Bottled Water Entrepreneur The Buzz


Bottled water entrepreneurs have become the milkmen of the 21st century. They arrive at your home or office and deliver bottles of one of nature's healthiest beverages: water.

Bottled water has become big business in North America. That's according to Stephen Kay. He is the vice-president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

Kay says bottled water entrepreneurs must comply with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Standard of Identity. It sets rules for how types of bottled water are identified and labeled.

Most experts agree that the distribution segment of the industry is the easiest place for an entrepreneur to do business.

James Stevens is with a consulting company in Atlanta. The company does consulting primarily for the beverage industry in the areas of sales, marketing, distribution, company valuations and new business opportunities.

Stevens says home and office delivery of large bottles of water -- the five-gallon variety -- is one area in the bottled water industry where there is opportunity for self-employment. Known as distributors, these people set up an agreement with a bottled water company to sell their product. Then they solicit customers who want the product delivered. The distributor also is in charge of the delivery.

"Someone that is good at servicing customers really has a good opportunity," says Stevens. "Even though there are lots of large companies competing with them, what these people find is that service really keeps the customer."

There are several things individuals need to think about before choosing this career:

  • Are you qualified to drive a truck? Distribution goes well beyond taking orders, Stevens points out. The ability to drive a truck is critical.
  • Are you a people person? Service is also a key factor in this business. "The small distributors still maintain a good relationship with their customers," Stevens says. "It's sort of like the old milkman used to be."
  • Do you have a background that fits in with this type of self-employment? Stevens suggests working three to five years in a similar field, such as selling and delivering soft drinks.

Stevens adds that there are two ways to secure distribution rights:

  1. Buy a larger company's product and deliver it in territories the large companies aren't selling in.
  2. Find a smaller producer of spring water and get distributorship rights in the area where the product is bottled.

Stevens warns that it is very difficult for an entrepreneur to work in the retail segment of the business, selling a product to stores. "It is highly competitive. Pricing structure just doesn't allow much room for an entrepreneur to do business," he says.

Robertson suggests that those thinking about entering this industry contact their country's bottled water association. In the United States, that's the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

The organization holds an annual convention where entrepreneurs can network and gain valuable information. Kay says the IBWA offers an 800 number, which provides information and services for start-up businesses.

He also notes that the service and supply segment of the industry offers good self-employment opportunities.

"It is a multifaceted industry," Kay says. "A science and technological background, a business background, a marketing and sales background are all directly applicable to the industry. Logistics management, transportation management and transportation, that is all applicable."

Elisabeth Griswold is the executive director of a bottled water association. She says she would advise people thinking about this industry to get in touch with as many people already in the business as possible.

"Certainly, calling the [national] association and getting the basic information and basic guidance is advisable," she says. "And if they find the association offers assistance, and they feel they need the assistance, membership would be justified."

Beyond the service end of the industry, there are a few other areas where the self-employed individual might make their mark.

"Independent people might come up with new designs for labeling," Arthur von Wiesenberger says. He is the founder of BottledWaterWeb.com.

"Another booming business is hardware. The coolers used in the United States are way behind those used in Europe....They haven't changed much in years. There is a whole new world of possibilities out there for someone who wants to create a new shell to go around the product."

Links

International Bottled Water Association
Membership includes bottlers, distributors and suppliers from this country and around the world

Bottled Water Web
Includes articles, statistics, marketing information, regulations and resources for the bottled water industry

WaterBank
A website for the trading of water assets and new water technology