Plumbing & Mechanical recently interviewed David Kohler about where Kohler Co. and the plumbing industry are headed in 2010. Kohler was named president of Kohler Co. in April 2009.
As president, he oversees Kohler Co.’s Kitchen & Bath Group, Global Power Group, Interiors Group and Technical Services. Among his previous titles were executive vice president and group president of Kitchen & Bath.
The U.S. EPA in October named Kohler Co. a WaterSense Partner of the Year. The company also won the award in 2008.
PM: Where do you see the greatest areas of growth for plumbing contractors in 2010?
DK: Remodeling, replacement and repair will come back first. New construction will see an increase in overall business, but it will be a long, protracted recovery. It’s going to take time. Lending has tightened up and people are working off debt.
PM: What can contractors expect from Kohler in 2010?
David Kohler: We’ll continue to play an offensive game strategy. In 2010, we’ll do the things that have been our hallmark: new products and industry-leading technology. We’ll have a very aggressive schedule of new product development not matched by other companies. An important part of our strategy is to continue to inspire the industry with ideas, which creates excitement in the industry and consumer demand for our products. We want to do good things that will benefit Kohler and those trades that have supported us as well.
We’ve been leaders in water conservation and will continue to do a lot of work through our SaveWaterAmerica.com awareness campaign. We’re going to local markets in a guerilla sense to get consumers to replace toilets with more efficient models, and we’ll continue to participate in key events that promote green construction.
PM: What can contractors do to educate their customers about the performance of water-efficient products?
DK: Water efficiency doesn’t have to come with sacrifice. Consumers can get leading design and performance. In showering, we can deliver an enhanced experience without high water consumption. A steam shower is another great example of a shower experience that doesn’t require much water.
Contractors should be as knowledgeable as they can be about products in EPA’s WaterSense program. It can help them make product selections and they can educate consumers about what simple things they can do to save water. These include high-efficiency toilets and showerheads that use 1.5 gallons per minute.
PM: Can water efficiency and consumer choice co-exist in green bathrooms?
DK: The economic downturn combined with an interest in climate change and sustainability has made consumers more conscientious. They are making choices of products that are practical, more affordable and good for the environment. They also want to live a little with the product choices they make.
PM: How is Kohler changing the ways it connects with contractors?
DK: We’re still doing the training and education we’ve always done in local markets. We’re also trying to deliver more value over the Web. Kohler.com/pro is a resource for professionals to enhance their business. We’re using the Internet more to do business and to do more online training for the trades about water conservation and sustainability as well as the role of technology. Electronics permeate all products in the home, including sensor faucets, whirlpools and showering.
PM: How has Kohler fared during the downturn?
DK: Our company is faring very well in this economic climate both domestically and internationally with our diversification in Kitchen and Bath, Global Power Group, Interiors and Hospitality. Geographically, we have a presence in Asia and Europe as well as the United States. All our businesses have gained market share over the last 24 months.
A big priority has been to manage our profitability and cost structure. At the same time, we’re increasing our advertising, spending capital in the right areas of our business and investing in the future. In 2009, we exceeded our plan for the year, which is quite positive.
PM: How different will the bath-and-kitchen market be coming out of the recession than it was going into it?
DK: Americans still care deeply about their homes. Activity will pick up, although remodeling jobs are coming down in size and we’ll see some new homes decrease in size. People don’t see the payback as much as they did, but they still care about design and amenities. They want to enhance their homes. They’re not looking for stripped-down commodities. They’re seeking more for their money. Consumers want high-quality products that will last a long time.
PM: What other trends should plumbing contractors look for in the bath-and-kitchen market?
DK: The lead issue is important. As a company, we will be fully converted to no-lead products. A portion of our products have been converted and going forward we will convert the remaining portion.
PM: If you had one message to give to contractors, what would it be?
DK: I’d like contractors to know how deeply committed Kohler Co. is to this industry. We’re fully invested in this industry to drive business and improve the industry. We also respect the role of the contractor and that role will continue to increase. Demographic trends will serve contractors well, more so than the DIY segment, and represent a great opportunity for professional contractors. I’d like their support to build this business.