Review & Rating
444 Highland Drive
Kohler, WI 53044
Footnotes:1. "Kohler Co. warrants its faucets.... to be leak and drip free ... for as long as the original consumer purchaser owns his or her home..... Kohler Co. also warrants [finishes]..., (except gold, non-Vibrant®, non-chrome finishes) to be free of defects in material and workmanship during normal residential use for as long as the original consumer purchaser owns his or her home...."
This Company In Brief
One summer day, in 1883, John Michael Kohler, an Austrian emigrant and the proud new owner of the Sheboygan Union Iron & Steel Foundry, took some glass powder and sprinkled it on an iron horse trough from the company's product line that had been heated it to 1,700°. The resulting "enamel" coating was so tough and durable that he featured the horse trough as the centerpiece of the company's next product catalog, with a small footnote that read: "When furnished with four legs, will serve as a bathing tub."
As a horse trough, it was not an overwhelming success, but as a "bathing tub", it became the foundation of an American plumbing empire that is now well into its second century with world-wide scope and annual revenues of over $6 billion U.S.
A privately held, family owned and operated U.S. manufacturer of an enormous line of very good to excellent kitchen and bath fixtures since 1873, Kohler has been a consistent innovator in the plumbing and sanitary-wares industry. In 1911 Kohler introduced the alcove bathtub with integral apron. This is the tub design that dominates American bathrooms today. By the 1920s, Kohler had become the third largest plumbing products company in the U.S. after Delta and Moen.
Kohler is still one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of plumbing and sanitary products, with twelve North American factories. Just under half of Kohler's 33,000 world-wide employees work in the U.S. and Canada. The enterprise is actually a related group of companies that sells bath and kitchen products, furniture, tile, fabrics, generators, even chocolates, and own resort hotels and golf courses, including the original St. Andrews course in Scotland.
Faucets are an integral part of the Kohler kitchen and bath line, ranging in style from ho-hum but very reliable to very, very stylish (and still very reliable). Kohler makes over 200 different faucets, not including variations possible by changing handles and finishes. (We started counting Kohler faucet variations one day, but gave it up as a bad idea when we reached 340. The actual number is probably much higher).
And, every year the company's cadre of talented designers crank out dozens of even newer designs. Trying to keep track of, or even keep up with Kohler's prolific output is a losing proposition.
Unlike its major competitor, — a company that has been disected, dismembered and reconstituted as an entirely new company under Japanese ownership — Kohler is much the same company it was in 1873 — although it has gone through a few name changes since the Sheboygan days. It is still owned and managed by the Kohler family, and still very much an American company that manufactures products for distribution world-wide. Herbet Kohler, Jr., the company's visionary CEO since 1972 stepped down on June 1, 2015 and was succeeded by his son, K. David Kohler, the fourth Kohler to head the company.
Most Kohler faucets sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S. at Kohler's faucet plant in Sheridan, Arkansas. The parts and components that go into Kohler faucets were once made mostly in the U.S., but that has not been true for a number of years. Today they are manufactured in other countries, primarily China and India. In the past 24 months, Kohler has imported faucet parts from Nanchang Kohler Co., Ltd. and Shanghai Kohler Electronic Ltd., both, as you might have surmised, Kohler subsidiaries in China.
One Customer's Kohler Experience
Back in 2005 when I was remodeling my home, I had to go shopping for three bathroom sink faucets. I wound up choosing Kohler, mostly because I liked the style of the fixtures, and because they touted that their … valves have a “lifetime warranty”. Now I’m always a little bit suspicious about absolute promises from any big company, but I liked the faucets and so paid the little bit extra to buy Kohler vs. a less expensive brand…
Fast forward to 2012, and one of my hot water valves just stopped working – I couldn't turn it on at all. I disassembled the faucets but could not get the valve out of the valve body – it was stuck! I considered buying a new faucets to get my sink back working again, but then remembered Kohler’s warranty, looked up their number on the internet and gave them a call.
I was ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED – at the EXCELLENT service! I only had to press two buttons on the automated system before I was transferred very quickly to a pleasant, … English-speaking lady who promptly identified the make and model of faucets I was calling about, and within 5 minutes had ordered me a replacement valve body. She asked if I had any other problems with Kohler products, and I told her that my kitchen sink sprayer was not flowing like it used to. She said a new diverter valve would be included in the box, and that the parts should arrive in 5-7 days. I was never hassled about proof of purchase, ownership, etc.
As good as her word, 4 business days later my replacement faucet valve (with a brand new supply hose) and a diverter valve arrived from Kohler. All free, no cost, and living up to every bit of their lifetime guarantee.
I .... could not be happier with my purchases, or Kohler’s OUTSTANDING customer service!
Kohler has reportedly invested over $70 million acquiring and updating Chinese factories to service the giant Chinese market for upscale faucets, but also to provide faucets and faucet components to other parts of the world. Kohler also buys components from Sunspring Metal Corporation of Taiwan and China for its relatively new faucet assembly operation in Monterrey, Mexico operated by Kohler Sanimex, S. de R.L. C.V..
The transition to overseas manufacturing has not been without problems for Kohler which has experienced repeated labor unrest since its founding. A 1934 a labor strike at Kohler's Wisconsin plants turned violent, resulting in two dead and 43 injured in clashes between Kohler strikers and "special deputies" hired by the company to protect the plant. The National Guard was called in to restore order. A government investigation after the strike was unable to identify the individuals responsible for the gun violence, attributing it to "several ruthless persons."
A 1954 strike lasted six years (the longest major strike in U.S. history) until the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Kohler has refused to bargain in good faith and ordered reinstatement of 1,700 union workers and payment of $4.5 million U.S. to the striking workers in back pay and pension benefitsNote 1. A third strike in 1983 lasted just a few weeks. In 2015 the company was struck a fourth time, this time for 31 days, the principal issue being the outsourcing of manufacturing to Kohler's Mexican factory.
At least some of Kohler's ceramic faucet cartridges are purchased from Anton Tränkle, GmbH & Co. KG, a German company that makes superior ceramic cartridges, but only single function, stem cartridges for two-handle faucets. These are rapidly being replaced by Kohler's proprietary UltraGlide® cartridges. Kohler calls these the "next generation of faucet technology" — and they are.
One of the disks is coated with what is probably diamond-like carbon, a material nearly as hard a diamonds (hence the "diamond-like" in the name), and very slick for easy operation without any lubricant between the discs. Advanced engineering and precise manufacturing keeps water away from the metal parts of the cartridge, a feature that Kohler calls Dry Stem Technology. This design eliminates mineral buildup and leaking around stem seals — the weak point in most cartridges. The cartridge has been tested through four million off/on cycles — eight times the industry standard.
For mixer cartridges used in single handle faucets, Kohler uses cartridges from Hydroplast S R L, and Italian manufacturer of good to excellent ceramic cartridges also used in faucets made by faucets.
Some of Kohler's faucets are entirely foreign made and imported as finished units.
If buying American is important to you, read the box to confirm a faucet's country of origin.
Kohler, wisely, has avoided the very low end of the faucet business that requires a lot of plastic and zinc parts. It is actively pursuing the high end bath ware market, and cleverly too, by providing architects and designers with CAD images that make it easy to specify Kohler products.
Be aware, however, that the Kohler products sold in some home centers such as Menards, Lowes and The Home Depot may not be Kohler's regular product line. They are private models made just for the home centers and may not be of the best Kohler quality. (See The Model Game for more information.) A plumbing supply house is your best option for main-line Kohler products.
If the incredible variety of the Kohler faucet collection is not enough for you, or you absolutely must have a designer's name attached to your faucet, then try Kohler's upscale collection of faucets, sinks, bathtubs, showers, bath furniture and accessories.
In 2015 Kohler Co. was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency with a Watersense® Sustained Excellence Award for the third year in a row. Kohler is the only three-time winner of the award.
American made or assembled faucets comparable to Kohler include:
We are continuing to research the company. If you have experience with Kohler faucets, good, bad or indifferent, we would like to hear about it, so please contact us or post a comment below.