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Browning on Business: Historic Columbus business facing tough time


William Browning



If no buyer steps forward to purchase Sanderson Plumbing Products by the end of April the Columbus business will shutdown. 


Its 250 employees have been notified. The city of Columbus has been notified. The retailers who purchase toilet seats from the business -- places like Wal-Mart, True Value Hardware Stores, online companies and others -- have been notified. 


If it happens it's a tough break for the historic business, which built the first soft vinyl toilet seat in the world in 1975, manufactured the toilet seats NASA used in its space shuttles and made the toilet seat Elvis Presley died on. 


It would be a tough break for the city, too. Like Tom Whitaker, who as CEO of Beneke Magnolia bought the company in 2012, said Wednesday, there aren't too many people in Columbus who do not have some connection to the business, which has operated on Tuffy Lane since 1940. If you haven't worked there you likely know someone who has. 


Once, it was the city's largest employer. Once, it used more power than anyone in the city. In 1999, when the company was making on average 1 million toilet seats a month, it employed 900 people, as well as more than 100 at its Butler, Ala., location. 


The Butler site closed two years ago. At the 360,000 square foot facility in Columbus today, roughly 100,000 seats are made each month. (Eighty percent are wooden, and made from scrap wood the company gets from local wood processing companies. The other 20 percent are plastic.) 


Basically, the slow down in production is a result, Whitaker said, of overseas competitors. Major retailers now purchase from those overseas suppliers directly. 


In October, Sanderson Plumbing Products filed for bankruptcy. It has retained Heritage Equity Partners to seek a sale of its business or assets. Whitaker said nearly 100 companies at least discussed a potential buy last week. If no one makes a play for the business, an auction becomes a possibility. 


But Whitaker is optimistic about the prospect of someone stepping in and the business staying put. It is, after all, one of only two places in the United States that has the capabilities to make plastic toilet seats, wooden toilet seats and soft vinyl toilet seats. (The other is in Wisconsin.) 


"The pie for toilet seats is still out there," he said. "It's not a dying industry." 


Whitaker then looked at a toilet seat in his office and said, "We all still do it." 


Over in Starkville, construction is expected to begin on a Wingstop later this month. 


John Albriton, a developer with ABM Wings based in Texas, said the chicken wing specialty restaurant will be located where Krystal once was along Highway 12. 


Albriton said until construction bids come in he won't have a firm opening date. He guesses doors will open in mid-June, though. The restaurant will employee 15 people. 


Albriton said ABM Wings has plans to open six other Wingstop locations in Mississippi and Alabama, including locations in Tupelo and Oxford this year. 


In downtown Columbus a business has recently changed locations. 


Woo Lingerie Boutique is now at 107 5th St. after being at 417 Main St. for roughly 14 months. The boutique opened its doors at the new spots on March 1. Owner Winifred "Winnie" Young said she hopes the new location helps attract more customers. 


The boutique sells everything from bath salts to casual dresses to pantyhose to lotions to, of course, lingerie. Young has also begun offering bra fittings and can organize chair parties for people wanting to spice up their exercises or relationships. 


"What I want to do is make every couple happy," Young said. 


Lastly, all Sonic Drive-Ins on Monday will have half-price cheeseburgers for St. Patrick's Day. Columbus has two Sonic Drive-Ins, one at 1916 Hwy. 45 N. and one at 221 Alabama St. 


Browning on Business is a weekly column that runs each Thursday. We want your input. Send items and tips to [email protected] or [email protected]


William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.


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