According to the latest news, Kohler Co. has agreed to sell its luxury furniture lines – Baker, Milling Road, and McGuire – to a Chinese company. Kohler is selling these to a U.S.-based subsidiary of Samson Holding Ltd. (for $35 million), a decision that effectively takes Kohler out of furniture manufacturing. The move is not a complete surprise, given the fact that over the past few years, the industry of furniture manufacturing has been wracked by overseas competition. Located in Wisconsin, Kohler is currently the employer of more than 32,000 people worldwide. Its annual revenue was estimated at $6 billion.
Baker and Milling Road have been a part of the Kohler brand ever since 1986, which does make this separation somewhat sentimental. In 1990, Kohler also acquired McGuire, which provides customers with “casual luxury” furniture with a touch of Californian sensibility. Kohler is probably best known for its kitchen & bath, lighting, luxury plumbing, cabinets, vanities, and golf courses. The company is a manufacturing giant, operating more than 50 factories across six continents.
So what made Kohler sell its luxury brands? According to spokesman Todd Weber, the company has evaluated its furniture business “and determined that it no longer aligned with the company’s strategy and core focus moving forward.”
Privately held Kohler’s businesses also include an interiors branch. Even though it’s shedding its furniture operations, Kohler plans to continue its decorative product brands which sell stone and tile; luxury plumbing; lighting and vanities; and cabinets. Being the high-end brand that it is, Kohler has also custom made chairs for the State Dining Room in the White House.
Kohler Says Bye-bye to Luxury Furniture
With its furniture brands, Kohler is also offering Samson Baker’s 750,000-square-foot factory in Hildebran, N.C., where more than 200 people currently work; a smaller plant in High Point, N.C.; potentially a distribution center (and 36 acres of land) in Hickory, N.C.; and two factories in Indonesia. According to the sale agreement, Samson will pay $29.5 million for the deal, in addition to another $5.5 million if it will decide to buy the distribution center and the surrounding property.
Kohler sold its luxury furniture brands due to the economical context. Asian manufacturers make furniture pieces that look the same as the domestic brands but for far cheaper price tags. The imports are usually structurally inferior, but the manufacturers compensate by working harder on the “face” of the product. The result is something that looks eerily similar to the good stuff, so customers buy it.
Kohler assured its employees the brands it sells will continue to operate out of their offices and facilities in Indonesia and North Carolina, as well as showrooms in England, North America, and France. At the same time, it’s noteworthy that the deal does not have any direct impact on any Samson Marketing companies or departments in the High Point, North Carolina.
Behind the Scenes
Samson is buying several businesses which have underperformed for the last two years, recording loses instead of profits. Samson revealed these facts in a disclosure statement posted on the website of the Hong Kong stock exchange. Over the past decade, Baker had to close two factories in North Carolina – an upholstery plant and a case-goods facility. However, this is not unusual in the industry.
Over half of the household-furniture manufacturing jobs in the U.S. disappeared from 2001 through 2015. Meanwhile, the number of factories dropped by 43 percent. On the other hand, Dongguan-based Samson, has its eyes set on expanding its U.S. furniture-making. Dongguan is one of the major industrial cities in south China, with a population of 7 million. Samson is a renowned furniture wholesaler and manufacturer for major retailers worldwide. It also opened an upholstered furniture manufacturing factory in North Carolina, which operates successfully. The company already employs more than 800 workers in the U.S.
Kohler Design Center: Visit the Ultimate Furniture Showroom
Opened in 1985, the Kohler Design Center is the main attraction in a small village west of Sheboygan. The village is also home to the Kohler Co., one of the most respected names in the industry of plumbing fixtures. About 130,000 visitors a year enter the doors of the Design Center, which remains a top tourist destination in Sheboygan County.
And it’s no surprise so many people are keen to visit it, given the hundreds of popular and innovative designs showcased in room settings and functional displays. The Center expands across three floors and almost 36,000 square feet. Open to the public 363 days a year (closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day), the location offers visitors free admission. There’s plenty to see and do at the ever-changing Design Center, but here are our five favorite picks.
1. You can tour the 20-plus model bathrooms and kitchens.
The mezzanine level of the Design Center includes kitchen and bathroom vignettes created by famous interior designers. They incorporate products from the Kohler businesses, including Ann Sacks tile, Baker and McGuire furniture, Robern bathroom vanities, cabinets, mirrors and lighting – and so much more!
For example, designer Kim Lewis created an intimate kitchen called the “Copper Cottage.” Perfectly sized for an urban setting, the kitchen was inspired by nature. That’s why it features a palette of sky blue, light green, and Simply White. The result is something unexpected – fresh yet neutral. It also features Kohler’s Purist faucet and Whitehaven single basin sink.
Designer Alison Victoria created the “An American Designer in Paris” vignette. It’s actually a kitchen, seating nook, dining area; all the rooms feature a smoky palette with ornate details and clean lines. The overall result resembles the grandeur of Parisian architecture combined with the edginess of its fashion and art. Her design incorporates a Kohler Strive sink and Purist matte black kitchen faucet, as well as furniture pieces by Baker.
2. You can touch and operate Kohler faucets and fixtures.
One of the best things about the Design Center is that it provides its visitors with a hands-on experience. The kitchen and bath displays on the main level display the range of Kohler’s product designs and conceptual ideas. The wall of sinks allows potential customers to see the differences between apron-front or under-mount sinks, as well as the proportions available for dual-basin sinks. It’s easier to compare and contrast the appearance of stainless vs. enameled cast iron with the products right in front of you. Staff can explain visitors the custom showering technology, while the impressive variety of toilet options is something to behold. The main floor also hosts the Wall of China, a dramatic wall covered in many toilets and sinks.
3. You can learn about Kohler’s history.
The lower level of the Design Center is home to the Heritage Museum, which chronicles the evolution of the company. Everything is on display, from the first horse trough turned bathtub to cast-iron cemetery crosses to the development of world-class golf courses. Visitors can also watch a 20-minute video that tells the story of Kohler and its product innovation. The short visual history is shown at regular intervals.
4. You can meet with a designer on staff.
If you want, you can make an appointment – call (902) 457-3699 – and bring your plans to the Center. There, you can meet with one of the staff designers, who will be more than happy to show you what’s available and offer advice on products, colors, and more. The appointment will arm you with custom plans and product specifications that you can present to your own contractor or designer. So far, people have be surprised and impressed with what the designers have come up with to suit their style.
5. You can take a tour to see the manufacturing process.
If you are curious to see how kitchen sinks, cast-iron tubs, or other Kohler items are made, feel free to take an “Industry in Action” walking tour. A Kohler retiree will be delighted to show you around the Kohler factory. Tours are available Monday through Friday, and reservations are required. Call (920) 457-3699 to book your tour. While taking photos as you walk around the Design Center is encouraged, it is strictly prohibited during the factory tour.
Bonus: The one thing you CAN’T do at the Design Center
Everything that’s on display at the Kohler Design Center is just for show. You cannot purchase anything. According to the company, this is part of the “pressure-free experience,” because customers simply cannot buy anything there. People visit the Center for inspiration and then they go to any Kohler distributor to get the products they want.