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Springing into action

John Seelmeyer

Compared to the giants in the bottled-water business Nestle, Coca-Cola and the like Reno’s Red Rock Spring Water is so tiny that it’s nearly invisible.

A 2,000-gallon potable water truck hauls loads from the company’s spring near Red Rock down to its 5,000-square-foot filtration and bottling plant in Sparks.

An employee one of two part-timers who joined co-owners Dan and Kelly Matteson fills retail-sized bottles and applies labels by hand.

Dan Matteson himself drives some of the routes to deliver three- and five-gallon bottles to residential and commercial accounts.

But the tiny size of Red Rock Spring Water also creates a market niche, says Matteson, who purchased the three-year-old company in June from founders Cal and LaVerne Leverett.

The company, for instance, does a fair amount of business creating private-label water for retailers or companies that want to hand out customized bottles to visitors.

In fact, Matteson says, the company handles orders as small as three cases of custom-labeled boxes for weddings or other events.

On the commercial side of the business, which accounts for about 60 percent of Red Rock Spring Water’s sales, the company’s size allows it to develop close relations with its customers.

One recent day, for instance, Matteson went out of his way to deliver about $10 worth of bottled water to a new customer in Fernley, 30 miles east of Red Rock Spring Water’s office. He was headed to Fernley anyway to visit a big industrial customer and tossed a couple of bottles for the residential customer into the back of his car.

But Matteson, a one-time English teacher who developed “Residence Magazine” in Reno before selling it this year, isn’t content to keep Red Rock Spring Water tiny.

His goal: Double the client base by next summer, then double it again by 2009.

“We’re already halfway there,” he says of the first-year goal.

Getting there, Matteson says, doesn’t require a sophisticated business strategy. But it does demand a steady drumbeat of sales calls at the businesses and homes that might buy the big bottles and the retailers and offices that are the market for custom-labeled water.

He figures to get a boost as well from programs to reward current customers who refer their friends.

The company has plenty of room to grow production.

When water arrives from the spring north of Reno, it’s filtered, purified with ultraviolet light and ozonated.

When it’s time to fill large bottles, Matteson leaves his desk to lend a hand. Small bottles are filled from a set of spigots that look something like the soda dispenser in a fast-food place. A part-time worker fills 24 bottles in 90 seconds and labels them in another three minutes.

Matteson learned of Red Rock Spring Water during his publishing days, when he was a customer of the water company.

As he learned more about it, he liked the business model.

“Once you own the water rights, the raw material is paid for,” he says.

On the other hand, the possibility that the spring might someday dry up occasionally gives Matteson a fretful moment. So far, it appears to have been flowing strongly for more than 150 years.

A more immediate concern has been the seasonal dip in water consumption as the cool days of autumn succeed the thirsty heat of summer.

But those worries, he says, generally are offset by the satisfaction of owning a business.

“We really enjoy the idea that we control our destiny,” he says.