It’s a natural brand extension for Kohler. But it also represents a material shift into managing the manufacture of more complex finishing processes of wood products — which become an even more inviting platform for Kohler sinks and plumbing fixtures.
“The launch of the vanity program is an important step for Kohler as we expand the scope of our business,” says Jeff Mayerl, Kohler product manager.
“We’ve actually had a vanity business for quite some time. But we are always looking for opportunities. And we wanted to make it easier for customers. We needed to find a solution that appealed to the majority of customers, and the multiple finish selection is what they wanted.
“User research also showed people were frustrated with lack of efficiency in organizational tools,” Mayerl says. “The goal of our new collection,” says Mayerl, is helping consumers through “the customization of their entire vanity space.”
The line includes five vanity design styles with customizable drawer and door configurations, and hardware, was well as organizational wood components, shelving, accessories, and multiple selections of color and finish. Naturally the sinks and countertops can be incorporated into orders.
Finishing is a key element in the five (Poplin, Damask, Jacquard, Jute and Marabou) design styles. Customers choose elements beginning with the exterior styles, sizes and configurations. This is the point where wood finishing is specified.
Then interior organizational components (like drawer inserts and dividers); countertops; and lighting, hardware and mirrors. Frames for the mirrors are finished to match the vanities.
How are orders placed? Similarly to kitchen cabinetry, except it is through plumbing dealers. “We have an established network of Kohler plumbing supply houses, and we sell through retail channels,” says Mayerl. Consumers or designer-specifiers visit a plumbing supplier showroom, which is outfitted with selling tools, including a sample box of finished elements. Because the Tailored Vanities are so individualized, customers need help visualizing.
“Within our wholesaler showrooms we are sending out quite a few displays,” Mayerl says. “We have a lot of literature pieces and photography to supply the consumer with inspiration. And we also have sample boxes. The consumer can use those to mix and match finishes.”
A specification guide was developed that provides guidance on the choices. “There are quite a few options; there are over 1400 skus,” says Mayerl. Buyers work with their dealer to place the order through the Kohler system. The vanities are manufactured and finished at a Kohler facility in the Midwest. At a separate location, also in the Midwest, the cast iron tops are made.
“We have five basic designs,” says Scott. “All except the Marabou are glued dowel construction, built with a half inch backing for strength, and for strength to wall hang. The Marabou design is a true furniture piece, a framed cabinet that is also inset, so its construction is a bit more challenging.”
Because customers can specify a range of finishes, the finish line operation is carefully coordinated. “Our finish department batches it the best we can,” says Scott Krebs, product manager. “We are on a 28-day lead time, so we have to move quickly. Since we are doing many stains that have to be has to be hand rubbed on in multiple steps we group them into batches, so we gain efficiencies.”
Most receive a catalyzed conversion sealer and topcoat. “The hand rubbed finishes would be the bottleneck, so that part of the line branches off a little bit.” Though time-consuming, the multi-step finishing process brings depth and richness to pieces like the Marabou oak vanity.
The detail of the Tailored Vanities adds to the consumer satisfaction on installation. For example, “All the units have a built in leg leveler, so the installer has no need for shims,” says Mayerl. “Our competition still needs those shims.”
The manufacturing and assembly process entails a project staging step. Each item ships in separate box. They are bundled together at the warehouse, and the customer receives them together.
“Vanities are a little outside what we normally do,” says Mayerl. “Because they are made to order, they ship directly from factory to the customer.”
So far the program has been well received.
Mayerl says there has been a lot of excitement about this program, from our wholesalers to our designers, who like the styling, the construction the flexibility in the offering.
“When people open up the drawers and see some of those accessories a real emotional connection. Simple luxuries like electric outlets that are integrated into the vanity make a huge difference. Electric toothbrushes and rechargeables can now be stored inside the cabinet within reach, reducing countertop clutter.” We think this is one of our biggest opportunities to grow.”
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