Bottling Business Success in Bellaire

Bringing Northern Michigan’s natural resources to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner is generating business success to a company in Antrim County.

Nate Rook of Bellaire Water Co. is rapidly building his business by bottling high-quality water from an artisan well at the company, and handling the product in an environmentally responsible manner by offering customers a 5-cent refund on the plastic bottles that are returned.

Michigan has long had a 10-cent bottle and can deposit law for carbonated beverages sold in the state, but the deposit law does not apply to non-carbonated drinks including bottled water. Rook eyed a different business model for his company when he decided to offer a bottle return to encourage customers to recycle used bottles to keep them out of the waste stream or elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of water bottles ending up in the lakes, rivers and landfills…it seemed like we wanted to handle it differently,” he said. “We’re trying to incentivize people to recycle…we can still make money, even with the 5-cent return program.”

Rook launched his business about a year ago. A $10,000 loan from Venture North’s Sub Micro Loan Fund developed with Fifth Third Bank helped him with start-up costs including purchasing bottles, labels and to help with shipping costs. It’s not a large loan by Venture North’s standards, but Rook says it made all the difference in helping his company get off the ground.

“It really got us going in the right direction,” he said. “Without that, we wouldn’t be open yet.”

Rook’s company has grown to four full-time employees and four part-time staff in just the first year. A second water well was drilled a few weeks ago to supplement the artisan spring to bolster production. He said the company is selling about 10,000 bottles per week, and the expanded capacity will enable production to grow to about 20,000 bottles weekly.

His strong first-year growth is tied to the support from businesses and consumers in the Bellaire area, and he’s continuing to expand his distribution into more stores in Northwest Michigan.

“I attribute a lot of it to the community of Bellaire,” he said. “The local businesses are really what’s got us going.”

Learn more about Venture North’s Sub Micro Loan Fund.