By Denise M. Roberts
There are many reasons why people join the water treatment industry and nearly all relate to providing the healthy benefit of safe water to customers. In San Diego, CA, such is the case for Sonya Scribner, owner and operator of The Water Lady Water Store. The sole proprietor since its creation in 1997, Scribner fills a niche market. Her service area includes a large southern California customer base that has its own water bottles. No commercial or residential operations are involved, just a friendly ‘watering hole’ environment that gives its visitors a sense of satisfaction whenever they stop in. Scribner got her start after a friend died of cancer. It was during that time that she realized how essential purified water is to those who are battling disease. She wanted to do some type of preventive care rather than becoming involved after one became sick. Scribner fell in love with the clean taste of the water from a business that originated in Pacific Beach, CA. She knew this kind of water in a bottle couldn’t be found on the shelf at a grocery store or at an outside vending machine, exposed to the outside elements. Scribner wanted to drink water that was free of any chemicals or bacteria. One night, while filling up her bottles, the storeowners planted the idea that Scribner should open her own water store. She was assured she would have a clientele established already in the new location. “I liked that if I opened a water store it would be a win-win situation,” said Scribner. “I could provide great tasting water at a very affordable price and I would be able to be my own boss at the same time. The new location was in a health-challenged community well known for HIV. I knew that the filtration process we used killed parasites, and rather than the customers buying distilled water, they could buy our water at a much more affordable price.”
The store was originally in the Hillcrest area of San Diego for nine years before relocating to North Park five years ago. “The lease had a clause that said the landlord could buy me out if they needed to take the space back or use it for another tenant’s expansion,” she explained. “It ended up being a bank that wanted to expand into our space. It happened during our busiest time (summer) but we were allowed to stay until the end of December. By February, we were reopened in our new location. Thank God so many good people were there for us to help us reopen successfully. It was truly just through the grace of God that everything came together.” Scribner made her store islandie-themed so employees wouldn’t feel like they are ‘working’. Recently, she re-painted the store floor with dolphins and added a toy area for kids to play in while mom and dad fill up their bottles.
Scribner noted that her responsibilities cover every aspect of the business, including sales and marketing, accounting, human resources, licensing and permits, fundraising, design and build-out specialist and water technician. One of the most difficult aspects of being a business owner, Scribner said, was learning to ‘read’ and figure out the different personalities of her employees. In one of the worst situations she could possibly encounter, an employee tried to sell marijuana brownies to a customer who later sent Scribner a letter about it. Given that The Water Lady’s clientele consists of lawyers, police, firemen, nurses, doctors, teachers, etc., she was in shock; she could have lost her license, among other things. “I’ve learned so much about people in general. I have been blessed to find good employees who are respectful, loyal and work very hard. They rarely call in sick and run the business as if it were their own.”
In addition to providing highly filtered water, The Water Lady Water Store also offers bottles, crocks and stands, Rainshow’r shower filters and Red Rock Minerals. Regional problems tend to result in regional answers and treatment options. One of major concern to Scribner and her clients is the fluoride issue in San Diego. “The Public Water Supply is now adding fluoride to the water supply that services our area,” she said. “We have added extra filtration in order to remove the fluoride from the water we serve our customers.”
Triumphing in the face of adversity has given Scribner reason to hope for the future. She has plans over the next five or 10 years to make more changes, which may include offering logo merchandise to promote the store, adding vegetarian/healthy snacks to-go for customer filling their bottles, and opening new locations. Looking into the future of the water industry, Scribner sees changes coming that will make a difference for many people who need it most. Solar-operated systems that are easy to run in areas hit by disasters or with high poverty are of special interest to her, though her biggest wish is that one day water can be transported from the Midwestern flood zones to the arid regions like the southwest via a pipeline-type system.
For those who are passionate about what they do, and passionate about healthy living, The Water Lady Water Store takes the next step in proving that a niche market can be a good thing. The loyalty of customers and employees alike highlights Scribner’s sense of compassion and method of giving back to those who have helped make her business a success story.