A water company like Pine Mountain Springs Inc., based in Wilmington, Del., might seem an unlikely candidate for an operation profile in Automatic Merchandiser, but its savvy addition of office coffee service, and continued pairing of the two services, has created a successful company. Of its 4,000 customers, 70 percent are commercial locations which purchase both water and coffee services, noted Renee Ridenour, president and owner of the company.
Ridenour added coffee service three years after starting the business when one of her water locations requested it. She considers it a great move.
“Coffee is fun,” said Ridenour. “It’s all about making the customer feel like a king.” She loves going into a location and finding the right mix of equipment and coffee that will increase employee morale, whether that’s a reliable Newco, Keurig single-cup or Tassimo premium drink brewer. But she’s never forgotten her beginning, and water continues to be an important part of her business in both 5-gallon water coolers and point-of-use filtration units.
Water business born of necessity
In 1994, Ridenour was working in another industry. In her spare time, she helped keep the books for her then boyfriend, now husband, Tom, who was a commissioned salesperson selling 5-gallon water coolers for a small spring water company. While Tom was successful, many coolers waiting for locations found their way into their living room.
“They were the ugly, old, metal, brown, water coolers,” Renee Ridenour remembered. “I started a water business in self defense…so I could get my pristine living room back.” In June, she started Pine Mountain Springs and found locations for all the coolers.
In 1997, a water customer asked her if she offered coffee because they were unhappy with their OCS provider. Ridenour decided to try it, and she still has that same customer today.
“They (water and coffee) are great companion services,” said Ridenour. She realized right away that by adding coffee service, she sold more water, since most of the coffee is made with filtered or bottled water. Ridenour noted that run-off water from farms in rural Delaware and the naturally occurring sulfur in water reservoirs makes filtered water or spring water a high priority in her area.
In 2005, the customer who had suggested OCS to Ridenour encouraged her to expand into vending. She tried it, and while it was successful, a number of factors convinced her to sell that portion of the business in 2008. First, she noticed a lot of consolidation among companies in the area. Then her residential water customers started to diminish. Both were signs of a crumbling economy. She was also diagnosed with breast cancer. She and her husband were unsure how her treatments would go and decided to stick to the services they knew best. “Plus, I never liked getting a call from that irate customer on Saturday who lost 50 cents in a machine,” Ridenour said.
Ridenour has since recovered from the cancer treatments and considers herself cured.
Division of labor
Ridenour handles the marketing, advertising, Website, and anything that plugs into the computer. She also does the product and equipment sourcing and looks after the purchasing. Her husband, Tom, is the service department, manages the drivers, installs equipment, and orders inventory.
While they once had a few more employees, cutbacks during the recession and more efficient use of computer systems forced the elimination of some positions. However, business is back sufficiently that Ridenour is building another route and planning to hire a new driver this fall.
Customers want water
Pine Mountain Springs still offers the traditional 5-gallon water coolers. While Ridenour has noticed a trend towards filtration at offices, this summer she actually saw a reversal. “It (5-gallon water sales) has gone down every month for the last couple years, but the last three months have seen an increase,” said Ridenour. It’s too soon to tell if this trend will continue, but 5-gallon water is still strong.