Business & Real Estate

Sacramento’s Mac the Antique Plumber becoming all-online enterprise

Bryan “Mac” McIntire is the owner of Mac the Antique Plumber with his wife, Suzanne McIntire. The business will be closing its shop on Elvas Avenue and transforming into an online business operating out of El Dorado County.
Bryan “Mac” McIntire is the owner of Mac the Antique Plumber with his wife, Suzanne McIntire. The business will be closing its shop on Elvas Avenue and transforming into an online business operating out of El Dorado County. apayne@sacbee.com

Tons of toilets, scores of sinks and loads of lighting fixtures.

That’s just part of what Bryan “Mac” McIntire has accumulated at his Mac the Antique Plumber store over nearly 40 years in Sacramento.

By summer’s end, the enormous collection of plumbing equipment, lighting supplies, hardware and home accessories needs to be moved or sold.

McIntire, the second-generation owner/operator of the sprawling 9,000-square-foot-plus business at 6325 Elvas Ave. – just across the railroad tracks bordering the western edge of California State University, Sacramento – is moving inventory up to his property in El Dorado County.

Before year’s end, he plans to be an all-online enterprise.

Running a brick-and-mortar plumbing and home fixtures store in these times is almost ‘Mission Impossible.’

Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert.

It’s a significant move for McIntire, 67, who has a love of antique plumbing equipment and is leaving a building he bought nearly a quarter-century ago.

Why now?

“To tell you the truth, it’s just getting harder and harder to be in retail and keep (the shop) going with all the expenses – payroll, building payments, workers comp, insurance,” McIntire said. “And yeah, it would be nice to have a little more free time to do some of the things I like to do.”

McIntire says he has a prospective buyer for his building, and he’s in the process of selling off merchandise that won’t be hauled to El Dorado County. There, McIntire says he plans to build a warehouse in Somerset, maybe 3,750 square feet with room to add on.

He might need some extra space. The Elvas Avenue store’s showroom is clean and thoughtfully laid out, with gleaming modern and antique items on display from floor to ceiling.

The merchandise includes clawfoot bathtubs, high tank and pillbox toilets, meticulously restored Victorian-era sinks, ornate chandeliers, lamps and hundreds of accessories. The showroom features some of McIntire’s handiwork, including pieces that have undergone polishing, plating, glass beading, lacquering and refinishing. Custom-designed sinks also are part of the mix.

It’s a mind-boggling display. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Doors at the back of the main showroom are the first entry ports to a seemingly endless labyrinth of rooms piled high with toilets, tubs, sinks, hardware and work rooms (for refinishing, fabrication, repairs and more). Drawers of antique doorknobs, faucet hardware, clawfoot tub legs, brass fixtures and specialized tools can be found in all corners.

Leon McIntire opened his first Mac the Antique Plumber store in 1979 on 57th Street, where son Bryan McIntire learned the ropes.

Oh, and there are the two drum sets that McIntire occasionally uncovers to hammer away, the better to work out some stress and take pleasure in his lifelong love of music.

A trip out back of the property reveals a sea of yet more tubs, sinks and toilets.

“Yeah, I know it’s a lot. I’ll move them or sell the things or both,” McIntire says with a chuckle and a shake of the head. “The transition is going to be tough.”

McIntire has some help, which includes his ever-efficient wife and accountant, Suzanne; his son, Jesse; and his nearly 30-year employee and friend Ken Boucher.

Back in the 1990s, the shop employed more than a dozen people, but McIntire explained that increasing competition from online sellers and big-name retailers has made for tough sledding in recent years.

“We have some good, longtime, loyal customers who come in, but it can be a long time between visits,” McIntire explained.

Customers include those who are restoring vintage homes or converting their contemporary homes to include antique fixtures. Operators of hotels and other lodgings likewise look to McIntire for hard-to-find fixtures and antique plumbing and lighting merchandise.

McIntire said what he will miss the most when the move is complete is “the meet and greet part, all the people we’ve met and known over the years. … A part of me is sad to see it happen.”

McIntire acknowledged that some of those bittersweet feelings are tied to closing a chapter on family history.

Bryan’s father, Leon “Mac” McIntire came to Sacramento in 1961, working as a regional sale representative for plumbing product manufacturers.

Years later, Leon McIntire decided to open his own shop featuring plumbing equipment, some of it of his own design. He also did equipment reproductions, upgrades and restorations, doing all of this out of his garage. Air bases and school systems became regular customers. So did folks seeking unique items to outfit their homes.

Eventually, the need for more space prompted Leon McIntire to open his first Mac the Antique Plumber store in 1979 on 57th Street, where the current 57th Street and Antique Design Center is now situated. It was there that Bryan McIntire learned the ropes of the business.

Suzanne McIntire recalled that father and son were known as “Big Mac” and “Little Mac.”

Leon McIntire died in 1987, leaving son Bryan to carry on the family business. In 1993 McIntire bought the building on the current Elvas Avenue site. Besides selling and shipping, his work in the industry includes two patents, including one for a unique-looking toilet with a round water tank.

McIntire says the long-term future of his business depends in large part on how deeply his son Jesse wants to immerse himself in it. Bryan McIntire rolls his eyes at the thought of moving tons of inventory in the next few months, but he says he’s “willing to deal” with customers who want to purchase items for sale.

Along that line, he said he plans a major yard sale. A currently ongoing “moving sale” includes a wide range of merchandise discounted from 15 percent to as high as 75 percent off.

He’s also covered his bases online. Besides the long-standing antiqueplumber.com website, McIntire is constructing modernplumber.com, featuring more-contemporary plumbing equipment and accessories.

McIntire says the current operation has customers “all across the country … and the world,” and he’s hopeful that those buyers will continue to look up his inventory online, perhaps luring new customers in the process. McIntire also insists that many of his plumbing products are superior to what buyers find in name-brand retail stores.

McIntire’s upcoming move to an all-web-based business model is a microcosm of what has happened to major retailers nationwide in recent years. Heavyweights such as Sears, Kmart and even Wal-Mart have been trimming back brick-and-mortar operations amid intense online competition from major players such as Amazon.com.

Retail ghosts of recent years include Borders Group, which once operated hundreds of stores offering books and music, but ceased operations in 2011. More recently, the Sports Authority sporting goods chain announced the closing of its stores amid collapsing finances.

“Running a brick-and-mortar plumbing and home fixtures store in these times is almost ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ” said Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert. “Not only are you competing against the big home-improvement chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s, but you have many online sites that allow consumers to focus in on their specific needs.

“Hopefully, the longtime Sacramento business has a well-established group of loyal customers, and from their website, it looks like they offer some unique products for specialty shoppers.”

Besides the two websites for antique and modern plumbing, more information on Mac the Antique Plumber can be obtained by calling 916-454-4507.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover

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