Founded to capitalize on the housing boat market, two entrepreneurs entered favorable seas a number of years back when asked if they could use the same material that went into boats to build bathtubs for mobile homes. The versatile material was fiberglass and it helped catapult the pair into the bathing fixture industry. Their company, Aqua Glass, begun in 1969, is now a premier supplier of luxury whirlpools, showers and steam units as well as an extensive collection of modular tubs and showers designed especially for remodelers and homebuilders. “They built up their capabilities and saw potential to make bathtubs out of fiberglass,” notes Marketing Manager Lisa Churchwell. It was a change in production that paid off for the company, which has experienced many successes through the years. Current milestones include an exclusive contract to supply bathing fixtures to Lowe’s nationwide. “Getting Lowe’s was big,” says Churchwell, adding the company started with Lowe’s in 1999 with test markets, then went nationwide in December 2003.
Needless to say, the company has grown by leaps and bounds. Located in Adamsville, Tenn., Aqua Glass is now owned by Masco Corporation, manufacturer of building, home improvement and home furnishings products, which has enjoyed an almost unprecedented growth record of more than 30 consecutive years. Aqua Glass began distributing its products on the West Coast in 1990, and by 1992 announced plans for a new 200,000-square-foot manufacturing/distribution facility in Klamath Falls, Ore. The center serves a 13 western-state area. Soon after, Aqua Glass opened a third plant, measuring 100,000 square feet, in McEwen, Tenn. to meet increasing demand and plan for future growth. Today, Aqua Glass has nearly one million square feet of facilities in Adamsville, and is one of the largest manufacturers of acrylic and gelcoat fiberglass. It serves a predominately residential market consisting of new single-family homes or remodeled homes across the country. As Churchwell reports: “The lion share of market is fiberglass and gelcoat; the industry as a whole is 45 percent gelcoat, and 11 percent acrylic.”
The bath and beyond
People who walk into Lowe’s wanting to either build or remodel a bathroom will be greeted with a range of products from Aqua Glass. Among its newest is a multi-piece unit designed specifically for remodelers. The multi-piece line also offers installation from the front, alleviating the hassle of having to get behind the unit to bolt it to the walls. Styles include a combination bathtub/shower in 60-, 48- or 36-inch shower units and 60-inch tub/shower combination. Available in two- and three-piece lightweight designs, these units are simple to maneuver and install in tight spaces and will bring a modernized appearance to a bathroom. Modular units also offer the option of a luxury whirlpool and/or steam shower, and can be customized with factory-installed Aqua Glass doors, dome lights and personal showers.
Another new product is a domeless acrylic unit built in response to customer feedback regarding a desire for more openness in shower and tub shower units. “We now have a complete domeless acrylic line,” Churchwell says, adding one advantage to builders is that the domeless version is easier to install. It is offered in a 60-inch tub and shower and 60-, 48- and 36-inch shower units. And for those seeking a more enclosed bathing experience, Aqua Glass has designed a domed unit that matches styles on the domeless line, but with additional height.
In addition, Aqua Glass’ domeless acrylic showers and tub showers boast a smooth, mildew resistant surface that wipes clean easily and maintains a like-new appearance for years to come. The domeless acrylic line is available in white, medium white, bone, dark bone and light gray, as well as designer colors. Each acrylic sheet is carefully selected for color matched consistency and uniform thickness to complete the look. Every unit offers a textured floor and ample storage space with shelves and soap holders.
Incidentally, Churchwell adds, as a company that takes its product seriously, Aqua Glass has done extensive research on the all-important number of shelves incorporated into each unit – the company’s baths and showers are all built with a “tremendous amount of shelving,” she notes, in response to surveys revealing that the average household stores 10 or more bottles in the shower/bath area.
A third new product is a body spray system, consisting of water jets installed in the wall of the home. Says Churchwell, this affords convenience to plumbers because of their resistance to drilling into expensive materials such as marble. “We’ve taken the modules and pre-plumbed them – it’s like a whirlpool with the jets already in place,” she adds. “You just hook up the water.” Developed in partnership with Delta Faucet and Hans Grohe, both Masco companies, the units offer amenities such as two- to six-body spray jets and a handheld shower nozzle option, high-end technology that offers a luxurious bath and shower experience, in high demand among consumers. Aqua Glass was also the first to incorporate Microban® antimicrobial product protection to fight the growth of stain and odor causing bacteria, mold and mildew.
The technology behind the construction of the fiberglass bath and shower units involves reinforcing the gelcoat surface with fiberglass and architectural foam, which adds rigidity to the unit and provides an important element for heat and sound insulation. Acrylic models are formed from a single sheet of acrylic that is heated and then literally vacuum molded, and consequently supported with fiberglass foam. “Acrylic sheet is a lot thicker, durable, and easier to keep clean,” she explains.
With a mounting trend toward more upright whirlpools with soaker features, Aqua Glass is currently bathing in a sea of success. But it is not just product that keeps the company at the top of its game. The construction of state-of-the-art bathroom systems would mean nothing without a top-notch customer service program. Adds Churchwell: “We’ve seen steady growth and I believe the quality of our products set us a part in areas such as service after sale. We stand behind our products and we take care of our customers.”