Alan Orchard is the Commercial Director – Kitchen & Bath Middle East and Sub Saharan Africa regions. Passionate about people and results driven, he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from The University of South Africa, his home country. Alan has over 25 years of global experience across various commercial leadership roles in coatings and consumer goods industries. He has been instrumental in leading teams and brands both strategically and operationally across developed and emerging markets, ranging from market leadership positions in South Africa to challenger brand secondments in South-East Asia, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since February 2021, Orchard has stepped forward to take accountability as Commercial Director of KOHLER’s Kitchen & Bath Middle East and Sub Saharan Africa regions with a strong focus on rapid expansion and game-changing growth. In his current role, he has been inspired by the mega-urban and unique sustainability developments in the Middle East region, which has rebounded strongly after the effects of the pandemic last year whilst introducing new norms in the hospitality industry. In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, he spoke about the transition of the brand and its vision for Nigeria.
Tell us about the Kohler brand’s focal point?
Kohler is a family-owned company with businesses in Kitchen & Bathroom, Decorative products, Power solutions and Hospitality. The brand was created in the year 1873. We own and operate luxury resorts, spas and golf courses in Wisconsin, US and St. Andrews, Scotland. Interestingly, the last Ryder Cup was hosted at the Kohler owned Whistling Straits golf course in Kohler, Wisconsin.
In the 150-year history of the brand, how has the company transitioned in its vision?
Considering how one of the major focuses of the brand is creating a refined lifestyle through design and technology, since its inception, Kohler Co. has been improving the level of gracious living by providing exceptional products and services for homes and hospitality space. A century and a half later, we still hold that mission close to our heart, which is why we have won the World over.
Today, the brand is a multi-billion-dollar global enterprise with pole positions in the United States and China. India, Africa, and the Middle East are the fastest growing business units in the portfolio. Whilst the Kohler Company has grown in scale, the core values of gracious living, generosity of spirit and enhancement of nature remain imperative.
What really stands Kohler out?
Features and designs differentiate our brand. Also, 90 per cent of our earnings are reinvested back into the business, the outcome of which is the creation of class leading and category defining products and services.
We always stand at the cutting edge of design and technology. In fact, most hospitality chains in the world look up to us to provide them with solutions. This is how we have earned trust as brand and gained loyalty to the customers’ globally.
What really informed the decision for your brand to launch in Lagos, Nigeria?
We have been in Africa since 2014 and we opened our East Africa office in Nairobi Kenya in the year 2019. Within a period of three years, we have more than 50 per cent market share in the Indian Ocean Islands and we are also the largest brand by value in Kenya.
Nigeria is the largest economy in the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region. By all indicators, it is also expected to be the fastest growing nation on the continent. Nigeria leads the way for Africa where technological and design breakthroughs are concerned. Nigeria’s growth is fueled by its hard working, entrepreneurial citizens, who expect and deserve only the best. In the past few years, we have seen great demand from major real estate developers and spiked interest levels from Architect and designer communities for our products. It’s natural for us to expand towards West Africa from the East and service our customers in Nigeria. I am very confident of repeating our East success story in West Africa as well.
There are several interior design brands in Nigeria and Africa, what is Kohler doing differently?
The competition is stiff, not only in Nigeria but across the world, however, we keep succeeding with rigorous focus on customer delight through a well-trained and entrepreneurial team. Our approach to presenting our products is different. Kohler presents complete bathroom suites through an ensemble of products. This means that each time a customer walks into the showroom they get the very best of design ideas to be able to create their dream space.
The consultative approach that we take whilst assisting the Architects, Designers and Developers and their teams is to be able to realise their projects in cost and on time, whilst ensuring that the products are right at the edge of market leading trends globally. Our 24X7 Omni-channel approach is in focus. We have created multiple avenues to enable our customers to reach as at any hour of their convenience. Customers can connect through our social pages where we have 250K followers in the SSA region; be it through our automated chatbot, which can resolve most of their queries in store, or our virtual online showroom tours which customers can book and browse at their own time and pace.
While we have only just recently begun the Africa journey, we have empowered the customer in as many ways as possible. All these are category first initiatives and we expect a very strong response from the customers.
Tell us about the brand’s concept of design studios and experience centers across continents?
Whilst we are a global organisation, we create products by drawing insights from local aspirations, rituals and practices. This is where design studios play such a pivotal role. We have design studios in the US, China, Europe and India where the team of product designers are constantly learning and designing products of local relevance. The design studios keep churning products, which keep Kohler on the edge of design and technology.
Notable examples being the Modern Life Edge bathroom suite, which is the thinnest and strongest toilet in the category with only a 7MM edge; The Vive faucet, which has been inspired from the dancing form of a ballet, experimentations in finishes and colours like the Matte Black Faucets and the Thunder Grey and Peacock colored ceramics.
Kohler Experience Centers are large experiential spaces where anyone can walk at an appointed time and be given a guided walkthrough of bathroom designs and inspirations. It is a place to immerse in one’s deepest sanctuary, get inspired and reimagine, as their most intimate space should be. The Kohler Experience Center is a place for anyone, from an end customer to an Architect, Designer or Developer to look at the possibilities, as they exist.
What’s the relationship between your brand and the Developer community?
The relationship is one of mutual trust and respect. We consider it our responsibility to keep our Architect and Designer partners informed and ahead of customer expectations. We also play a consultative role with them; we understand their problem statements and then recommend products. We also release co-created literature for Architects and Designers.
The Inspiration Book for Africa is a great example. It has now been released in three volumes and each volume has a readership exceeding 2000. It is a collage of best design ideas and architecture. We also take selected architects and designers each year to our global manufacturing facilities and to Manchester United fixtures where they engage with like-minded professionals and ideas flow freely. When there is so much to bind us, the relationship ought to be warm and mutually satisfying.
What informed your decision to partner Manchester United?
The strength of our partnership manifests itself through our joint market presence and activation harmony. Football is a global binding force; Man Utd and Kohler are socially responsible iconic brands, which stand together for equality of opportunity and treatment for all human beings.
COVID-19 pandemic forced a lot of businesses to pay attention to online. How far as Kohler gone in its digitisation project?
Kohler has been redefining the digital category and the way we reach and service our customers most effectively; that is how our digital first approach is most effective. There is a growing cross section of affluent, bright and young customers who live their lives online. Customers these days want to be serviced on demand and at their convenience because of many conflicting priorities. Customers have evolved from buyers to designers and want information on products to research and plan.
To cater to these customers, we will begin our play in the Ecommerce universe in Africa very soon. We also run round the year co-created digital activations for customers with Manchester United, including priceless prizes to win such as the original Manchester United signed jerseys and trips to the games. This keeps our customers engaged and abreast with the brand. There is still a lot to be done in the digital space of the business.
As a global brand, how do you ensure consistency in product quality and customer delivery?
We have over 50 manufacturing locations, 4000 showrooms and are powered by over 40,000 associates that wake up every day with a can-do attitude. This is what makes us a winning team. Being part of such a large organisation is not just a matter of pride, but one of great responsibility. We have designed over 26,000 products, which are manufactured at one or several of our plants. They can all be prescribed in any part of the world and 50 per cent of these are patented.
This entails that we adopt and follow well defined manufacturing and quality assurance processes, which can stand the toughest test anywhere on the globe. This also means that we have an extremely competent and an ever-evolving supply chain process, which ensures that products are delivered to our customers as promised.
What is the synergy between Kohler owned resorts and golf courses and regular lines of business?
The synergy is complimentary – having resorts allows us to have a deep understanding of customer requirements and preferences. We build dreams together. The best way to learn is by doing it yourself.
We command the respect of global hospitality chains and remain their partner of choice. The respect is hard earned because they understand that our learning of hospitality is not academic; it’s come through years of hard work and learning from Kohler owned and managed properties.
What is your vision for Kohler in Africa?
With our compelling propositions, we will make it impossible for our customers to look beyond Kohler. We wish to be the most preferred customer brand in Africa in our category. If we can get our customer engagement right, we will become the largest brand by value on the continent. We are committed to our customers and engagement with them.