By David H. Martin
Hector Perez, an innovator and entrepreneur of Puerto Rican heritage, was born in The Bronx, NY. Upon graduating from New York University’s School of Real Estate Management in 1972, he worked in a variety of sales positions in that state before moving to Chicago, IL in 1992.
After reading a magazine article about home water filtration, Perez contacted a supplier of countertop carbon filtration units and began selling them to friends. Before long, he followed that with a call to a friend who was then living in Mexico City. Soon, Perez and his friend were sharing a dream: selling POU water filters door-to-door in one of the largest problem-water markets in the western hemisphere.
Upon moving to Mexico City in 1993, Perez began a 23-year career in POU filters and bottled water coolers. After establishing a storefront office with three employees to sell countertop filtration units in the Mexican capital, Perez caught the attention of the sales and marketing department of the Cordley/Temprite (C/T) division of Chicago-based Elkay Manufacturing, which at that time was a major manufacturer of water coolers. Already a domestic leader in water cooler sales, C/T had no sales presence in Latin America. In 1994, the company quickly hired Perez as a sales consultant to develop the Cordley/Temprite business south of the US border. Within the year, he was named the company’s Sales Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
WC&P: What Cordley/Temprite products did you represent?
Perez: We sold bottled water coolers and cabinet-model POU units with carbon block and ceramic filters.
WC&P: What were the results of your efforts?
Perez: Our primary marketing efforts were focused on the many bottlers in Latin America. While initial sales were strong, the high cost of shipping products to Latin America all the way from Chicago—and rising tariffs—soon became increasingly difficult hurdles. With an unprecedented invasion of lower-priced Pacific-Rim coolers flooding US and international markets in the early 1990s, Cordley/Temprite made the decision to end US production and turned instead to a new manufacturing facility in Indonesia.
WC&P: What happened next?
Perez: By the late 1990s, the domestic market for US-manufactured coolers had collapsed, with the low-priced Pacific-Rim products taking their place. In 2001, I parted ways with Cordley/Temprite. At the same time, Culligan and Nestle, among other customers, were looking to exit the rental water cooler market. In its wake, an opportunity for myself and a partner was created, to acquire tens of thousands of used rental coolers (three- to five-years old) at distressed market prices. We sanitized and refurbished them as necessary, to be sold to Latin American bottlers with large, delivered-water customer bases.
WC&P: In effect, you turned lemons into lemonade?
Perez: That’s exactly right. In 2001, my new partner in Houston, TX and I rented a warehouse facility where we collected used rental coolers to be cleaned up and repaired before shipping via water to Latin American bottlers. Products were shipped from Houston and Miami, FL. In 2010, I established a second warehouse facility in Taunton, MA, with products shipped from Boston, MA.
WC&P: This sounds like a green organization.
Perez: Right again! We’re proud that by recycling thousands of used water coolers that could otherwise have landed in landfills, they were destined to live new, useful lives in Latin America.
WC&P: Have you added any other products to sell through the same distribution?
Perez: In recognition of the need for low-cost POU filtration in Latin America, we have added hand-held water filters. The demand is steady and growing.
WC&P: Any other irons in the fire?
Perez: Another partner (Kathy Davis) and I share a mission to help provide simple water purification solutions to some 1,700 students at 10 schools in Nicaragua. Assistance is provided by Rotary International and other non-profits to provide clay filtration vessels, made locally and coated with silver oxide to handle bacteria. Students of Granada Foundation (www.studentsofgranada.org) also provides school supplies, including textbooks as well as school building infrastructure. (A similar non-profit program provides Sawyer hand-held water filters for 1,000 Nicaraguan families.) We don’t make a penny on these two programs. Both underscore our commitment to the people of Nicaragua, a commitment which we’ve also expressed through our recent purchase of a second home in Granada, the oldest colonial city in Central America.
WC&P: What is the outlook for bottled water use in Latin America?
Perez: Latin Americans have a very high level of trust for bottled water but many remain skeptical about the effectiveness of POU water filters. So bottled water sales should remain high for at least the immediate future. (Hector Perez can be reached at [email protected] or (773) 744-1320.)
About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at [email protected]