When Chris McCaul’s dad died, his career was at a crossroads.
For 35 years, he and his dad were business partners in Potosi. He’s an architect and his dad was a civil engineer.
“(We) loved working in the country (and) kind of enjoy not having to compete with people in St. Louis,” McCaul said. “It started as a belief that we had: that rural Missouri deserved good engineering and architecture just as much as the large municipalities did.”
But when his dad died in 2015, he had a decision to make.
“The opportunities for me to find another structural civil engineer to move to rural Missouri were like zero and so I made a decision,” he explained. “I said, ‘either I’m retiring, or I have to find something else to do.’”
So instead of moving to Alabama to be close to his grandkids, he decided to pursue an opportunity he had talked about with his dad and a close friend: bottling water from the spring on his family’s farm.
McCaul founded H2O Technologies and LaRue Artesian Spring Water with coworker Amy Eisenbeis. McCaul is the president and Eisenbeis is the vice president.
“I’ve worked with him for nearly 20 years and we’ve kind of toyed with the idea of doing the water,” Eisenbeis said. “Because on his family estate, there is a spring that runs a million to a million and a half gallons of water on average every day. So we first started kind of looking at that about 15 years ago, just kind of playing with the idea. Then when his father passed, we got a little bit more serious because we realized the engineering portion of our firm was no longer with us.”
H2O is the bottling company they started in 2018 and LaRue is their own brand that they bottle. Their first bottle rolled out of their facility in May of 2020.
In their LaRue brand, they started with offering three and five gallon bottles. But in March 2021, they started offering smaller liter and half liter bottles. They deliver to businesses and personal customers within a 50-mile radius of Potosi. The water can also be bought at the local Save A Lots, including in De Soto, at the Ironton Town and Country, and the Mobile on the Run stores in St. Louis.
“We recently entered the St. Louis market and we actually have three distributors under contract and we’re in multiple states now,” Eisenbeis noted.
Their goal is to have the state of Missouri covered by the end of the year.
With H2O Technologies, they also bottle for about 40 other private labels, including for local funeral homes, convenience stores, and churches.
“We put our water in bottles and people put their labels and their logos on,” she said. “We provide graphic design and stuff for them.”
From the spring to the bottle
About five years ago, they started the process of getting the water tested and the permits needed for bottling.
“It did take a while to get through that process,” Eisenbeis said. “You can only imagine working with the with (the Department of Natural Resources), the (Department of Health and Senior Services), and (the Food and Drug Administration) and stuff, it’s kind of a lengthy process. So we went through all of that, and determined that yes, the spring is exactly what we had believed it was. It was great.”
Becky Petty, who is in charge of sales/marketing/social media, says the water sells itself and Eisenbeis agrees.
“Once we have someone try LaRue or one of these companies that are considering having us bottle for them, the taste of the water really does the hard part of selling them on it because it’s so good and it’s so crisp and unique,” she continued.
McCaul said they are blessed with a unique type of spring.
“I’m not sure DNR even knows of another one in the state of Missouri like it because most of them come out of out of caves or out the sides of hills, etc.,” McCaul explained. “It gives us a source of extremely pure water right at the source. In fact, technically, the water right out of the spring meets all FDA requirements.”
The water is filtered and put through the ozonation process, according to Eisenbeis. But it doesn’t need to be chemically treated.
The artesian spring is located on the property that McCaul’s parents bought in 1965. His dad saw an ad for the property with log cabins and a spring when he was on a business trip to St. Louis from Chicago. The next weekend, his parents drove down to see the property and bought it.
McCaul said they don’t bottle the water at the source of the spring because they don’t want to tear down the 1840s-era log cabins on the property to build a place for bottling.
“There’s way too much historical value,” he noted.
Instead, in 2019, they purchased several abandoned buildings in the Potosi Industrial Park and renovated them for their bottling facilities. The water is trucked in a tanker from the spring to the industrial park
“They already had some buildings here and we thought why not repurpose something that was derelict and utilize it,” Eisenbeis said. “It’s been it’s been a huge blessing. We have eight buildings out here and we are growing.”
More than water
According to Eisenbeis, the motto of their company is “Water is life; pursuing living water matters.”
“We say we are a people company that just sells water,” she continued. “Our goal is to really help people.”
On top of providing good, clean water, it starts with providing quality, well-paying jobs right here in rural Missouri, she said.
The company is also committed to helping with disaster-relief operations. They recently handed out water after tornadoes in Fredericktown and Mayfield, Kentucky.
“Our goal is to give away as much as 10%,” she said.
They also want to help other American and Missouri businesses. For example, their manufacturing equipment is made in Nebraska and their labels are made in Nixa.
Eisenbeis said they love to partner with local, small businesses like Save A Lot.
“We appreciate other small business owners working with us and helping us grow,” she said.
Nikki Overfelt is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.