Sandhills Natural Water’s new owners are carrying on a decades-long business tradition
(North Platte, NE) – Families who have chosen to grow their livelihoods across the 19,000+ miles of Nebraska’s Sandhills may be few and far between, but they often “think” like one unit. Sue and Roger Licking know this all too well; they were born and raised in Mullen.
“In these parts of Nebraska, you can live 20 miles apart or 200, but we usually have a lot in common. Many of us have been here for generations, and most of our communities are rural. Like most Nebraskans, the people here value the opportunity to ‘help your neighbor.’”
On the vast 130-mile stretch of Highways 2 and 92 between Mullen and Oshkosh, the Lickings have had time to reflect on that principle as a way to grow their new business. Just three months ago, they bought a 30-year-old company from another pair of lifelong Nebraskans, Kay and Myron Peterson. The Petersons developed their Oshkosh company with a rich natural resource at their fingertips; Sandhills Natural Water is bottled from the Ogallala Aquifer. When Roger got word that the Petersons’ bottling equipment was for sale, he reached out to the couple. Visits to the Petersons’ Oshkosh ranch paved the way for a new bond between two generations of Nebraska entrepreneurs.
“Roger has been researching the science of a business like this for almost a decade,” Licking said. “When Myron and Kay said that they wanted to retire, and that they were looking at a succession plan, we saw an opportunity to learn from some of the most experienced Nebraskans in this business.”
Getting a jump on invaluable experience from the previous owners also presented a new opportunity to grow the company. The Lickings’ property has a well that taps directly into the Ogallala Aquifer and resulted in the family’s decision to move the business to Mullen. Purchase of the business included bottling and labeling machines, and the Lickings are now putting them to use in two 1,200 square foot buildings on the edge of town. Weeks after their purchase, Sue and the couple’s three children went to work on labeling more than 3,000 bottles.
“Our oldest daughter was a quick study on the labeling machine and stopped the presses when she got to the 999th bottle,” Licking said. “She ran into our other building to get Roger, so she could show her dad as she was labelling the 1,000th bottle.”
After the family completes an order of labels, empty bottles are transported to the Lickings’ adjacent building where bottling machines are stored. Sandhills Natural Water is now bottling half-liter and liter bottles for clientele, and has the capacity to fill 1,400 bottles an hour.
“Our water comes from the Ogallala Aquifer and won’t need reverse osmosis prior to bottling,” Roger Licking said. “This is purified water with natural health benefits from silica, and we are excited to offer this benefit to our customers.”
A slight change to the company’s label and an expanding local customer base are adding to Sandhills’ well-known reputation among Nebraska wholesalers like Cash Wa and private label clients, such as equipment dealers and dentist offices. As word about the Lickings’ new location continues to spread, interest from potential clients in Keith and Lincoln Counties is also growing.
Roger and Sue have partnered with Roger’s brother Richard to build their business. Within the next few months, the couple plans to hire five additional employees to assist with labeling, bottling and boxing water orders as the company grows. Last month, the family labeled and bottled 25 cases of water to complete their first official order, and it has grown from there.
“We are in the process of filling all of our inventory bottles, and look forward to a future of expanding the company with new jobs in Mullen and a growing customer base,” Licking said. “We are being reintroduced to the ‘Nebraska way’ of doing business, because so much of that comes from word-of-mouth. It’s an amazing feeling.”