Make it a Kiowata on the Rocks, Please
Water in the southwestern Clay County town of Longford has long been boasted as some of the best in Kansas. Now it is helping sustain this community of 89 people.
The Longford Water Company, established for the purpose of bottling and selling the local water, opened in May 2005. The water is bottled and marketed as Kiowata, a name taken from the Kiowa Formation of underground rocks that naturally filter the product. The business purchases the water from the city.
The only thing we have to do is remove the chlorine from the water supply and then it goes into a 1,000 gallon holding tank,” Manager Kim Kramer explains. “All we add back to the water is the ozonation, which takes out bacteria.”
This is in contrast to the reverse osmosis process that occurs in most bottled waters. In addition, no water softeners are necessary. Water hardness is determined by the amount of calcium and magnesium in a sample. Longford Water has a hardness level of only 43 parts per million while typical water in Kansas ranges from 250 to 300 parts per million.
Approximately 20 investors formed Longford Water Company, LLC and financed the entire project through private funds. The husband and wife team of Kim and Wava Kramer manage the business. The couple ran the local Coachlight Cafe for 18 years and has each served on city council at different times.
“We wanted to sell it as an LLC so other investors from the community could get involved,” Kim says. “We recognized the need for community support and we didn’t have a bit of trouble getting investors.”
Although business started slow, it has grown significantly. The couple credits that growth with finding a niche in private labeling for schools, churches, events and businesses.
Water is delivered within an approximately 50-mile radius of the community, although privately labeled water extends beyond that distribution area. One challenge has been slotting fees in grocery stores where businesses essentially pay for shelf space or to have a store warehouse their product. Exclusive contracts that many schools and stores have with large bottling companies are another challenge. Many of the large companies provide coolers to stores for exclusive use with their products, which limits where Kiowata can be sold or placed. Providing coolers solely for Kiowata does not appear feasible at this point.
“Delivery is an obstacle as well as cooler space for businesses,” Kim says. “We want to grow into more markets and be in more stores, but we want to do that in a proper fashion.”
It took about 18 months from the time of the idea to the first bottling of water. The current plant is manually operated, but there are plans to expand to an automated system.
Although there are challenges, there are also rewards such as seeing the business grow. “Not knowing how it might take off, we wanted to start slow,” Kim explains. “They said it would take two to three years to be profitable, but we’re trying to achieve that in one year.”
Wava says one of the biggest rewards for her came following Hurricane Katrina when they sent a semi-load of water for relief efforts. People from the community donated money and labor to send more than 27,000 bottles of water to the devastated areas. Community members volunteering to help bottle water not only helped the business complete the shipment faster but also gave the community a greater appreciation for the business.
“It was quite a blessing,” Wava says. “We even have money left to send more water.”
Freight was a concern to send that much water that far, but TSI Trucking from Clay Center found out about the effort and donated the original shipment. The Orphan Grain Train of Nebraska is hauling the rest of the water.
“After all of that I had a call from a guy in South Carolina inquiring about a private label,” Wava says. “He had tasted our water at a Biloxi, Mississippi, work site following the hurricanes and he said it was the best water he ever had.”
Another highlight was receiving a Building Better Communities Award after being nominated by Congressman Jerry Moran. The award recognizes Longford Water Company, LLC as a success story in Rural America.
“That came about basically from a listening tour that Congressman Moran did in our area,” Wava explains. “He talked about communities needing to do things on their own without government assistance. This project took his advice, was financed completely through private funds, and he recognized us with an award.”
One could also say the Kramer’s have kept the water business in the family. Wava’s father, Frankie Mullin, used to deliver water to the rural area residents in the ‘60s and ‘70s before the rural water district was constructed.
“He’d be thrilled to know about this business,” Wava says.
For more information about Kiowata or to inquire about a private label, visit www.kiowata.com.