When a vendor invites you to come see their products in person and see how they're manufactured, it is certainly an honor and something not to be missed. Ferguson and Kohler invited designers and builders from all over the U.S. to Kohler, Wisconsin to learn about new products, see improvements to existing products and take a tour of the Kohler factory. Plus, as an added bonus, they through in a spa experience at the Kohler spa. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days.
Product insight. Our first evening at the Kohler Experience, I, along with two other Portland designers and our Ferguson rep were whisked away to one of the shipping areas. In a strange industrial building, we were shown into a series of nicely appointed rooms each with their own bathing experience. Three rooms had some form of jetted tub - air jet, started water jets and the latest innovation from Kohler - the VibrAcoustic tub (http://www.us.kohler.com/us/VibrAcoustic-Hydrotherapy/content/CNT2400525.htm). The three shower rooms also presented us the opportunity to experience the great showing systems available, complete with body sprays, light therapy, rain showers and more.
Our first night, we all gathered in the Kohler showroom for the opening reception. The showroom is filled with Kohler’s most beautiful designs and a real treat for the eyes. In the basement, we were able to learn about the history of Kohler. Did you know the very first bathtub sold for a goat and 14 chickens. And, even more interesting, it wasn’t a bathtub but instead a “hog scalder” on which you could put legs. The second floor is filled with individual vignettes by famous interior designers. My favorite was the Jonathan Adler room with it’s lighted floor and Numi toilet taking center stage.
Our first morning of the Kohler experience was spent with the product managers from sanitary (toilets), kitchen sinks, bathroom, bathing and faucets. At each breakout session, the Kohler staff would go into detail about the product lines, their advantages and what is coming up next. Clearly the most memorable session was the sanitary session in which the toilet engineers (yes, there are toilet engineers) went into great detail about the flushing technology utilized by Kohler toilets. The tests were informative, but not very pretty to watch - let’s just say their tests are almost too realistic. Ick!
The afternoon was spent at the spa (shooting range, golf course, or fishing were the other options). After a jacuzzi, steam room and dip in the cold pool, it was time for my 80 minute massage. Let’s just say, I needed that! The rest of the afternoon was spent walking through some local shops with my friends.
For out last evening, we were all taken by bus to Whistling Straits, a professional level golf course on the shores of Lake Michigan. A wonderful dinner awaited us on what could not have been a more beautiful sunset.
On the morning of our last day in Kohler, we were treated to a full three-hour tour of the Kohler factory. We saw everything from sinks to faucets to cast iron bath tubs being made. Of course, my favorite part was the foundry in which the tubs were being part and then covered with enamel. It felt like we were walking through some historical demonstration of the industrial revolution. - except a few robotic machines were thrown in for cool effect. I wish I could show pictures here but taking pictures is forbidden. Take my word for it, it was amazing to watch the entire manufacturing process for all the products Kohler makes.
All in all, I must say that my experience at Kohler gives me a new appreciation of the manufacturing process. The amount of skill, labor and attention to detail is what makes my job easier in selecting high quality plumbing fixtures to specify for my clients. As an interior designer focusing on kitchen and bathroom design, it is good for me to understand how products are made. It must something akin to a chef understanding where the food they use in their recipes come from.
Thanks Kohler and Ferguson for a great experience.