Derick Halliman has had three jobs in his life, and the first two did little to prepare him for the third. In 1997, after a combined eight years making pizzas at Pizza Hut and delivering packages for UPS, Halliman gave entrepreneurism a go. He created Lucid Enterprises, a Georgia-based bottled water company.
“I was interested in the bottled water industry, so I did some research and found that few African-Americans were involved,” the Decatur, Georgia native tells Cuisine Noir. But he had his skeptics.
Silencing the Critics
“My grandfather thought the concept was stupid. He used to always say, ‘You’re buying water. In the next few years, you’re going to have to buy air.’ But what I discovered was that bottled water is really a niche market and there was an opportunity for me to make a name for myself.”
Fast forward 15 years, Halliman has added water filtration systems to his business portfolio and built Lucid into an international company with 16 employees with a significant imprint in the United Kingdom. Much of his success can be traced to Mist Premium Spring Water, a product launched in 2008. Mist has won a handful of awards for taste and packaging. Not bad for someone who envisioned a career in public service or the boardroom.
“I’ve always been a team player, so growing up in Decatur, I figured I’d be in an industry where success is predicated on teamwork, like a firefighter or a job in corporate America,” Halliman says.
A high school drafting class stoked his desire to study architecture; something about the creative process—devising a concept, then designing and building it—inspired him. Outside of school, he worked as a cook and driver at Pizza Hut. Years would pass before he’d get the chance to exercise his creativity.
Balancing work and college proved difficult, so Halliman dropped out of Georgia State University after two semesters. He spent the bulk of the 1990s at Pizza Hut and at UPS. During this time, Halliman fell into what he called the “UPS syndrome.” Unfulfilled at work, he began pining to do something else, something different.
Lucid Enterprises began rather inauspiciously. Halliman negotiated with a local bottling company that sold five-gallon bottles of water. He created his own labels and slapped them on the bottles as his own. It worked. Business flourished.
Down But Not Out
Success came fast—too fast. Demand outpaced supply. He couldn’t fill orders fast enough. Customer service suffered and so did his reputation. “I was a one-man show and I just couldn’t sustain the growth. Too much business can be a bad problem to have if you can’t handle it. That experience pushed me into the water filtration business in 1998. I wanted to own my business, have more control and generate residual income.”
A year later, Halliman became a direct contractor for a company specializing in reverse osmosis systems, water softeners and filtration systems. Success came fast—disaster even faster. The September 11 terrorist attacks devastated his business. Revenues dropped by 50 percent. His bad luck continued with his ill-fated 2004 purchase of the Ice Age bottled water company and a ruptured appendix a year later.
The business setbacks made him gun-shy, leery of pulling the trigger on his next idea, Blast, a fitness-water product. The learning curve was too steep. He figured he’d need a team to succeed. “It’s a niche industry that I knew very little about and I would need all these people around me who knew the business. I learned a lesson from Ice Age. When you buy a company, you also buy its problems.”
Ironically, it was at Halliman’s lowest point that he came up with his brightest idea. “One day I was feeling sorry for myself and I drew the design for the Mist bottle. I still loved architecture and designing and had a lot of contacts in the business, so I sent the design off to some contacts. I wanted them to create a prototype. When I got the design back in 2007, I decided to put everything into Mist.”
Mist comes in a glass, not a bottle, and it’s not just any glass—it’s hip, avant-garde and could easily serve as a vessel for premium liquor. Success came fast. In 2008, Mist won several awards including gold at the People’s Choice Packing Design at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia; silver in the Best Bottle in Glass category at the Water Innovation Awards in the United Kingdom.
“We won the Berkeley award and we hadn’t even launched the product yet. When I got back from Water Innovation Awards, I got a distribution deal in the United Kingdom,” he says.
Halliman capped off the year with the Entrepreneur of the Year and Rising Star Under 35 awards from Black Enterprise magazine. In 2009, he was honored at the Trumpet Awards, an annual event celebrating African-American achievements. This time, he was better equipped to handle success.
“People love the design of the bottle, but they are also happy that Mist comes in a glass. There’s a difference in taste and quality when water comes from plastic. People are more conscious about what they put into their bodies,” says Halliman, who’s equally passionate about philanthropy and mentoring future social, civic and business leaders.
“Business has been going well, especially in the U.K. I’m excited about the future.”