Professional Builder visits a shower manufacturer that continues to lead the field by a distance
They know a thing or two about staying the course in Cheltenham and few have managed it better than the long established local shower manufacturer.
In fact they have been making shower units on this site, on the outskirts of the famous horse racing and spa town for almost 80 years, first, as some of our more mature readers will recall, as Walker Crossweller, then as Mira, Caradon Mira and more lately Kohler Mira.
Whilst the names may have changed however, the company has consistently been at the forefront of showering technology with a range of sophisticated products that incorporate a raft of innovations, from digital showers to remote controls.
Today the factory, which occupies the equivalent of more than seven football pitches produces around 200,000 mixer showers and 400,000 electric showers per year – a far cry from those formative years in the early 1920’s when James Walker and Walter Crossweller got together in Bermondsey, South London to distribute industrial instruments imported from Germany as well as American water and oil meters.
The move in to the heating market came when it was appointed the UK distributor of Leonard Thermostatic valves under licence.
This in turn lead to the move to Cheltenham a year later as the company needed larger premises and the council wanted dynamic and innovative manufacturers to move into the area.
The company’s growing importance and success can be judged from its role in the second world war – it was the exclusive supplier of shower valves for military staff and was shipped out to serving men and woman everywhere from Aldershot to Tobruk and Burma where the boost to moral of a hot shower can only be imagined.
“In fact its staff were judged to be as important to the war effort as those working in munitions and were treated as having “reserved occupations” meaning they were exempt from military service.
At the same time Meynell Valves, destined to become part of Mira in the 1980’s was producing couplings that enabled submarines to refuel at sea.
In the post war years Walker Crossweller played a key part in persuading the UK’s ministry of Education to specify temperature controlled washing facilities – including showers – in new prototype schools.
During the 1950’s the Leonard mixing valve became the standard fitting not just for schools but also hospitals and factories throughout the modern world.
But the company was no longer just simply manufacturing products- it was designing its own to meet specific UK needs. Water conservation, it seems is nothing new.
The company worked closely with the BRE to develop a tap that would conserve water – the Untap – the first economy spray mixing unit was launched in 1956.
Later Walker Crossweller developed the Leonard 722, the first thermostatic shower valve to cope with the UK’s notoriously fickle pressure conditions and the Mira 8 manual mixer.
Both proved extraordinarily long lived the Mira 8 going on to sell a million units in a production run that lasted well over 20 years.
Through the 1970’s and 1980’s the Leonard brand was retired after 42 years and replaced by Mira Thermostatic as the company was absorbed by the then Caradon building materials giant.
There was to be no let up in the innovations however with the truly revolutionary thermoscopic mixing valves launched in 1979, the MIRA Supreme electric shower with patented flow regulator and the MIRA Bathroom control system – a world first in integrated electronic controls for all bathroom functions.
Renamed as Caradon Mira in 1986 the company introduced another world first in the thermostatic electric shower, The Advance in 1995 with 8.7kw and 9.8kw versions and five memory variants.
The 21st century Saw the company return to private ownership as the American giant Kohler Co acquired Mira and changed the name to Kohler Mira, acquiring the shower enclosure company Daryl industries in 2005.
Since then, with the resources of one of the world’s leading exponents of bathing and showering behind them, the innovations have continued to flow apace.
Having launched its first ever digital shower in 2005, the Mira Magna, the company launched the Platinum, a digital shower with wireless technology and remote controls just four years later.
This period also saw the development of the mini mixer range – 50 per cent smaller than conventional valves and a Eco Showerhead, which saves up to 75 per cent of the water used by contemporary shower heads.
More recently the company has added an extensive range of competitively priced complementary shower trays under the Flyght brand and the all encompassing Multi fit product range which as the name suggests can be retrofitted over the footprint of not only existing Mira showers but the majority of the competitors units.
As marketing director Craig Baker explains, “throughout the past 90 odd years in all it various guises, this company has clearly played a massive role in establishing the shower as an integral part of everyday family life but the challenges keep on coming and customers constantly look to us to come up with the answers.
“Huge amounts of time and resources are dedicated each year to match optimum performance levels with the growing need for water conservation and rising energy costs.
“To this end our highly experienced workforce of 750 employees or associates as they are referred to are invaluable in keeping the business one step ahead of what has become a highly competitive and innovative market place.
“In fact there are currently 140 active members of our 21 club for those with more than that length of service.
Adds Craig, “At the same time the parent company Kohler has also made considerable resources available to secure the very latest technology be it robotic assistance throughout the manufacturing process and the cutting edge CAD and 3D design aids.
“Not that the story ends when the product leaves the factory gate. Most visitors are amazed to learn that we also have a fleet of 57 service engineer vans out on the road who make more than 55,000 home visits a year to offer unrivalled peace of mind to the customer and further enhance the Mira reputation for quality and service to the benefit of the installer.”
So much has clearly changed since the company started down by the docklands of Bermondsey – certainly Messes Walker and Crossweller could never have imagined when showers would have become the preferred method of bathing let alone remotely controlling the water flow by digital means! Yet the values that made the company successful then are still paramount today.
Every Mira product is designed to give a life time of safe trouble free performance. If only the horses from just down the road were as reliable!