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Lee County entrepreneur making splash with tubs

Shannon — When Michael Mask gave up farming soybeans and corn in this Lee County town south of Tupelo, he wanted to do something entirely different. So, he bought a Tub Magic franchise to install ceramic tile and resurface porcelain tubs. He went to Salt Lake City for training and came back home to make the business his own.

“There was no money to be made in farming, but I grew up here and wanted to stay here,” he said. “In Salt Lake City, they taught me what I needed to know, but it was up to me to make it what I wanted it to be.”

The refinishing business went well for 16 years and is still in existence. However, Mask’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in as genuine old clawfoot bathtubs became more difficult to find and customers asked for reproductions of the traditional tubs. He persevered until he perfected a fiberglass mold mimicking an old tub and a 10-step process to create tubs that simulate the antiques. Restoria Bathtub Company was born in 2001.

“It got to the point I couldn’t find enough tubs or missing parts to restore them,” he said. “I started making these tubs with acrylic on the inside that looks like porcelain and fiberglass on the outside that looks like cast iron. People think they’re completely cast iron till they pick them up.”

The tubs have a steel plate in the bottom for strength. The old-fashioned style clawfeet are attached to this plate for strength and durability. The tubs have been tested to support more than 11,000 pounds. “You don’t have to worry about them falling over. The feet are on there,” he said. “These tubs will be here as long as people use the right cleaners — nonabrasive. The use of abrasive cleaners will cause the tub’s shine to leave over time.”

The tubs weigh about 150 pounds versus 600 pounds for the old cast iron tubs, and they cost about $1,400 compared to $2,000 to $7,000 for the cast iron versions.

Restoria is a family business. His son, Chad, a 23-year-old Mississippi State University graduate works with him. His mother, Mary, handles the paperwork and son, Tim, an employee of Maris, West & Baker Advertising Agency in Jackson, takes care of marketing and sales. The other family member, wife Kathy, is not involved in day-to-day production but is pondering how she can get a Restoria tub installed in her own bathroom.

“Sometimes we have to hire someone part time for sanding, but we touch every one of the tubs,” Michael Mask said. “I didn’t want to hire a bunch of people. The quality won’t be the same if we hire more people.”

The tubs are crafted, not manufactured, because all of the work is hands on. Mask even signs every specially printed tag that goes with each tub that leaves the workshop. Production is up and down from month to month but is usually 60 to 80 tubs each month. He says he wants to stay at that number to retain the integrity of the product. Each tub requires two to three hours of handcrafting, and the Masks have 10 tubs in production at one time.

The tubs are sold to dealers scattered all over the country, and Restoria has some partnerships with retail outlets across Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. One tub was even sent to Japan after it sold on eBay. Luter’s Bathroom Supply Company in Tylertown buys the most tubs from Restoria — 10 at one time. Some tubs are also being sold on the Internet. Restoria has a contract with a trucking company to pick up the tubs at the Shannon production site.

“My satisfaction is in knowing we have a good product and did our best,” he said. “Our goal is to make it look as old as possible.”

The tubs come in four colors — classic white that accounts for 90% of sales, bone, biscuit and black. The tubs are made in three styles — a five-foot traditional rolltop; a five-and-a half-foot rolltop; and a five-and-a-half-foot slipper model. The feet can be painted the same color as the tub or finished in a choice of brass, nickel, chrome or oil rubbed bronze finishes. Mask says 60 different combinations are possible.

The slipper model just came out this year. He may add other products along the way, but for now is content to craft the product line he has because the positive feedback keeps rolling in from satisfied customers.

“I’ve always done hands-on things, and I like this better than farming,” he said. “I just make tubs and sleep. That’s about all I do.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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