Steven Nickolas: President & CEO of The Alkaline Water Company

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Mr. Nickolas has over 37 years of international and domestic management experience in the beverage and food science industries. He started his career with Anheuser Busch in Southern California in 1973, later opening in 1980, the first bottled water company in the state of Hawaii.

Between 1981 and 1990, developed bottled water companies globally including Hawaii, Micronesia, Indonesia, Philippines, Israel, Egypt and Germany as well as several companies in North America. He founded Apani Bottled Water in Phoenix, Arizona in 1990, becoming the first bottled water company licensed by the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. In 1998 he founded Bottled Water Images, Inc., becoming the first bottled water company licensed by all major Hollywood studios, including Sony, Universal, Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Brothers and Marvel Comics.

How did you get into the industry?

After moving to Maui, Hawaii in 1978, I began a self-improvement program that included a raw food vegetarian diet. One of the main pillars of a healthy diet is pure water. As a result, I became very interested in the water I drank and realized that Hawaii had no bottled water companies. My partner, Michael, and I set out to make one, which we started in a World War II Quonset Hut.

Any emerging industry trends?

I have been noticing since the late 70s that consumers were moving to bottled water. So, I have taken advantage of this trend for the last 36 years and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The trend has grown at double digits for the last 35 years and will soon surpass soda consumption. I do not see anything that would slow down or impair the continued growth of bottled water.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Bottled water has tended to go through a number of different cycles incorporating such things as sparkling water, flavored water, and a variety of “good for you” waters. The problem with all of these sub-trends is that they tend to run on a 2-4 year cycle and then often slow down or level off substantially. The only type of bottled water that grows consistently year after year is flavorless, still water. That is because of the universal acceptance of a tasteless product.

The trend towards scientifically produced water is greatly outpacing natural waters and will continue to do so long into the future. Alkaline water, when made using electrolysis, is a far superior water in taste, hydration, and positive effects on the body. I predict that alkaline water will eventually become the dominant still water category of the future.

Inspiration for Alkaline88, and your vision for it?

The inspiration for Alkaline88 came when I saw the popularity of the alkaline diet and the benefits of an alkaline diet resonating amongst the general public. It was clear that consumers would not only become familiar with alkaline water but would seek it out in the most convenient stores in which they shop. As a result, Alkaine88 bypassed the health food category and offered its unique products to grocery and mass retail where they have been enthusiastically received by the average consumer.

When talking about the future of alkaline water, one must immediately distinguish between naturally alkaline, buffered alkaline, “chemical”, and electrolysis produced. Only electrolysis water has the potential to rise as a dominant category in the next 20 and 30 years.

What's next for Alkaline88 in the near future?

We are currently completing our national manufacturing network, which will give us a significant logistical advantage over our competitors.

Your key initiatives for the success of Alkaline88?

Our success is largely rooted in the simple message that our product relates to consumers when they are shopping. Alkaline88 intends to provide the highest quality alkaline drinking water to the largest consumer audience possible.

Your most difficult moment at Alkaline88? (and what did you learn?)

My most difficult moments tend to always relate to the people factor. Our business success became apparent shortly after launching the product. The biggest challenge is to find the right talent at the right time with the right attitude as the business grows exponentially and changes on a daily basis. Few people can adapt to rapid change and often become vindictive and uncooperative when they sense a loss of job security.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

We hear constantly about how our product has improved the life and/or health of our consumers. These comments seem particularly sincere as consumers feel the positive effects of Alkaline88.

How do you motivate others?

Having no formal business training, but coming from the world of political campaigning, I have learned over the years to be flexible when motivating individuals and learning how best to identify those rewards which are meaningful to each person. I am always looking for new ideas, reading the latest business motivational books, and incorporating the lessons of Peter Drucker, who I was fortunate enough to study with during my undergraduate years at the Claremont Colleges.

Career advice to those in your industry?

The beverage industry sees an average of over 1,800 new beverage start-ups each year. Of those, only 2% survive more than just a handful of years. Close to 90% of all beverages consumed come from 5 major corporations. Though there are few barriers to entry, business success is by no means guaranteed. It is an industry that tends to appeal to the young and those with ambition and will always offer opportunities for the few breakout products that consumers go back to on a regular basis. As with any industry, extensive research and mentoring would be my strongest recommendation for anyone attempting to enter this highly competitive market.