Today’s interview is with Tim Andis, founder and CEO of Liberty Bottleworks based in Yakima, Washington. Liberty Bottles are the only metal bottles made in the USA.
Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourself and the events that lead up to starting Liberty Bottleworks?
The catalyst for starting Liberty Bottleworks was REI. I had been selling another brand of water bottles to REI and they asked me to find a domestic supplier. They were tired of foreign suppliers who couldn’t fulfill reorders based on trends in the current season and the excessive freight costs and delays from overseas shipments. I thought, okay, I’ll go find one, but to my surprise nothing existed. Long story short and a lot of hard work later, I decided to build a factory in the US to help customers like REI have a domestic supplier who was flexible and cared about their business while keeping costs down and supply lines quick and responsive.
Liberty Bottleworks is located in WA state in the Yakima Valley, mostly known for agriculture; apples, wine, hops and such. However, it’s a great place for light industrial manufacturing. Good technical schools, small flexible business friendly local government, reasonably priced facilities and a great community of people. We have 32 full time employees ranging from chemists to graphic designers to machinists and programmers. About a ¼ of our staff have served or are currently reservists in the US Armed Forces. I wouldn’t recommend breaking into our building. We have a state of the art zero waste manufacturing facility. It’s 35,000 sq ft and we don’t produce solid waste, air waste or water waste, all by design. We use recycled aluminum for our bottles and everything we use is recyclable. It’s a great place to work. I tell the folks when they start “Take your job seriously, but not yourself.” We spend a lot of time together and it feels more like an extended family. Everything has a name from the shipping tables, “mama bear, papa bear and baby bear” to the staff, I’m the head bottle washer. Main idea is: work hard, take care of each other and have fun. Even though we make the best water bottle in the world, it’s not about the water bottle, it’s about being American Made and providing jobs for our community.
Liberty Bottleworks is the only metal water bottle company made in the USA, and you use state of the art processes and machinery that are only available in your factory. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes the process of manufacturing a Liberty Bottle special?
Every machine in our facility was made in the USA. We figure there were a couple hundred folks working for six months in different small businesses across the country making and delivering our machinery while we built the factory. That’s what we call the ripple effect. Spending our money in ways that makes a difference with our neighbors and towns across America. We also source all of our materials domestically. Our recycled aluminum for the bottles comes from a vertically integrated mill in Wisconsin. Our locking ring is cast from recycled aluminum in Colorado. What’s really fun is our machinery technology. Our body maker is the same machine that makes hellfire missiles and self-destructive naval sonar buoys. Our bottles are seriously tough and precision made. However, what people notice the most is our graphics. We decided to go to the bleeding edge of technology and use a patented digital process for decorating our bottles. It allows us to print without a seam on the bottles in super high resolution and the graphics have texture. We can print ink so you can feel the laces on a baseball or the bark of a tree; even braille so that the blind can read a message on our bottles. The art department has a lot of fun being creative!
Having everything from the recycled aluminum, the bottle tops, to the machinery that makes the bottles, all made in the USA, shows Liberty’s commitment to ‘Made in America.’ Why is that commitment so important to Liberty Bottles as a company?
Being “Made in America” is fundamental to our company. I named it Liberty and created the logo in a 50’s automobile font to remind people of our rich American heritage of manufacturing products in the US that are not only designed with craftsmanship in mind, but that can make our grandparents proud. My grandfather worked with his hands and was a welder by trade. He built homes and worked the land. He earned every buck in his pocket and kept every promise he made. That’s who built this great country and that’s who we aspire to be like. I tell people all the time, “it’s not about the silly water bottle, it’s about what it represents.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best water bottle ever made, but even so, it’s not about the water bottle.
How much of the brand identity is derived from that ‘American Made’ message? Has that changed over the years?
Keep in mind, we only built the factory in 2010 and have been delivering bottles for only about 20 months now. In that time, we’ve delivered about a quarter million bottles into the marketplace and folks seem to love turning that bottle over and seeing “made in the USA”. We’ve learned a lot and we’ve made mistakes, but like my grandfather, we make it right and we take care of people. I don’t know how many plastic bottles we’ve helped avoid going into the landfill and I’m not certain how many folks have benefited from our blem bottles being donated to well programs and disaster relief. What I do know is we are committed to making a difference in our community and in the world and we’re just starting to see the impact.
Would Liberty Bottleworks be able to manufacture their bottles and still remain who they are as a company if that manufacturing was taking place overseas?
We wouldn’t be Liberty Bottleworks if we weren’t made in the US. It’s fundamental to our flexibility, customer service, quick response time, custom art and quality. We’re using technology that was designed and developed here in America with employees who care deeply about producing the best water bottle possible in a zero waste sustainable manufacturing facility. The coolest thing is inviting people to see how our bottles are made. They can walk right in and see our facility and watch the bottles being produced. Complete transparency with our customers and you can’t do that with your factory overseas.
If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like Liberty Bottleworks to succeed, what would it be?
Don’t accept the status quo. People told me it would take 2 years to build my factory. I didn’t know any better, so I built it in six months. Sure, I did my homework and it was the toughest thing I’d ever done, but I did it. I also surrounded myself with a bunch of people who are smarter than me and I got lots of help. Just because nobody’s done it before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We’ve proven that time and time again. What’s been great is how supportive our community is. They want us to succeed and other local businesses have helped us as well. We’ve become a real source of pride for our valley and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. To know that your community loves you and supports you is truly amazing and deeply satisfying.
Awesome, thank you so much, Tim!