“One of the biggest assets, they had someone come over from the corporate office and talk about best business practices,” said Callies, president of Oak Creek Plumbing, Kitchen & Bath. “There (were) many discounts that were offered to us that we did not take advantage of.”
The perks were part of a new Business Partner Program that Kohler Co. introduced last year to take advantage of its unique manufacturing and resort presence in the Village of Kohler to reward customers and suppliers, said Justin Gephart, senior sales manager at The American Club Resort.
Benefits for those on the group outings include a complimentary welcome reception or group activity, such as golf lessons; preferred rates on group golf outings; preferred group rates at Kohler Waters Spa; preferred room rates; customized plant tours; and Kohler Company executive involvement.
Those traveling to Kohler on business are eligible for preferred rates on hotel rooms, Kohler Waters Spa, golf at Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run and complimentary upgrades from the Inn on Woodlake and The American Club.
The program hasn't been widely advertised to customers, but is an added value that Kohler's sales staff can offer customers, Gephart said. The company sent a Whistling Straits duffel bag with a spa candle and a sleeve of golf balls to announce the program to about 150 preferred customers last fall.
Herbert Kohler Jr., chief executive officer and chairman of Kohler, asked the company's hospitality team to create a rewards program for customers at a strategic planning meeting last year. He wanted to give preferred rates to partners for the role they play in Kohler's success, since a program like that didn't exist, Gephart said.
“In Mr. Kohler's mind, the biggest point of it was to bring the business expertise that resides on the Kohler manufacturing side of the street and bring that into play on the resort side of the street,” he said. “We have all of this Kohler expertise sitting on one side of the street that we can tap into.”
The resort amenities available at Kohler give it a competitive advantage over other bathroom fixture manufacturers that don't have resorts across the street from their plants, Gephart said.
More than 50 Kohler Co. customers have already taken advantage of the Business Partner Program, either through retreats or required quarterly supplier campus visits.
Callies' TEC group has about 14 members and had not taken advantage of business discounts for outings before, but Kohler's Business Partner Program swayed them to stay there, said Frank Walter, TEC chairman for the group. He said he would recommend the option to others.
“They treated us really well, like very special guests,” Walter said. “I think everybody enjoyed the event.”
While the welcome receptions, complete with drinks and appetizers, and the other offers don't come cheap, the cost is worth it to get customers thinking about Kohler, Gephart said.
While there, those customers are surrounded by fixtures, tiles, chairs, spa products and other items that Kohler Co. manufactures.
“The benefit to Kohler is that bringing (existing customers) in educates them better on our products,” he said. “In the long run, the idea is that they're that much better versed in Kohler Company and we feel that being top of mind, in the end, is a benefit to Kohler as a whole.” n