Resistance is Futile
Esotec Ltd. Of Saugerties slakes the regional thirst 
 

by Katie Cahill

Walking into the Esotec Ltd. warehouse on Route 212 in Saugerties is like entering beverage heaven. Boxes upon boxes of fancifully flavored sodas and sparkling waters are stacked high to the ceiling, waiting to be consumed thirsty customers. It's a Willy Wonka-esque situation waiting to be taken advantage of - and you've got the golden ticket.

If you've been an Ulster County resident for any reasonable amount of time, surely you've heard Esotec's get-it-stuck-in-your-head slogan: "Your thirst comes first: Resistance is futile" on the radio at least once, or you've watched the bright red delivery van unload in front of your favorite local eatery. That might be what you remember as you chug down a lightly flavored Glaceau Smart Water, but what owner Tom Bover really wants people to be aware of is the meaning of Esotec. The company name, Esotec, stems from the word "esoteric," which, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, means: "designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone" and "of special, rare or unusual interest," which is exactly how Bover felt about his company.

"The name seems kind of nondescript, but really it means 'special,' 'exotic,'" Bover explained.
 

Bover established Esotec in 1984, but not as a beverage distributor; originally Esotec sold  "high-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Esotec Ltd. owner Tom Bover (right) and his son Jason ready a load of SmartWater for delivery.[ Beth Blis ]

 
end audio equipment." However, Bover soon realized there existed a limited market for such enterprises in Saugerties and, ever optimistic that the right niche would come along, he began a currier business, transporting various wares and goods between upstate New York and Manhattan. On one of his trips, he encountered John Hannigan, a Vermont resident who owned a beverage company specializing in juices and sparkling waters called After the Fall. Hannigan began to employ Bover's currier services and as time progressed, Bover began to take a serious interest in the health food world.

While in New York City's Chinatown, Bover discovered ginseng in a small shop. He purchased some and then approached Sunflower Natural Foods in Woodstock to see if the store was interested in selling the dried root product. The response was, as Bover recalled: "We'll take it all, and bring us more next week."
 


But ginseng didn't remain Bover's focus for very long. When Hannigan died suddenly at the age of 40, Bover approached the family about selling the products and using the name. In trade for these rights, Bover agreed to donate a percentage per case sold to the trust fund of Hannigan's daughter.

Bover stopped the currier business and started selling After the Fall full-time. But soon, the business began to see some changes.

"Originally it was just After the Fall, and I had a very strong loyalty to them," Bover explained. However, when the company was purchased by the Smuckers Corporation, Bover decided to expand his wares to include other Smuckers products, including his largest competitor, Knudsen, a juice and soda company.

"Overnight that doubled my sales," Bover said. Some other products he decided to introduce when the company was in transition included Santa Cruz Organics, Natural Brews sodas, China Cola, San Pelligreno, Boylean sodas, Honest Tea and Glaceau Smart Water, all of which Bover still sells today. Always in pursuit of the newest trend in the beverage world, Bover regularly attends trade shows so that he can be at the "cutting edge." Right now, he is looking at adding Izze brand sparkling juices to his ever-expanding product list, as it's necessary in this business to keep an open mind.

"Twenty years ago it didn't make a lot of sense, the whole bottled water thing," Bover said. "Now it amazes me how much water I sell."

His palate is particularly fond of Calypso Tea Lemonade and Journey Caribbean Cream Soda, but, he said, "I have a strong, good feeling about all the companies I sell."

Although Bover had been told at that the beverage world was a "recession-less business" he has seen his fair share of economic ups and downs. Weather in particular seems to affect sales the most: a hot, dry summer means a hike in distribution, but wet, rainy months cause a dip. "Right now there seems to be a lull," Bover said, as this summer hasn't had the consistently warm weather that drives people to consume his products in mass quantities.

No worries on this front, though. The former Saugerties - now Kingston - resident is confident that business will pick up again soon and continue on a steady incline.

"As people become more and more conscious of sugar, these beverages are becoming more and more popular," he said. He also noted that schools in California have stopped allowing beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi to sell soda products in the schools and are in turn looking for new beverage options to offer students. Bover has heard this may happen in New York state as well, a situation he would gladly welcome.

Esotec is taking on another new experience: selling diet sodas, a product Bover was formerly opposed to. "I had stayed away from them because of artificial sweeteners," Bover explained, adding that these products did not appeal to health food stores, his main business. However, now the demand has increased so much, Bover feels it would be unwise to continue to keep them off his product list.

"It's a big trend with people looking for something exciting, something new, but something low calorie and low carb," he said. "Our stuff really is specialty that most mainstream companies don't offer."

Another bonus Esotec offers is an intimate repertoire that larger corporations can't maintain.

"Because it's a small business, I've built really strong relationships with the people I do business with," he said. "That one-on-one relationship is something Snapple or Coca-Cola can't offer."

These services are spread by Esotec from Albany to Cornwall and as far to the east as the New York-Connecticut border, distributing to businesses ranging from small sidewalk cafés to larger restaurants and grocery stores. In addition to its single-van fleet, two full time and three part time employees, Esotec has four sub-distributors that purchase and resell in Massachusetts, Westchester and White Plains.

Bover is particularly excited about one of his employees in particular, his son Jason.

"Jason started working for me about a year ago," Bover said. "I think it's special that he works for me. I'd like to see him take over more responsibilities."

The next phase for Esotec is getting a few additional distribution trucks on the road, hiring a new salesperson and moving into a warehouse "customized to our needs."

"I take a lot of pride in my business, I have a lot of fun," Bover concluded. "I'm a people person, I like what I do. We feel we really have the best beverages on the planet. Our beverages are so good, don't settle for anything but the best."

Esotec Ltd. is located on Route 212 in Saugerties. For information call 246-0965 or visit on the web at www.esotecltd.com.

From the Saugerties Times