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Local small biz quenches community's thirst
Photos and Story by James Hill
PORTLAND, Ore. – When Bill Kendrix (northeast Portland) retired from his 30-year stint with the Portland Fire Department, he found himself using an essential element from his work as a firefighter with his new business. Kendrix started Nia Water, a bottled water company to “quench your soul.”
The light bulb for his three-year-old venture came about with a trip to his home state of Arkansas and a visit to Hot Springs.
“They have lots of spas and take pride in the fresh water and people fill their containers for free,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Why can’t I take some of this water back to Oregon? Wait a minute. Oregon has wonderful water.’”
With that idea, Kendrix began a search for Oregon bottlers, labelers and mountain spring water. Nia Water, with its colorful logo reflecting the African culture, provides five-gallon bottles and dispensers for homes and offices. They provide the maintenance and delivery, beverage catering, beverage stations for special events, and sales of individual cases of half-liter bottled water.
Bill and his wife Kathy work side-by-side promoting and growing Nia Water Sales and Service, along with her own business, the Empowerment Group. Established in 1991, she provides speakers and trainers for conferences and special events as well as consulting and media planning.
“Our businesses complement one another,” Bill said. “Kathy has expertise in marketing and promoting, where I focus on operations – production, delivery and service.”
Both are recent graduates of the Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) small business management program at Portland Community College, administered by Director of Education Jackie Babicky-Peterson.
In 2005, it was Jim Francesconi (former city commissioner in charge of the fire department) who led Kendrix to the SBDC and Babicky-Peterson. Later that year, the turning point came when a big bottler pulled out of the World Beat Festival in Salem. Nia Water stepped in and delivered 17,000 bottled waters to the festival. But first, Kendrix ran the numbers with his SBDC counselor, Babicky-Peterson.
“I wrote down figures, talked to Jackie, and went ahead and did it,” he said. “(I learned that) I can deliver and do big business like that.”
Last summer, he expanded his service to include five gallon bottles, which increased his client base.
“That came out of the class (SBDC), diversifying your product,” said Kendrix.
Cleophas Limrick, owner of R. J. & Company Property Maintenance, has been a Nia client for several months. Limrick heard of Nia through an event at the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (OAME).
“We were using another competitor for our five gallon dispenser and I can say that definitely the prices are better and the service is a lot better,” said Limrick. “Bill is just a great guy.”
Kendrix estimates a 10 percent per year increase in sales and says the company is slowly evolving. Long range, his goal is doing his own bottling.
“It takes a lot more patience and time to get to the same level (with a small business), but it motivates you to be more diligent and to operate a business like a business,” said Kendrix.
Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon, serving approximately 88,200 full- and part-time students. For more PCC news, please visit us on the Web at www.pcc.edu/news. PCC has three comprehensive campuses, five workforce training and education centers, and 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.