A glance at the crowded shelves of bottled water at most grocery stores is a quick indicator that consumers are thirsty for something cleaner and tastier than what comes out of their taps. So it makes sense that in addition to an ample selection of bottled waters, natural products retailers may want to add water filters to the mix.
If the idea of water filters brings to mind bulky, unattractive appliances, think again. Today?s water filters include products that fit in the palm of one?s hand and individual water bottles with filters that retail for less than $10.
Most consumers want water filters but are too busy to research the right one, so they end up buying mass-merchandised products available at stores like Target, says Roy Speiser, certified water quality specialist and president of Clear Water Revival Inc. in Glen Cove, N.Y., which has been selling water filters to natural products stores for more than 18 years. ?They are inferior products, though. They often just have simple carbon filters that make the water taste better but leave in a lot of contaminants,? Speiser says. But natural products shoppers are savvy consumers, and most will spend extra for quality. With a little shelf space, signage and promotion, water filters can sell well, Speiser says.
The best filter product for a retailer to start selling is a shower filter. ?They?ve been selling faster than all other [filter] items,? Speiser says. His company packages shower filters in a hanging clamshell that includes product information. ?They cover a combination of health and beauty issues,? Speiser says. ?You?re breathing in the chlorine when taking a shower, and the chemicals are harmful to your skin. [Unfiltered water] has hydrochloric acid, which strips oils off the skin, causing aging, and takes [artificial] color out of hair.?
In addition, Speiser suggests stocking a few basic countertop filter models. ?Water filters need a bit more selling and merchandising than shower filters,? he says. ?Use signage to let customers know that you now stock these items, and put a product information sheet in grocery bags for customers to read at home.? It?s also a good idea to have staff members available who know how water filters work, as well as details about the specific lines your store carries, such as what exactly they filter out.
Some retailers may be reluctant to stock water filters for fear of losing bottled water sales, but they needn?t be afraid. ?There are people who are going to buy filters, not bottled water, so you want to have both or you?re losing a customer; it?s really an add-on to the water section,? Speiser says. ?And you can build after-purchase customers because they are going to come back for replacement filters.?
Additional filter products exist that don?t take up much shelf space. Rainshow?r is a company that specializes in filters for bathing. One of the company?s unique products is its bathwater filter ball, a KDF filter system that removes chlorine from water (for more information on filtration methods, see below). ?You just swirl the ball through the tub water for five to seven minutes, and it removes the chlorine,? says George Ricci, president and owner of the San Gabriel, Calif.-based company. The ball sells well in natural products stores because of the company?s purchase displays, which have a model of the ball and explanations of how it works. ?Retailers are not going to buy [displays and brochures], so we give them away free,? Ricci says. The filter pouch in the ball lasts for about 200 baths; otherwise it should be changed about once a year.
The company also makes shower filters that use the same technology. Ricci says to watch out for manufacturers claiming that a shower filter using KDF can remove multiple contaminants: ?It cannot take out heavy metals or organic metals. It reduces chlorine, period.?
Although customers will buy water filters in natural products stores, getting them to come back and buy the replacement cartridges may take creativity. ?People have busy lives. They forget,? Speiser says. He suggests offering a discount on replacement parts when the customer purchases the filter unit. ?Tell them right then and there that they are going to need a replacement filter, and offer them a discount,? he says.
Another tactic is to take down customers? mailing information and send them cards when it?s time to buy a replacement filter, Ricci says.
Retailers tight on shelf space should consider stocking portable water filters. Innova, a company based in Clearwater, Fla., specializes in portable water filtration, primarily water bottles with a filtration device. The company?s 15-ounce PET plastic bottle, which removes chlorine, is its best seller. ?You can actually take the filter off and put it on a soda bottle or any plastic bottle with a 22-millimeter opening,? says Rose Smith, owner of the company. ?You can filter water from a drinking fountain with them, a bathroom, anywhere, as long as it?s municipal water.? The company also makes a slightly more expensive bottle that removes chlorine, lead and mercury.
Because these products can be used 100-plus times before replacing the filter and retail for less than $10 each, Smith says they make clean water affordable for everyone.
?You can hit a different market with these. Even though the price of bottled water has gone down drastically, not all of the general public can afford it,? she says. The company also makes what it refers to as its biological line of portable water filters. These remove bacteria, protozoa and some heavy metals and contaminants. Camelbak is now using this filter in one of the models it supplies to the U.S. military.
Anna Soref is a freelance writer in Lafayette, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 5/p. 41