Good Neighbors

Posted on June 26, 2017

There are companies that have history, then there are company partnerships that make history. The relationship between DSG and Kohler is ongoing proof that every successful business is built on collaboration.

Historic Photo Of A Load of Kohler tubs On A Horse Drawn Wagon
One of the earliest photos of DSG (then W.A. Roosevelt) in La Crosse shows a load of Kohler tubs.

Kohler Co. got its start in Sheboygan, WI, in the 1800s. Initially, it manufactured and sold farm implements, but in 1883 everything changed when John Michael Kohler began to sell an enameled cast-iron horse trough as a bathtub. Kohler’s business took off, and it wasn’t long before the company took over 21 acres of land just west of Sheboygan and created Kohler Village, part manufacturing facility, part planned community and – eventually – part luxury resort, everything that workers and visiting business people would need to feel right at home. In time, the Kohler name became synonymous with plumbing innovation, and the company became one of the country’s acknowledged leaders in the industry.

Just a few hours away in La Crosse, DSG – then known as W.A. Roosevelt – was finding its own footing as one of the Midwest’s best distributors of plumbing equipment. It was a natural fit for the two companies to work together, and DSG quickly became one of Kohler’s most trusted partners. The relationship flourished for decades, and retired DSG La Crosse manager Jim Voshart has fond memories of working with Kohler products.

Kohler bathtub
Kohler products continue to redefine the cutting edge.

“We would get shipments from Kohler by semi trailer,” Voshart recalls. “Then we would have to move these huge cast iron tubs, along with all of the ceramic sinks, etc. It would take us a full day to load the elevator and move the tubs to the fifth floor of the warehouse and the sinks to the basement.”

Voshart was working as a delivery man in the 1970s when Kohler virtually reinvented the plumbing industry with the introduction of bold-colored fixtures. “Other companies had colors, but nothing like what Kohler did,” he says. “I remember names like Black Black, Antique Red, Tiger Lily Orange and Fresh Green – they were all so vibrant. No other company was doing anything even close to that. That’s where the Bold Look Of Kohler slogan came from.”

Always a good sport, Voshart recalls a story that illustrates both the desirability of these bold Kohler fixtures and the humor of young decision making that we can all relate to. “I remember once when a woman ordered a Black Black Kohler tub from us. It was a very sought after fixture, and it took more than a year for her to get her tub,” he says, thinking back. “My co-worker and I were in charge of bringing it to her house, so we stood it up in the back of the truck and left the warehouse. On the way, my co-worker gave me some quick driving directions. Unfortunately, I was taken by surprise by the lack of clearance on an old railroad bridge and the results were disastrous. The extra special tub was knocked over and broke into pieces. Our customer was just as shattered. I remember the poor woman being in tears and asking us if we could glue it back together!”

The story has a happy ending, though. “I was sure that I would be fired, but everything came out OK in the end, as it so often does,” says Voshart. “She eventually got a new tub, and I got to keep my job.”

Wisconsin Map Showing Close Proximity Of DSG And KohlerOne of the more interesting parts of doing business with Kohler is the city of Kohler itself. It is more than just a factory town, and a visit always made a big impression on DSG’s customers. The sales team would rent a bus, fill it up with customers and take a tour of the Kohler manufacturing facility. “The outside of the factory was almost like a cathedral,” recalls Voshart. “The whole town looked like a Norman Rockwell painting, and customers were always amazed.” Indeed, the groups most often stayed at the American Club, a converted worker dormitory that was reimagined as a five-star hotel. Needless to say, those trips made a lasting impression.

It wasn’t the amenities that Voshart remembers most, though. “It was the craftsmanship,” he says. “To see the hard work, the precision and the artistry put into each fixture was incredible.”

The partnership between Kohler and DSG is even stronger today as Kohler has become DSG’s primary plumbing partner throughout its footprint. Kohler is still one of the only providers of cast iron tubs in the world, but its cutting-edge products are what set the company apart. Everything from beautiful, uniquely designed fixtures to smart-technology enabled showers and toilets now carry the Kohler name. The commitment to innovation that energized the industry with bold colors in the 1970s now drives new ideas in virtually every product Kohler sells.

Even though DSG’s relationship with Kohler has a long and colorful history, it is the colorful future that is causing the most excitement. Ask your DSG representative about the latest ideas from Kohler and how they can help you to give your own customers exactly what they want – and a lot more. Break through the crowd with the Bold Look Of Kohler, and the proven connections of DSG.