Uncommon water: Bottled beverage company looking to make a splashPublished 6:11pm Tuesday, April 2, 2013
—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.
Few people get as jazzed about something as simple as water as Kevin Binkley.
The CEO and one of several co-owners of Artesian Well in LeRoy is fascinated by it, especially the stuff that’s right under his feet.
“How the water was found here is an awesome story,” Binkley said as he sat in the lobby among display cases of Artesian Fresh water bottles. “But it wasn’t me.”
In 2004, a farmer built a house on the property and while drilling the well, he struck an aquifer. Water shot into the air like a geyser, and a business of naturally pure water was born.
Binkley and the other owners acquired the business in March 2012 and have big plans to market the water, expand their customer base and to make sure people know they exist. Why they exist and why their water is superior, Binkley said, is the message he wants to deliver.
Almost every bottle on a store shelf, Binkley says over and over, is inferior.
“Almost all of the water you buy and drink is essentially filtered tap water,” he said.
However, he swears, the water underneath the large metal building south of LeRoy is of the most virgin sort in the world.
“This water hits the atmosphere when the user pops the top and opens the bottle,” Binkley said. “This water has been sealed forever in an aquifer.”
Artesian wells aren’t common, and that’s why Binkley jumped at the business opportunity. The uniqueness, the potential, the implicit quality: All of those aspects pry at him. The whole process — water coming from the ground and going out the door in a bottle — still fascinates Binkley after a year. The man is giddy about it.
Inside a corner of the warehouse, water rises into the building at the earth’s discretion. There are no pumps. A steady stream of water spills into a drain in the floor. That way, the water won’t sit in the lines and become stagnant.
“Then we would have water sitting in pipes,” Binkley said about what would happen if they capped the flow. “I don’t want to drink that water.”
As a precaution, the naturally pure water still passes through UV and mechanical filters before it is routed to the bottling area of the building, where Artesian Well blows and forms its own bottles out of small, plastic vials.
“It goes, ‘poof,’ and there’s your bottle,” Binkley illustrated as he meandered throughout the warehouse and showed the machines.
The bottles travel along a conveyor, through a filling room, where they are rinsed upside down and filled with the pure water. Then they are sealed, labeled, shrink-wrapped and placed on pallets, ready to go to their customers.
Binkley and his nine employees are proud of it.
“Now that I am general manager, I just love the ins and outs of it,” said Gerald Payne. “We have great employees and great companies we work with.”
Yet Binkley knows the company can do better, and he and Payne are ready to expand their marketing.
“We believe that most people in Rochester and Austin don’t know that we exist,” Binkley said.
That’s why Binkley wants to land at least 100 more local accounts and drill the public with a marketing campaign in 2013.
“I think I want to communicate to people what they don’t know,” he said. “They don’t realize the quality of product we offer.”
Thus far, Artesian Well has a distributor in Atlanta and several local buyers, such as small-town grocery stores and gas stations. It also custom prints labels and bottles cases for insurance companies, graduations, town celebrations and more. A host of its examples sits proudly in a display case in the front of the lobby. Other businesses buy cases for their employees, which was clearly indicated by Binkley’s enthusiasm when the afternoon call came from a client.
“Viking is out,” Binkley shouted at Payne. “I took them five cases yesterday!”
Meanwhile, rows and columns of pallets sit in staging, waiting to be loaded on a truck for their weekly shipments — but that’s not enough. Binkley has big plans for 2013: 2 million bottles.