Bottled Rain
American Way – May 2003
By: Richard A. Marini

Think far outside the box and put your energy into something you believe in. You might call it Entrepreneur 101.

The arid hills west of Austin, Texas, might seem an unlikely place to start a rainwater bottling company. But entreprenuers often take root in inhospitable soil, and this is where Richard Heinichen started bottling his “fresh-squeezed cloud juice,” which he named, simply, Rainwater.

He did other things right, too, acording to Larry W. Cox, director of research at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which promotes entreprenuership.

In retrospect, bottling rainwater makes perfect sense, especially in central Texas where many homeowners depend of wells for drinking water. “Around here, well water tastes like sulfur. A lot of people turn to rainwater,” says Heinichen. “It’s clean, odorless, and tasteless.”

But the idea of rainwater didn’t occur to Heinichen until one scorching day when he drank up his supply while on a job. Rather than buy regular bottled water, he drove an hour home to refill from his own cictern. “That’s when I knew that if I could get people to try it, there’d be demand for bottled rainwater.”

Because he’s such an evangelist for bottled rainwater, Heinichen says he’s the best person to sell it – even though he concedes that he’s not the word’s greatest salesperson (I’m an artist,” he explains. “I don’t like rejection.”)

Heinichen doesn’t advertise. He relies on word of mouth. Visitors can’t leave his office without carrying home a free sample. Also, he started small, convincing friends who run the Austin Zoo and a nearby barbecue joint to carry his water. As word spread, two local supermarket chains picked it up. Drinking bottled rainwater apparently appealed to Austin’s progressive mentality.

“Now stores are calling and asking to sell it,” says Heinichen. “I’ve even got several distributers who carry it in their lines.”

Although Heinichen knows enough about home rainwater systems to have produced a book and video, when the time came to build a commercial bottling operation, he hired one of the country’s leading environmental engineering and consulting firms. What’s ironic, he says, is that the firm didn’t make any changes on the prefiltration side of the process.

“Rainwater is cleaner than springwater,” he explains. “So they only had to do some work on the bottling side. But having their name attached to the project helped us get the approval we needed from state and federal angecies.”

Heinichen hopes to eventually franchise the rainwater-bottling concept, which he says can be financially viable in any area that gets at least 32 inches of rainfall annually.