Celebrating its centennial year, Kaldewei has a vision to become “the most valuable brand in every bathroom.” We talk to its executive team about how the company is going to achieve this bold ambition.
Established in 1918, bathroom manufacturer Kaldewei is far removed from its origins producing milk cans and dairy equipment.
However, it has always worked with enamelled steel and is still based in Ahlen, Germany. Its HQ now includes a four-level training and exhibition centre, Iconic World.
It wasn’t until 1930 that the company focused upon the bathroom. Kaldewei made its first bathtub in 1934, made up of several parts welded together. Seven years later, it invested in a power-driven press to expand production capacity from 20 to 250 bathtubs a day.
Chief technical officer Christian Graap says the company’s decision to invest in its own enamelling works and furnace was a significant milestone for Kaldewei, allowing it to control its production quality.
Kaldewei has invested in manufacturing, not only to expand its portfolio, but to meet exacting standards and demand.
Graap adds: “In 1956, we added shower trays to our manufacturing programme and, a year later, we commissioned the world’s first hydraulic bathtub press line with which we were able, for the first time, to produce bathtubs seamlessly from a single sheet of steel.
“In 1972, Kaldewei was the first industrial operation in Germany’s bathroom industry to deploy robots in serial production, enabling the computer-controlled, uniform application of enamel.”
Now, the company manufactures over 600 enamelled steel models which span baths, shower surfaces and washbasins. And it has worked in collaboration with the likes of Phoenix Design, Anke Soloman, Arik Levy and Sottsass Associati to achieve more than 120 design awards for its portfolio.
“In the 1990s, Kaldewei stepped up its collaboration with illustrious designers all over the world in order to position itself more distinctly as a premium brand in the luxury segment”, explains Christian Graap.
He continues: “The limits of formability had to be pushed out again and again to constantly create new shapes and designs – a great challenge for Kaldewei’s engineers.
“In 2014, we launched our premium segment, Meisterstuecke freestanding bathtubs with enamelled panelling made from a single material and with completely flat surfaces. Since 2015, our portfolio has been expanded with the addition of washbasins.”
It was a natural move for the company, as chief sales officer Robert Martinez comments: “Kaldewei steel enamel has proved itself over decades as the perfect material for the bathroom.
“It was, therefore, a logical step to transfer the superiority of this material – its stability, durability, hygiene and ease of cleaning – to washbasins.” And he believes the segment has “great potential” and will be a growth area for the company.
Continually looking at efficiencies in production to ensure the company remains competitive, Kaldewei is now considering the best manufacturing processes to grow its basin business, as Graap continues: “We are closely focusing on further optimising the serial production of our washbasins.
“In the long term, these should become our company’s third pillar alongside bathtubs and showers.” But it also forms part of a wider long-term focus for the company.
Graap continues: “Kaldewei has developed from being a mass producer with large sales figures to a global partner for iconic bathroom solutions made of Kaldewei steel enamel. Naturally, our production has to reflect that. Our Factory Restructuring 2030 project is all about future-proofing the company.
We are taking an in-depth look at how our product portfolio will develop in the coming years and decades, which new technologies are necessary and how we can arrange production. We will only be able to meet the growing expectations of our customers in the future, if we invest in production now.”
The demand of its customers is on a global scale, as the company has a vision to deliver “the most valuable brand in every bathroom.” While Germany remains the company’s most important market, the company aims to increase its focus on international markets.
Roberto Martinez states: “The markets that are of key strategic importance to us are Germany, the whole of Western Europe, China and the USA. We want to achieve significant growth in the United Standards and China in particular.
“Naturally, in addition to that, all of the market is which we have subsidiaries and our own employees on the ground are important to us.” And it will be targeting the upmarket residential sector and luxury hotel developments, through the architect, planner, installer and builder communities.
To do this, managing director Franz Kaldewei explains he takes learnings from the previous three generations “in order to shape the future” of the company.
He points out his key focus areas for Kaldewei: “I am creating fresh momentum in keeping with the times and am focusing on a number of areas such as growing the company internationally and using digitalisation.
“The latter, offers us completely new perspectives and potential. Today, for instance, we can provide planners and architects with BIM (Building Information Modelling) data which significantly simplifies bathroom planning for national and international projects.”
Although steeped in tradition, certainly Kaldewei is forward facing, and even able to meet future business challenges. This includes the prospect of the circular economy overtaking the current “take, make and dispose” industrial outlook.
“The issue of sustainability runs like a thread through all areas of the company and it is a key element of Kaldewei’s corporate philosophy”, says chief financial officer Patrick Nußmann.
He explains: “Firstly, there is our material, Kaldewei steel enamel. Natural raw materials are used to produce it and, at the end of its exceptionally long life, our steel enamel can be fully recycled.
“We already made our production environmentally-friendly as early as the 1980s and since then, we have consistently avoided the use of colour additives that cannot be reconciled with the environmental principles we have set ourselves.”
In fact, the company has even won a a Green Good Design Award for its products. Nußmann continues: “We underline the long product life and our quality promise with a 30-year warranty – and this too is an important aspect of sustainability.
Furthermore, when it comes to our design, we set the highest value by giving our bathroom solutions a timelessly classic design – after all, a Kaldewei bathroom should not only last for 30 years but also remain attractive for 30 years.”
And Kaldewei has even been involved with environmental projects to ensure sustainability, such as supporting the WWF’s marine conservation programme in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the oceans.
It is this focus on sustainability, combined with design, which Kaldewei believes will help secure its future. Patrick Nußmann concludes:“Steel enamel will still be in demand for decades to come because it is a sustainable material with outstanding surface properties.”