For most of his life, William Strutz has enjoyed the fresh taste of spring water found on the 80 acres of land his parents, Louie Strutz and Jean Yenney, homesteaded on Ohlson Mountain.
For the past year, Strutz and his wife, Mary Lou, have been sharing that water with a growing number of people. Since opening Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O on Aug. 1, 2012, that spring water has wet thousands of whistles with 9,000 five-gallon bottles of water sold to businesses and individuals across the Kenai Peninsula.
“The original idea started with my mother who homesteaded here and said, ‘I hate to see that water run down to the creek and away it goes,’” said William. “So here we are, doing what she wanted to do.”
Lots of years and lots of steps separated the idea from the business.
“For three years, (William) did a lot of preliminary research, a lot of planning and permitting to bring this company around,” said Mary Lou. “You learn an awful lot.”
Becoming aware of and planning for compliance with state and federal regulations, including ongoing sampling and testing, were part of those first steps.
William’s background in construction helped when it came to the mechanics of the operation. There was water flow to take into consideration. There was a filtration system to install. A source of bottles and caps had to be found, as well as a system for cleaning the returned bottles. Pallets and transportation had to be considered.
Along the way, local business owners offered encouragement. One of those mentors was Kate Mitchell of NOMAR, a manufacturer of products for fisheries, garments and a full-service boat shop. Mitchell provided insights on everything from bookkeeping and the practicality of moving product to label design.
“She first came to town with a school bus and was making NOMAR products when I was a little boy,” said William. “She parked her rig in my dad’s boat yard on Kachemak Drive. No one I’ve known in my whole life has a work ethic like Kate and (her husband) Ben.”
Mitchell was “thrilled” to share tips and to see Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O’s success.
“I’ve been learning the craft for 35 years, figuring out how to be in business in a little town,” said Mitchell. “I’ve known (William) since he was about 17 or 18 years old and what’s so cool is to see somebody that homesteaded find a way to keep and use the property.”
Bryan Zak, the southwest regional director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center who lives in Homer, also helped direct the formation of Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O.
“He said, ‘We’re going to build a business plan,’ and, oh my goodness sakes, I didn’t know what was going on,” said William of being confronted with the business end of planning. “He broke it down into segments and took me through the process so wonderfully that we ended up with a business plan that was so nice.”
Mary Lou, who had a 33-year career in banking in the Pacific Northwest before settling on Ohlson Mountain, also praised Zak’s assistance.
“He’s the one that’s on the outside looking in where you’re so focused inwardly you don’t see everything,” she said. “He’s a great resource.”
Zak considered Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O “a good success story.” In addition to helping frame a business plan, Zak facilitated banking connections and helped network with regulatory agencies.
Even with a good business plan, “you never completely know,” said Zak. “A lot of people get to the point where they have a good business plan, but they just can’t commit to the undertaking itself. I know that William will tell you he’s put a lot of hard, back-breaking labor to make this a reality.”
That commitment is illustrated by the long hours William and Mary Lou have invested in Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O.
It takes a drop of water 3.5 hours to travel from the one of five springs currently being used on the homestead, through the system and finally to a bottle. The facility is capable of doing three complete batches a day, with each batch including 55 five-gallon bottles.
The first month of business, Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O sold 175 bottles of water. That has increased to approximately 1,500 bottles a month.
“Sometimes it’s a long day,” said William of a 4:30 a.m. start time.
When Ohlson Mountain Mineral Water, the goal was to provide water to the Homer area. The business has since expanded to other areas.
“We’re very much involved in what we consider the northern end (of the peninsula), oil companies, businesses out there that need water,” said Mary Lou. “It’s a combination of local market and the market outside of that. It’s taken on a little bit of a different twist.”
Country Foods transports full pallets north and empty pallets south. A storage warehouse between Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs and Homer eases the distance and transportation costs.
In the past year, William has earned the first level of certification required by the state of Alaska to operate a public water plant. Todd Cook, the city of Homer’s water-wastewater treatment plant superintendent, acted as his mentor during that process.
Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O has two employees, Jake Worsfold and Alex Stuart. There are plans to add an operations manager and a bookkeeper, which will allow Mary Lou to focus her attention on marketing. The Strutzs’ vision for the future also includes a water wheel and millpond, as well as an enclosed area where customers can relax and enjoy views of the rolling hills around Ohlson Mountain and the mountains beyond.
“The moral of the story is drink lots of Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs water,” said William.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.
Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O
Owners: William and Mary Lou Strutz
61435 Strutz Ave., Homer, AK 99603
235-5119 or 299-7058
Product: 5-gallon bottled spring water, water dispenser rental, hand pumps
Available retail at:
• IGA in Kenai
• Kasilof Mercantile in Kasilof
• Save-U-More in Homer and Soldotna
• Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware in Homer
Available wholesale through Ohlson Mountain Mineral Springs H2O