Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Could Sell You Water

The University where I work started out as a business college in 1863.  Since that time, it has expanded, but business, and similar majors, are always the biggest draw.  Every year students in Business 101 have to come up with a product and complete a business plan.  They have to research market share, competitors, figure out costs--it's actually pretty fascinating not only to watch them to the research, but to learn what these future capitalists are going to try to sell me next.

The other day, a student sat down with me and told me that he was researching the soda industry and that he needed some help.  I showed him a couple sources including Hoovers, which does industry profiles.  As we were looking at the profile of Coca Cola, he said something like "That's the number one soda in the world, one in three people drink Coke daily."

"I've heard that." I said.

"Of course, Pepsi is very popular as well."

"This is true."

"Which do you drink?" he demanded.

"I prefer Coke to Pepsi, but I don't really drink soda."

He looked shocked, "So what, you drink water?"


"I could sell you bottled water then." He said this with a kind of finality that made it seem like every time he interacts with a person he tries to figure out what he can sell that person.  It was the statement 'I could sell you water' that just stuck in my head though.

I remember when I was in high school, the thought of buying water was absolutely insane, it just wasn't done. This may have been because we were teenagers, and finally had the disposable income necessary to buy candy and soda every day, or it may have just been the idea that paying money for something you can get for free seems incredibly stupid.  I actually started buying bottled water is high school though, because I was frequently out with friends and just didn't want to drink soda all the time.

People made fun of me for it, "Don't you know Evian is Naive spelled backwards?" and now, a handful of years later, people with perfectly good water coming out of their taps, go to the grocery store and buy water by the caseload.  It baffles me, it really does.

"I don't buy bottled water." I told the student.

"You what?  You drink tap water?"  he sounded completely horrified and said tap as if it was a dirty word.  "You never drink bottled water?"

"Well, if I'm far away from home and I'm thirsty and didn't bring water with me, then, yes, I might buy a bottle of water.  But that happens pretty infrequently.  I really don't want to spend my money on something I can get for free, and there's nothing wrong with tap water."

He sat there for a moment mulling this over, and then admitted, "That's smart."

"Yeah, I know."

So even though this kid is a freshman in business school, and we have no idea where he'll wind up, it felt really good to say, "No, you can't sell me this, you cannot have my money for something I do not need."

It's a small victory.


  1. I also drink tap water, and sometimes I forget that's not the norm. A guy was visiting my workplace once and asked for a glass of water. When I went to the tap, he was like, "Um, do you have bottled water?" When I said no, he asked if he could have water from the kettle. "That's just the tap water," I told him, but somehow it seemed cleaner to him. People are weird.

  2. I know! And tap water is actually rigorously tested, much more than bottled water is.

    "...attached report on the results of our four-year study of the bottled water industry, including its bacterial and chemical contamination problems. The petition and report find major gaps in bottled water regulation and conclude that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water."