13th June, 2012
In the lucrative bottled water industry having a good brand is the key to success. After all, for many consumers one bottle of water tastes much the same as another, so turning your brand into something they want to buy is the key to making a profit.
Add to this the difficulty of advertising bottled water and you have a quandary. How do you make your bottled water stick out from the competition?
PICTURES: Courtesy of Thankyou Water
"For every bottle of Thankyou Water sold the company manages to secure a month worth of safe drinking water for someone in Cambodia, Kenya or Uganda."
For some businesses, the answer is linking their water to a charitable cause. Mt Franklin has a partnership with the McGrath Foundation and Coolridge supports Movember. But, for the team at Thankyou Water, supporting a charity for a month each year isn’t going far enough.
"If you went shopping for bottled water and had a choice between Mt Franklin or a Thankyou Water and you didn’t know about much about either brand, you’d probably buy Mt Franklin because it’s a safe choice"’ says Jarryd Burns, one of the company’s directors.
"But if you knew what Thankyou Water does it’s a simple choice - why wouldn’t you buy it?"
So what makes Thankyou Water different from other bottled water companies?
Its overall goal is the same as any of its competitors, sell as much bottled water as possible. But any money you spend on Thankyou Water isn’t going to line the pockets of Jarryd and his colleagues.
"One hundred per cent of our profit goes to putting wells over in Africa and Cambodia," says Jarryd.
In fact, for every bottle of Thankyou Water sold the company manages to secure a month worth of safe drinking water for someone in Cambodia, Kenya or Uganda.
The business had its start when founder Daniel Flynn learnt that Australians spend more than $600 million on bottled water each year, but nearly 900 million people have no access to safe drinking water at all.
When Daniel came to Jarryd - two Christian friends who had met at church - with the idea of selling bottled water to fund water projects overseas, he jumped at the idea.
"I was really impacted when I learnt about the world water crisis," he says. "Two million people die every year because they don’t have access to clean water and most of them are kids."
Having this cause attached to their brand has seen Thankyou Water jump into mainstream consciousness over the past year. Now - with nearly 2.2 million bottles sold, spots on Sunrise and The Project and more than 2,200 stockists around the country - Thankyou Water is becoming increasingly successful.
"Last year we gave $46,000 for the whole year. This year, from January to March, we’ve already given $50,000," says Jarryd. "We have about $60,000 to give for the next quarter."
This has allowed the company to finance 19 projects in developing countries, helping dig wells and install bio-sand filters to provide potable water and security for more than 9,000 people.
While it is an elegant concept, and tremendously generous, it’s not a business that many people would have attempted to start. The bottled water market, while tremendously profitable, isn’t a forgiving place.
"It was a rollercoaster ride for a while," admits Jarryd.
"It’s been a big learning curve. You start out and you think it’s going to be all roses and the bottles are going to be flying off the shelves. Then you hit the real business world. The bottled water industry is one of the most competitive markets we could have chosen to go into."
The group had trouble finding bottlers and distributors who would take a group of 20-somethings seriously. On top of this, Thankyou Water launched in the midst of the global financial crisis.
"We had distributors go bankrupt on us, suppliers just not produce for us anymore and we went from having 350 stockists to 50 stockists in a matter of two or three weeks."
Most companies would have gone under, but the team from Thankyou Water simply put their heads down and worked harder. To make ends meets, Jarryd and his colleagues ran the business as volunteers, working part-time jobs on top of their commitments to Thankyou Water.
Jarryd Burns and Dan Flynn
"I was working night shift," says Jarryd. "I’d work two or three night shifts each week, out on the roads doing traffic control. I’d get home at five in the morning, get into the office at nine and work all day, and then go and repeat the process."
Fortunately, their faith and their passion for helping people without access to water saw dividends from the start, and have helped them get through.
"Early on we met with a few different factories to make the bottle," Jarryd recalls. "We never really shared the vision of Thankyou Water until we went to one factory and when the man there said, 'I’ve been in the industry 20 years and I’ve never heard anything like this before, this is the greatest thing ever.'"
When they took their concept to one of the biggest beverage distribution companies in the country, they found similar success.
"We went in for a 10 minute pitch and came out an hour-and-a-half later with our first order for 50,000 bottles", says Jarryd.
For Jarryd, whose first steps into the world of business involved selling Coke cans out of his locker at high school, it’s a uniquely rewarding job.
"It was a hard slog at the start, but now we’re actually making a difference. I had the opportunity to visit Cambodia last year to see the results of some of our projects. To really see the difference over there was just phenomenal.
"Playing soccer with some of the local kids, it really hit me that they don’t have to worry about water anymore. They don’t need to worry about waterborne diseases, or what could happen to them if they had to go outside of their village to collect water. It was something that really hit home and showed that it was really worth it.
"I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else."
This article was first published in the Salvation Army magazine, Warcry.