Kohler Co. recently announced a game-changing policy pertaining to how its products are sold on the Internet. Currently there are 192 folks selling various amounts of Kohler products on the Internet. The majority are not Kohler distributors. Needless to say, prices and services are all over the place. 

Kohler’s new “Authorized E-tailer Program” will start out having 17 authorized e-tailers. These select few are intended to be the only source of Kohler products available through the Internet. The 17 e-tailers have a list of policies and procedures they must follow. They were selected based on the following qualifications:
  • Ability to guarantee a good experience to the consumer;

  • They represent the largest e-tailers currently selling Kohler products;

  • Exemplary backgrounds with Better Business Bureau and other like sources;

  • A commitment to maintaining state-of-the-art websites; and

  • A documented history of rendering excellent customer satisfaction.
 
The new program is not an Internet manufacturer advertised price (IMAP) policy. Kohler Vice President of Brand Marketing Steve Bissell tells me in an exclusive interview this is only the beginning of trying to bring Internet sales of Kohler products under control. It will take a bit of time for the entire program to shake out and for the business to be channeled only through the authorized e-tailers. He acknowledges this is a “work in progress.”  

Kohler wholesalers will only be permitted to supply product to these 17 authorized e-tailers.  There are discount guidelines that are intended to help everyone in the Kohler channel of distribution make a reasonable return on investment.   

Certainly, the biggest challenge will be in how to monitor the program. The program, as outlined in a letter from Kohler President of Kitchen and Bath America Hugh Ekberg to all Kohler distributors, lists a six-step violation procedure for distributors who do not comply with the program. The target set forth in Mr. Ekberg’s letter states Nov. 30, 2012 as the date to have moved all e-tail business from the current list of 192 Internet businesses to the new list of 17 authorized e-tailers.  

There’s a whole lot more to this, but in my opinion this is huge. When “Mr. Big” in our industry steps up and takes this very bold and forward step, it can only bode well for the industry in general.


To read Hank Darlington’s full column on Kohler’s new Authorized E-tailer Program, pick up the December 2012 issue of PM’s sister publication Supply House Times.

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