The Pure bottle: An Owings Mills entrepreneur's adventure
Walt Himelstein, environmental chemist, develops sturdy reusable glass bottle for eco-conscious drinkers
Walt Himelstein is inventor/owner of Pure Glass Bottle, a glass bottle coated with plastic so that if it breaks it will not shatter. He started his company at home and works out of his garage and basement. Here, he holds one of the bottles in his garage, which doubles as a storage area. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / October 22, 2012)
Walt Himelstein thinks so. The Owings Mills environmental chemist and entrepreneur invented the Pure reusable glass drinking bottle, which features a shock-absorbing plastic sleeve that holds the glass together if it breaks.
Himelstein, 59, hopes to tap a surging interest among environmentally conscious consumers who want their own reusable bottles, rather than buying beverages in single-use glass, metal or plastic containers. Glass, Himelstein said, is "simply better" for drinking beverages, partly because it transfers minimal taste or odor to the drink.
"It's the purest thing you can drink out of," said Himelstein, noting that the entire bottle both the plastic sleeve and the glass — is recyclable.
His entrepreneurial story is rooted in his training as a chemist who once worked with chemicals and glass bottles covered in a shatter-resistant durable coating in the lab. Envisioning wider applications for that approach, he began developing a glass water bottle in 2009 and launched the Pure bottle in late 2010.
He's grown from a product development neophyte to a company owner who has tweaked and improved the Pure bottle through trial and error, and from listening to customers. He's poured $100,000 into his venture, and now sells around $100,000 a year of the bottles.
Now the Pure bottle — available in two sizes, 17.5 ounces and 25 ounces — is distributed in about 100 health and wellness stores. He recently struck a deal to sell the bottles on Fab.com, a popular Internet shopping destination.
But the first store where he sold it was here in Baltimore: Trohv in Hampden. Gary Godbey, Trohv's manager, said Himelstein came in and asked the store representatives for feedback on the Pure bottle.
"We gave him our feedback and he listened to us," Godbey said. "It's done really well in the store."
Himelstein's bottle caught the eye of Marc Heinke, president of Precidio Design Inc. of Ontario. They met at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago in March. Heinke, who runs a houseware product company, was interested in focusing more on water bottles and hydration for consumers.
And Himelstein knew he'd need a deep-pocketed partner to help him market and distribute his bottles all over the world. The two have since struck up a joint venture to sell the Pure bottle to specialty and mid- to high-end retailers, where customers may be more willing to spend $20 or more for a glass bottle.
"It's a pure, natural material," Heinke said. "You're just seeing a big trend back toward glass. We see this continuing to expand."
Estimates on the size of the reusable drinking bottle industry are not available, Heinke said, but he sees demand in North America, parts of Europe and Australia.
The Pure bottle is going up against larger competitors in the reusable drinking bottle industry. Some companies market plastic bottles that lack the controversial chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, which some studies show may have a negative health impact. Other companies sell aluminum and stainless steel bottles.
All these companies are targeting consumers who want to drink out of a reusable bottle, as opposed to the single-use bottles — plastic, glass or metal — that dominate sales at retailers and restaurants.
Even the reusable glass bottle market is crowded. There are glass bottles shrouded in protective plastic, silicon, rubber and even bamboo.
The Pure bottle is different from its competitors because it is transparent, Himelstein said. The consumer can see what's in the bottle at all times. It also is dishwasher-safe.
Himelstein demonstrated the bottle's durability recently at his office, which is his home's basement. He took a hammer and pounded on the bottle's side three times before it shattered. The glass stayed wrapped inside the sheath of plastic — not a single shard on the floor.
But, Himelstein cautioned, the bottle is rendered unusable once it shatters and should be thrown away, because glass particles could disperse inside the container.