Newsbits


Kohler presses on, delivers on screen as well as paper


Margie Manning

Web sites, CD-ROMs and touch-screen kiosks have joined the lineup of catalogs, annual reports and brochures offered by Kohler & Sons Inc., one of the oldest printing companies in St. Louis.

"We're not just in the printing business. We're in the information delivery business," said Kevin Kohler, president. "We happened to have delivered information as ink-on-paper for the past 75 years, but now people are receiving information in a much different fashion. We tell people we deliver information through both ink-on-paper and pixels-on-screen."

Kohler has been involved with interactive multimedia services for the past three years, after Kevin's brother, Keith, and his partner, David Porter, launched Portiko Digital in 1995.

Portiko was a sister company to Kohler & Sons until earlier this year, when it was renamed Kohler Interactive and joined Kohler Printing as a second division of the family firm.

Kevin, 43, is president; Keith, 36, is executive vice president of Kohler Interactive; and a third brother, Kent, 41, is executive vice president of Kohler Printing.

The brothers have taken pains to ensure their lines of business don't lead to a family feud.

"Coming from this background, there's always been a concern: Are we going to cannibalize ourselves?" Keith Kohler said. "But the answer is no, printing will be around forever. People love to take their magazines or catalogs and put them in their briefcase and look at them on the airplane.

"At this stage, what we do is generally supplemental to printing."

For instance, many firms have used Kohler Interactive to put their catalogs on CD-ROM.

"The material has been in giant binders of information that people try to stuff in their briefcases. All that information now is contained on a very thin piece of plastic you pop in a computer," he said. "You can keyword search and identify what you're looking for very quickly."

The technology also allows companies to incorporate video, demonstrating use of the products, into CD-ROM or on Web sites, and allows for online ordering of catalog materials.

Local clients of Kohler Interactive include Checkmark Communications; MagneTek; LaBarge Inc.; Washington University; Conner Ash PC; and Sherwood, Davis & Geck. The company also designed the touch-screen kiosks at the Southwestern Bell Telecommunity Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Colleen Clements, director of corporate communications at LaBarge, said Kohler Interactive designed and programmed the LaBarge Web site and has helped the firm put together laptop presentations, using Macromedia Director.

LaBarge also uses Kohler for printed materials, including its annual report, and still prints plenty of brochures, but they are reserved for more targeted audiences, Clements said.

"We can reach more people with our Web site than we ever could with a printed piece, and we can reach different kinds of audiences," she said.

For instance, a portion of the Web site looks at the company's manufacturing operations, but there's also a section directed at investors.

"It would be much more difficult and likely much more expensive to reach all those people with printed pieces," Clements said. "This also offers more flexibility. We can update a Web site in short order if we bring in a new manufacturing operation. It's much more expensive to print a new brochure."

There are savings as well for Kohler & Sons, which now can grow operations without making a heavy capital investment.

"Instead of investing millions in machinery that would be capable of printing material for mass distribution, we're spending thousands," Kevin Kohler said.

He said it's too early to talk about the effect Kohler Interactive has had on revenue at the firm, which had $16 million in sales in 1996.

But the young operation already has received national recognition. It was selected by AV Video Multimedia Producer magazine as one of the 1998 Top 100 award winners. The magazine will run a feature article on Kohler Interactive in November, with the award to be handed out in December at ceremonies in San Francisco.

© 1998, St. Louis Business Journal

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