
The group manufactures bathroom and kitchen products, interiors products and power systems, under brands including Kohler, Rada, Mira, Jacob Delafon, Kallista and Ann Sacks. It also owns two top-rated golf resorts in Kohler and St Andrews
David Kohler has announced the company’s commitment to achieving net zero environmental impact by 2035.
The UK business is based in Cheltenham with a shower tray manufacturing facility in Hull. It operates three brands: Mira Showers (a UK leading manufacturer of mixer, electric power and digital showers including Mira trays and enclosures), Kohler UK (luxury bathroom taps, showers and ceramics, and kitchen sinks and taps) and Rada (commercial shower and washroom systems and infection control specialist).
Currently, Mira represents about 80% of the UK turnover, RADA about 15% and Kohler about 5%.
Products are distributed by Faucets, with whom it has partnered for about two years, to about 60 retailers across the UK. “I don’t believe we need many more,” he says.
“A lesson learned would probably be that we tried to go too wide, too high, too quickly – so the retail strategy is to make sure we support our partners, get the product understood and sold well.”
Baker identifies specification as a significant area for growth. Kohler has enjoyed a long-standing partnership with West One Bathrooms and their joint showroom in Clerkenwell, but now there is a “mutual parting”.
Q&AWhat is your greatest challenge? “With a business that is as globally well established as ours, agility in the UK and our ability to change are our biggest challenges,” says Baker
What is your greatest opportunity? “I’d be lying to say that we’ve unlocked the safe for the Kohler brand in the UK, but I strongly believe in the methodical and consistent approach we’re taking. When I look at the strength of Kohler around the world, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t replicate that in the UK”
Strange but true “Kohler [in Wisconsin] is a small village with a population of about 3,000. In September, the Kohler golf course is hosting the Ryder Cup, so we’ll have a couple of hundred thousand descend on us!”
In March, the showroom will become a Kohler Experience Centre, entirely focussed on specification, and operated solely by Kohler, with West One Bathrooms opening its own new showroom a few doors along the road.
“This allows us to bring Kohler to life in a slightly different way,” says Baker, who says that driving the business will be the “numerous global contracts” for hotel groups, including Westin, which is due to open its first hotel in London in the next 12 months.
In July 2020, the company is due to open its £26million national distribution centre on a 160,000sq ft site in Worcestershire, just off the M5, complete with plans to open an installer training centre.
The group has simultaneously purchased another four acres on the same site for future growth. “We struggled to get the Kohler brand moving,” concludes Baker. “But by focussing on fewer things and doing them better, we expect to do a much stronger job.”
Kohler & Manchester UnitedIn July 2018, Manchester United announced a multi-year global partnership with Kohler, with the Kohler brand logo featuring on the sleeve of the club’s shirts for both the men’s and women’s teams.
The firm has also supplied bathroom products, including digital showers, sensor-controlled basin mixers and rimless WCs, for the recently-completed highly impressive refurbishment of the First team changing rooms at Old Trafford stadium, and some of the hospitality suites.
Says Sean Jefferson, Manchester United’s director of partnerships: “We selected Kohler as a partner for many different reasons. Not only is it number one in its industry, creating innovative, premium and high quality products, it also shares many of the same values as the club.
"The way it works and our shared views on diversity and inclusion as well as giving back to our global community allow us to work in sync. Kohler’s standing in its field has enabled us to update many aspects of the stadium and training ground, keeping us at the top of our game by providing the team and our fans with the best possible facilities”
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