Bath in Wood of Maine makes exquisite luxury wooden bathtubs using boat-building techniques. Founders Steve and Miranda Batiste offer the ultimate in hand-craftsmanship: Each mahogany bathtub is custom made and finished with a 14-coat process that requires rubbing on polyurethane gel with cotton pads. Selling high-end niche products like these requires targeting a specific type of customer and insisting on astronomical prices.
The Batistes started the business when their idyllic seaside retirement with their two daughters on Swan’s Island, Maine, was cut short by the economic crash. To earn a living, the pair started a business using skills they had honed over decades. Before moving to Maine, they had run their own marketing services business in the United Kingdom and restored old wooden sailing boats as a hobby.
“If that economic crash had an upside — which is debatable — it was the genesis of a lot of craft-based businesses,” says Steve Batiste. “In our case, the most compelling rationale was that as part-time wooden boat builders, we knew how to build wooden bathtubs.”
Their biggest hurdle to starting up the venture was devising a way of sealing the tubs that would be entirely waterproof and long lasting but also beautiful. They experimented for more than a year before settling on the perfect system.
“We call it DeepSeal Finish and it is the secret of our success,” says Batiste.
With a good design and trusted finishing procedure in hand, they engaged a web designer to build a professional website. Batiste identifies the website as their other key investment, along with finding the right finish for the tubs. The website has been a gateway for almost all of their sales.
The couple contacted the very highest-end architects and interior designers who would most likely be interested in one-of-a-kind, handmade, artisan products. Their business model calls for building a relatively small number of units with a net profit margin of at least 50 percent, including proper accounting for their time. This means that most of their tubs are custom made, and the cheapest of their products, a simple, ready-made option, costs $7,750.
“In a small, craft-based business it is very easy to rob yourself blind by not charging enough for your actual time,” says Batiste. “If your product cannot sell at the resulting price, it’s the wrong product.”
Steve Batiste worked full time at Home Depot for two years while they grew the business to viability, then they got a seven-year business development bank loan of $80,000, secured by their property. They used the loan, which is now more than half paid off, to improve their workshop and purchase higher-quality tools.
“The advice I would have for artisan business owners is to be relentlessly realistic, while maintaining confidence in your skills and your product,” says Batiste. “That will provide the necessary charge of optimism you absolutely have to have.”