Photo: Eric Fitzsimons
Less than two years after leaving a cushy gig at a drug-testing company, Eric Fitzsimons is getting ready to launch “i Employ Veterans” bottled water through his company Veterans H2O, which will put 100 per cent of net profits into salaries for veterans.In early 2011, Fitzsimons, of Roseville, Calif., met the owner of NPACTAMERICA, a non-profit employing people with disabilities. He said the pay at non-profits was lower, but the work was much more rewarding.
Fitzsimons quit his job and went to work at the non-profit.
In his new position, Fitzsimons learned about government programs that award contracts to companies that hire people with disabilities. Before he’d left his other job, he’d started watching documentaries on the difficulties wounded veterans have finding jobs.
Fitzsimons knew the toll not being able to provide for a family could take, having grown up with a grandfather who was a World War II prisoner of war and had trouble finding a job after getting home,
“He was miserable for the rest of his life,” Fitzsimons said, during a phone interview. He decided since he hadn’t served in the military, it was his responsibility to give back to those who had.
After starting at the non-profit, Fitzsimons learned that the defence Commissary Agency (DECA) had a $1.6 billion-a-year contract. He said he thought it was crazy there wasn’t an agency employing veterans, and started trying to figure out what he could sell to DECA.
After the prices of meat and dairy wound up being too high, he moved onto bottled water, which is sold in every supermarket and was the easiest product to put a private label on.
“I think I’ve found a recipe to give Coke and Pepsi a run for their money,” he said. In addition, since the label says “i Employ Veterans,” the product gives shoppers an easy way to give back to the troops.
Fitzsimons doesn’t have a DECA contract yet, but he did secure distribution through SUPERVALU. Farm Fresh supermarkets in Hampton Roads, Va., should start selling “i Employ Veterans” in January. The area was picked because it’s a military hub–Fort Eustis, Fort Lee, Norfolk Naval Base, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis are all close.
“SUPERVALU really wants us to be successful,” Fitzsimons said.
He plans to buy a van and travel around, promoting the brand on a grass-roots level as it rolls out to other stores on the East Coast. He’s mostly employing veterans in accounting and promotions, but if someone has a skill not applicable to Veterans H20, they can get paid to intern at another company for a year, to have a better resume when they face the job market again.
Once the water is a success, Fitzsimons would like to branch out to food staples, and eventually get veterans hired in the distribution chain.
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