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67-year history began in a backyard in Fondren

Name changes, but company remains committed to customers

In 1937, when Exell L. Calhoun started bottling and selling water from a deep well in his backyard in the Fondren district of Jackson, he could never have imagined how far his grandson and great grandson would take Mississippi Bottled Water.
Or that they would change the name to the Exell Companies — as they’ve done recently — and that bottled water would be only one of their divisions, and not the fastest-growing one.

Sixty-seven years ago, Exell Calhoun pumped the well water into a building, set up some rinse and fill lines and used a hand-operated conveyor belt. He opened a valve, filled a five-gallon bottle, then another, and another.
He had one driver, who carried deliveries in the back of a pickup truck.

Four generations later, Chris Dockery, Calhoun’s great grandson and the vice president of Exell, who started working at the facility when he was young and who has a business degree from Mississippi State University, said that, “The main reason for changing our name was that we’d diversified but our name hadn’t. The only thing our name said was ‘bottled water.’ We faced marketing obstacles every day.”

Along with the name change came a new trademark, “Live Healthier.”

Dockery said that the Exell Companies consist of four divisions:

• Water filter/purification systems, both commercial and residential.

• Air purification systems, commercial and residential.

• Gourmet coffee service, commercial and residential.

• Bottled water, commercial and residential.

“Our bottleless water cooler is quite popular,” Dockery said. “It’s like having a mini-bottling plant in your home or office. You never have to fool around with delivery or go to the trouble of changing bottles.”

The under-the-sink water filter system, which works by reverse osmosis, uses ultra-violet light to remove harmful bacteria from the water. (Osmosis is the diffusion of fluid through a membrane until there is an equal concentration of fluid on either side of the membrane.)

Dockery indicated that customers can save 50% to 60% off their current bottled water bills with this system.

“One of our leading products is a whole house water filtration system,” Dockery said. “Lots of different types of companies use them, particularly poultry farms, for baby chickens, and manufacturing plants, when pure water for machines is essential.”

The water filtration systems are sold throughout Mississippi and in Jackson, Tenn.

Exell has the most advanced whole house air purification system available, according to Dockery. The system eliminates air-borne allergens and viruses, as well as smoke.
The gourmet coffee service utilizes one-cup coffee brewers and sealed coffee cups that hold one portion of coffee. Brewing a cup takes 35 seconds, using a water filtration system. “Why brew a whole pot of coffee, go to all that trouble, and coffee doesn’t taste good after sitting on the hot plate for more than a few minutes? And then you have to clean it up.”

Exell uses Green Mountain (Vermont) coffee, “a high-end coffee.” They offer a variety of coffee flavors.

Despite the water purification systems available, many people continue to prefer bottled water.
Exell’s bottled water still comes from deep wells, and also from springs. This water has several minerals dissolved in it, but the mineral quantity is very low, according to a company spokesperson. Minerals in water are measured by a quantity unit-of-measure called total dissolved solids and this ranges from 18 parts per million (ppm) to 250 ppm.

Typically, Exell water has 25 ppm.
The water is put through a four step process:

The springs and artesian wells, which are protected from contamination in the water table, receive additional purification at the water sources.
After initially being purified, an advanced type of filtration — 1-Micron Absolute Filtration — is applied to the water to remove microscopic parasites. An ozonation process destroys bacteria in the water. Then, the water is inspected and regulated to meet all of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s standards.

“Exell has been successful for so long because of our high level of service to customers and our innovative products,” Dockery said. “From 1937 until the early 1990s, we had bottled water only and then we moved into filtration and gourmet coffee systems.”

Dockery said that with the new name, Exell, and new marketing, the firm has a “national image look with a hometown story.”

“We’re always ready to move into other states — though we feel that there’s still plenty of potential in Mississippi — and some companies that sell bottled water in other states have indicated an interest in selling our products. But that hasn’t come about yet.”

Bill C. Dockery, Chris Dockery’s father, is Exell’s president. Exell now has some 30 employees.

There are no expansion plans in Exell’s immediate future but Dockery said that when the time for expansion comes, Exell will be ready.

“We just developed a piece of property to the rear of our facility on North West Street in Jackson, removed old houses, built a fence, did infrastructure work. And we also bought a building next door.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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