- Last Updated on 07:33 AM 02/18/13
- BY Paula I. Bryant
A humble 1970 high school graduate who started out as a Colonial Baking Company bread truck route salesman in Gulfport, Miss., has slowly and steadily climbed the ladder of success.
Today, Grand Springs owner and CEO Robert Smith is a walking testament to what hard work, stamina, persistence and a desire to achieve can accomplish in the business world.
He now employs 17 at his bottled water facility located in the Alton community that for two years in a row was voted the best tasting non-carbonated water in the world.
The bottled water company, that serves the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern markets, has been in the news a number of times over the years with its spring water.
On Friday, Smith was a guest attending the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority board meeting where he presented how he has gotten to where he is today in the bottled water industry along with an overview of the economic impact that industry has in the county.
Smith kicked off a series of quarterly appearances by business executives scheduled to address the board on what is going on in their particular industry and the business world in general.
Saying he has been “blessed,” the South Georgia native told how he was the first person in his family to graduate from high school with never a thought given to furthering his education by attending college.
He got a job driving a bread truck and worked for the baking company for the next 13 years moving up the ranks from route salesman to head of the sales department.
“Fate has a way of doing things to you. I had no education, so I had to learn things along the way as I went,” he told authority board members.
After the baking company was bought out by Anheuser-Busch, he realized he would advance no further without a college education, so he went to work for a coffee service industry out of New Orleans for four and a half years.
He soon realized he could strike out on his own in that same industry and make a better living.
That’s exactly what he did.
He moved to North Carolina, convinced a bank to finance 10 acres of land and a single-wide mobile home and with only $9,500 cash to his name, he built Smith’s Coffee Service Company.
Three years later he started distributing water, and after a few more years he joined forces with two other distributors, and the trio bought equipment to go into a bottled water plant they didn’t even have yet.
In July 1998, as fate would have it, Smith was contacted by the previous owner of Grand Springs Water who wanted to bottle water for him.
He visited the new 30,000-square-foot building sparsely filled with equipment and told the owner he had brand new equipment ordered that could be set up in his building under a contract agreement.
In 2003 Smith would purchase the Alton water facility under a 20-year lease agreement with an option to buy, and that’s where he is today.
In September 2009 Grand Springs was awarded the contract for supplying water to the U.S. House of Representative’s cafeteria in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington also chose the Grand Springs product to satisfy its employees’ hydration needs.
Grand Springs produces products for a number of companies around the country, Smith explained.
As a co-packaging facility, the private label bottling company offers natural spring water that has exceptional taste and produces USP grade purified water.
Grand Springs also provides quality products in 3 gal., 5 gal., 12 oz., 16.9 oz., 20 oz., and 1 liter sizes for home and office delivery companies, as well as vending and wholesale distribution companies.
The water company specializes in short run PET packaging and in 3 and 5 gallon production for the home and office delivery industry.
According to Smith, Grand Springs Natural Spring Water is bottled at the source in a controlled environment within their facility located on 495 acres.
“Numerous pristine spring sources are located within the property, in a protected environment. These springs have been protected for the purpose of producing Grand Springs premium water products,” Smith said.
“The natural springs that feed Grand Springs have been a source of refreshment for centuries. Numerous Native American artifacts found at or near these springs indicate that distant civilizations depended upon this water for the raising of crops and for drinking,” he added.
Many years later, Smith said these same springs served the stagecoach passengers as they traveled between Lynchburg and Fayetteville, N.C.
“These early settlers quenched their thirst as they bartered and traded goods in the nearby market. After the Civil War, many local farmers used the springs to water their land and for daily living.
“We are proud to provide this timeless gift of the earth to the discerning customer seeking the best nature has to offer,” he added.
When he’s not operating the business, Smith lobbies on Capitol Hill for the bottled water industry “working both sides of the legislative aisle.”
He also has been closely monitoring the uranium mining battle at the state capital in Richmond knowing what lifting the moratorium could mean for his business.
“I’m sitting 30 miles south of where this location is…but once you drill and bust this rock, that water is going to take the path of least resistance and take on the characteristics of whatever it passes through. My concern with this uranium project is over a period of time this water trickling down will eventually get to the water table, come south to me, and when I do my annual testing, if my maximum contaminant level raises beyond a certain point, I’m out of business,” Smith said pointing out the seriousness of that one particular issue to his water business.
As owner of a spring that flows to the top of the ground, Smith said he wants to protect it and keep anyone from contaminating it.
The Alton businessman said he would like to be “growing my business,” but instead he is forced to spend much of his time staying on top of the many government legislative regulatory issues affecting the water business.
A resident of Mount Carmel Road in Alton, Smith is an advocate of recycling and encourages educating the public on the need to recycle.