By Karen R. Smith

Water Street Station, Tucson, AZ
at the following locations:
Speedway/Pantano (520) 721-8302
Grant/Country Club (520) 326-4120
First Avenue/Roger (520) 293-0521
(520) 981-3508 direct phone
Mark Hansen, Owner
Open seven days a week

Mark Hansen has an eye for opportunity. So when he saw that the site of a former gas station in Tucson, Arizona was for sale, he knew it was ideal for his new business venture: Water Street Station.

After selling his business interests in Alaska, he’d visited Santa Fe where he met a water retailer. “Bottled water was just catching on in a big way and I liked the store approach this gentleman in New Mexico had. I thought buying all those bottles at the supermarket and then dragging them home seemed like drudgery—and at the end of the process, you’d just be filling our landfills that much faster. Had to be a better way,” he said.

Hansen set up a retail water store on the east side of Tucson. “The location was good, in a nice shopping center, so we had a lot of foot traffic, “ he explains, noting that he began to develop a steady customer base.

Finding the former gas station available in the cental part of the city crystallized his vision. Hansen readily imagined making the gasoline filling station into a water filling station. The site itself had already been remediated, so he was free to start ‘repurposing’ the pump islands as well as the building.

Wanting the premises to evoke a green and friendly feeling, he remodeled the building by adding a greenhouse enclosure to the front. An interior wall became glass as well, so that customers could view the on-site water purification process for themselves. Bright turquoise and white signage and trim completes the sunny look.

With the gas pumps gone, the islands were repurposed so that at this location, Water Street Station customers could drive up, open their trunks and have their bottles refilled right there—no need to ever leave their cars. That required sanitary dispensers that could be connected, by hose, to the purification plant in the building. No manufacturer offered what the situation called for—so Hansen designed them himself and had them custom fabricated.

He went to the Water Factory for his purification system, which is a multi-stage process that begins with softening via ion exchange; then granulated activated carbon (GAC) filtration, then a two-stage RO, then through GAC again—and finally, ozonation. “As the final process, ozone means our bottles are kept completely free of recontamination by airborne microorganisms,” Hansen noted, adding that other water stores face the constant challenge of bottle sanitation in less successful ways. Two huge tanks (a thousand gallons each) mean the facility can meet present and future needs. “It made sense for us to anticipate growth,” he said.

Finding sources for bottles of all kinds, he also purchased small refrigerator cases to display at the pumps to sell drivers (and their passengers) chilled, individual-serving size sports bottles and the like, as well as holders to tote them around. “We refill and sterilize containers for half the price of a supermarket-bought gallon of water, eliminating the danger of leaching (through PET bottles) and eliminating refuse,” Hansen said.

An inventory of all available sizes of bottles is kept on hand so customers can choose what best fits their individual needs. Passionate about water himself, Hansen also opted to carry other water improvement products like chlorine-reducing shower heads. He guesstimates that his standard Water Street Station stores cost approximately $375,000 to set up and that the filling station’s repurposing amounted to less than that. “I build each outlet to be the best, with an eye for the long term,” he explains, much like Water Street Station’s ideal customer.

“We rely on an educated customer with whom we will have a long-term relationship. We advertise and offer free water as our way of getting acquainted. It gives us the opportunity to explain the ways in which our product is better, while it also provides the customer with a chance to taste the difference and to make us a regular part of their driving routine.”

Hansen devised a multi-tiered customer participation program that enables people to join at differing levels for a flat fee and thereby enjoy reduced per-gallon pricing plus merchandise discounts for a period of two years. “Again, it’s a way of building long-term relationships,” he explained.

Today, with consumers questioning the energy consequences of purchasing bottled water that may have originated many thousands of miles away, he feels stronger than ever that fresh water, created locally, bottled only when the customer needs it, enhanced with ozone, is the most environmentally responsible choice. The original east side store continues to thrive and Hansen built a third location on the north side to serve Tucson’s growing northwest corridor.

“I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Water Street Station has given me a great lifestyle and a simple, very pleasureable business.”

The new locations thrive as well, althogh neither is a former gas station, “but you can’t always be that lucky,” he said with a laugh.

As to the future, Hansen sees many possibilities, including potentially aligning with another water treatment provider to offer home systems to interested customers. “Our customer base continues to grow as consumers become better informed and more committed to a healthy lifestyle.

“When water tastes good, folks reach for it first and that eliminates a lot of potentially unhealthy choices they might have made otherwise—and that goes double for kids,” he notes. “We like being a part of that change for the better.”



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