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RETAILERS ON THE MOVE: The source of life

Sixteen years ago, Don and Lani Dolifka noticed a warning on their water bill. It said the water in their community had been declared unsafe for pregnant women and infants. This unsettling news prompted the Dolifkas to take action. Working from their garage, they began providing neighbors with clean, safe drinking water.

Today, this formerly home-based business serves an average of 90,000 customers per day. Watermill Express is now the nation's largest drive-up provider of pure, affordable drinking water. It operates 900 locations in 10 states.

These blue-and-white retail units, which dispense water 24 hours a day, seven days a week, resemble Dutch windmills and occupy an area no larger than one parking space. Inside each unit is a comprehensive 8-stage water purification system, serviced and sanitized daily by trained technicians. Watermill Express supplements this personal service with a sophisticated computer monitoring system designed to ensure water quality.

By advertising these quality control measures, the privately held company maintains strong customer confidence. It reinforces this through its Freshness Guarantee customer loyalty program and by posting a “1-800” number for customer feedback at every location.

Typically, Watermill Express units are located in the parking lots of grocery-anchored centers or corner lots in neighborhood centers. They may also be found in landscaped areas away from major traffic flow. The drive-up water-vending facilities enable customers to get pure drinking water in 1-gallon increments for approximately 25 cents.

The footprint for one structure is about 206 sq. ft. and includes extra footage for a perimeter sidewalk and a buffer zone. Watermill Express pays the entire expense for the unit — including installation and maintenance — while also paying rent to the landlord. The chain supports its locations through on-site Grand Openings and customer appreciation events, as well as newspaper, radio, television, outdoor and community events.

Rising demand

Demand for safe and affordable drinking water continues to grow, and the chain plans 100 new sites for 2002.

Consistent quality makes Watermill Express unique, says Darin Whittington, executive vice president for development. “What really sets us apart is that we service our units every day,” he says.

Environmentally conscious consumers also like the way Watermill Express reduces waste. By using their own clean containers, Watermill Express customers prevent the use of more than 60,000 1-gallon containers per day.

Convenience is yet another edge the company has over its competitors, Whittington says. “Our customers can drive right up to a Watermill Express facility and swiftly make their water purchase.”

Whittington cites a recent survey showing each Watermill Express location averages approximately 100 customers per day. More research indicates 34% of those customers never set foot in the shopping center prior to the company's presence.

Contact: Darin Whittington, executive vice president of development, 303.659.1573, (F) 303.659.1635.

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