Companies

Kohler to pilot sanitation project for low-income homes in Coimbatore

Vinay Kamath Swathi Moorthy Chennai | Updated on January 22, 2018

Working with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for closed loop sanitation system 

 

Top-end sanitaryware and bath works brand Kohler is known worldwide for its premium image. In the Indian market too, Kohler has a 40 per cent share in the premium end of the Rs 8,000-crore sanitwaryware market, growing at twice the market growth of 14 per cent. But, what Kohler has been quietly working on under the radar is a closed sanitation system that will address the acute sanitation issues India deals with. The pilot project is all set to be installed in Coimbatore and if it proves successful, Kohler will look to scale up this project.

   David Kohler, President & CEO, the fourth generation of a family from Kohler, Wisconsin (Riverside, a small town of 2,000 people was re-named after his great grandfather moved his new factory here in 1900), in an interview says, “We have a project with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and Caltech University in the US to develop a closed loop sanitation system that can help with some of the severe sanitation issues in India. We have some test units that are manufactured in India that would be shipped to Coimbatore.”

The system would be installed in a multi-family high-rise low-income residential unit to test it. “We will see if we can create a system that would not only work for them but also potentially be used in remote areas in villages to provide not only safe access to sanitation but also hygienic. This is really advanced technology and it is exciting for us to be working on this project to see if we can establish that in India,” Kohler explains.

The Coimbatore installation will have five units and each of these units can service up to five or more different apartments. The combination of all these units can provide a closed loop system for an entire building. “That helps the city’s infrastructure because you don’t have to pump any of the sewage to a treatment facility and it can be handled in these self-contained units. They use bio-digesters and recycle the water in a very safe manner,” says Kohler.

Kohler has received funding of over $2 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the company is investing and working along with the foundation on this project.

 Coimbatore is a test market for Kohler to refine the technology and make it robust and manageable and bring the cost of the technology down. Kohler will study how it can commercialise it and sell across the country. “We are also exploring potential markets in the developed countries, outside of India. In certain other markets where they have issues with septic tanks and sanitation  systems this might be used,” he adds.

At the upper end of the market it’s business as usual for Kohler, which recently launched Veil, an ‘intelligent’ toilet product line priced at Rs 4 lakh. “The luxury market in India is growing rapidly and will continue to grow due to the rising income levels in the middle and upper middle class.” Hence the desire for premium products among the wealthy Indians with focus on design is on the rise.

Kohler has invested about $200 million in the nine years it has been present in the Indian market. It owns two manufacturing units in Gujarat, one a faucet making plant and the other a ceramic sanitaryware unit with a production capacity of around 1.5 million pieces annually.

The company has 300 retail outlets across India and plans to open another 100 by the end of 2015 and 50 more by next year end. As Kohler says, “From the metros we are moving to tier II and tier III cities in order to provide a comprehensive coverage and build a distribution network across India.”

 Kohler will be launching its first experience centre in New Delhi soon and plans to open two more by 2018. Salil Sadanandan, Managing Director – Kitchen and Bath, Kohler India, says, “Retail space is a challenge in India as it operates on a small store format and hence do not display the complete range.” An experience centre provides an opportunity to showcase the entire range of products to the customer, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access them through retail outlets.

 

Published on October 06, 2015

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