In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak to Brandy Wilde of Icy Mountain Water in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Brandy shares insights into the process of treating and distributing water, the unique role her family business serves in the community, and how Clover has helped streamline their payments processing at a crucial time.
Clover: Hi, Brandy! Thanks for speaking with us today. Tell us about Icy Mountain Water and your role within the company.
Brandy Wilde: It’s nice to talk to you! I run Accounts and Marketing for Icy Mountain Water, which started as a water treatment company in 1992 by my parents, Neil and Charlotte Bonogofsky. I’ve been involved my whole life. I started helping with payroll when I was 14 and was managing accounts receivable and accounts payable by the time I was 16.
Since its opening, Icy Mountain Water has expanded to offer a variety of health and wellness products, from Nutritional Products to Vitamins to Holistic Cat and Dog Food. Icy Mountain Water was built on a foundation of wanting to see people get healthy and feel great. Our community – the people and small businesses in our community – are why we do what we do.
My dad’s primary role in the company is maintaining our equipment and helping anyone in the city with their water treatment needs. Because he’s just great at it. And my mom, she’s fantastic with customers—because she cares so much about everybody—and helps everyone get what they need. It’s a pretty good little business that our family has built. In 29 years, we’ve grown to be the number one bottled water and water treatment company in Medicine Hat. I’m really proud of what we do.
Clover: Can you explain your water treatment process to us? How much water do you sell bottled vs. bulk?
Wilde: We treat our water with a process called Reverse Osmosis (RO for short). The RO machine first passes water through carbon filters to remove chlorine and large particles, then we soften the water to remove other solid chemical compounds, then the water is passed through a sediment filter. This takes the particles out of the water and brings it down to five microns. The final step forces the water through extremely large membranes to remove all remaining chemicals and particulates, bringing our water back to just H2O.
Each of our two reverse osmosis machines can make up to 10,000 gallons of water per day. Of that, we typically sell around 18,000 liters in bulk, 55 tons of bagged ice, and 10,000 bottles of water each month.
To bottle our water, we use state-of-the-art equipment that exceeds bottling standards – one of the only operating in Canada. The fully-automated system has eight different rinse and wash cycles. It cleans, fills and caps every bottle without any hand-sorting or equipment adjustments, and it even filters the air and sanitizes the caps. It can make 450 bottles an hour, which is one bottle every eight seconds! Because of the purity of our water and the efficiency of our bottling machine, we are the only water treatment plant in Medicine Hat that can remain open during a boil water alert.
Clover: Tell me about your distribution. Obviously 10,000 gallons/day can’t go in one truck…
Wilde: Right! We have four different ways to get our water, ice and products to people. Our delivery service covers all of Medicine Hat and some surrounding Southern Alberta communities on a weekly schedule, but most of our customers come to us to pick up their water.
At the store, we have a self-serve u-fill station, a drive-thru, or you can pick up in store. Our u-fill station is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. everyday in a separate entryway to our building. Our customers love that they can come pick up pure water at their convenience, outside of our business hours, and save on price!
We get people in and out really quickly with our drive-thru. It’s been such a blessing to have this service, especially during COVID. Our customers can pull up to the speaker to place their order, and we take their order right out to their vehicle – with our Clover Flex – they pay for their order and we load their vehicle!
Clover: How did you ultimately come to using Clover?
Wilde: When it came time to update our payments processing, I really took my time with the decision. I knew roughly what we needed out of a POS system, and I knew that once I implemented a new system, I didn’t want to have to go through it again if I made the wrong decision.
I was sold once I realized how well Clover would help with automatic payments. We have hundreds of customers who do automatic monthly billing, which we can easily organize and process through Clover. For our customers who wish to phone their credit card number in, we love having the Virtual Terminal. Before [Clover], we had to pass the card reader around the store and place the customers on hold until we were ready to take their number. Now each sales rep can take payments on their own computers, which is especially good for the social distancing we had to implement in our store this year.
Another nice thing with Clover is the reporting function. I used to have to take all of our till transactions— that is, all cash, debit, and credit card receipts—and add them all up by hand every single day. Now I can balance my register for the day in less than 15 minutes and import everything directly into my accounting software.
Clover: Tell us more about how the pandemic has affected your business over the last year or so?
Wilde: It was extremely challenging when the pandemic first hit. We had to renovate the store to accommodate social distancing, upgrade our drive-thru capabilities and implement changes daily. Suddenly, we needed to accommodate more people in less time. The demand for water in our area went up dramatically because many of the corporate distributors stopped selling water entirely, people were starting to look at supporting local, and were looking at more efficient ways of getting their household items. Also, at the same time – we could only allow five customers in the store at once, so both of those factors caused a huge surge. We were all exhausted.
It was scary for a while because we didn’t know what to expect and we wanted to make sure to do everything right—keep up with lockdown regulations, follow all safety protocols, and stay true to our high standards. Now that we know a little bit more about COVID-19 and we have a new routine established, it feels a lot easier for us. And the customers don’t seem quite as stressed. We are so thankful that Clover helped us streamline our operations once the pandemic hit. We started with Clover in the fall of 2019, and it seems like things fell into place for us just in time. It’s hard to imagine how we would have dealt with all the changes otherwise.
Clover: We’re so happy to help! What do you see for the future of Icy Mountain Water?
Wilde: As for my role in the company, I’m just trying to constantly streamline and innovate, while doing the best I can for our customers. We’ve been in Medicine Hat for almost 30 years, and I’d really like for us to continue to serve our community for many more years to come. My parents are starting to look ahead towards retirement, and so I’m slowly taking on more of a leadership role. As of right now, we’re just taking it day by day and looking forward to the time when COVID is a little bit more in the distant past.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life stories of small businesses in action all over the country. Want to be featured in this series? Fill out our questionnaire, and if we can include you in a future interview cycle, we’ll send you an invitation!