- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Sanderson Plumbing Products, which built the first soft vinyl toilet seat in the world in 1975, has fallen on hard times.

The Columbus business tells The Commercial Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1pi2W6G) it will shut down at the end of April if no buyer can be found.

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.

Sanderson Plumbing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 30.

Tom Whitaker, CEO of Beneke Magnolia bought the company in 2012, said there aren’t too many people in Columbus who do not have some connection to the business, which has operated in the city since 1940.

Whitaker said the shutdown is a result of overseas competitors. He said major retailers now purchase from those overseas suppliers directly.

If no one buys the business, Whitaker said an auction becomes a possibility.

He said Sanderson Plumbing wants a buyer for both the Columbus and Butler, Ala., plants. The Butler plant, which produced woodflour plastic, closed two years ago.

A shutdown would leave the state as owner of the company’s 360,000 square-foot building.

The Mississippi Development Authorities says Sanderson still owes about $2.225 million on a 2012 loan of $2.5 million.

Sanderson Plumbing Products was founded in Chicago as Findeisen-Kropf in 1883. Henry Beneke Sr. bought the business in 1923, and changed the company name to Beneke. In 1954, Beneke developed a process for molding wood seats out of sawdust by combining the once discarded wood waste with resin under intense heat and pressure. The product was trademarked as “Tuffy.”

At the same time, the company entered plastic manufacturing - producing plastic and vinyl bathroom seats.

As recently as 1999, Sanderson produced an average one million toilet seats a month and employed 900 people. Roughly 100,000 toilet seats a month are now made at the Columbus plant.

Sanderson also has a variety of U.S.-based and internationally-based design and utility patents on plumbing implements, connectors and brackets.

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