It’s been a year of change for Union Gap-based water bottle manufacturer Liberty Works.
Last September, the company, then called Liberty Bottleworks, was purchased by a California manufacturer. The sale came as Liberty was struggling with competition from bottles made abroad and lacked the capital it needed to grow.
Since then, the company has increased employment, added a new product line and is in the process of rebranding. A lawsuit that was filed in connection with the sale has been resolved.
The Liberty story
Liberty Bottleworks, founded by Timothy Andis and Ryan Clark in 2010, had garnered national attention for manufacturing a water bottle in the U.S. It had cameos in several television shows, and the company was invited to represent Washington state at a “Made in America event” at the White House in 2017.
The acclaim, however, didn’t always translate to business success, as the company faced stiff competition from foreign-made bottles that cost less to make. The company lacked funds to venture into new product lines, and founders Andis and Clark left the company.
Covina, Calif.-based tool manufacturer Olympia Tools purchased Liberty Bottleworks in September. Olympia Tools officials said the purchase would provide the company much-needed capital to develop new products and increase production.
A surprising twist came around that time when Peter Plath, an investor in the company, filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit named Liberty Bottle Co., the corporation operating the company before the sale; Liberty Works LLC, the corporation governed by Olympia Tools; and Andis as defendants.
Company officials said Plath filed the lawsuit to ensure that the company could continue operating and Olympia Tools could close on its purchase. Had he not done so, the company would have had to file bankruptcy, shut down and lay off employees, officials said.
About 30 employees now work at the plant at 2900 Sutherland Road, up from the 17 to 18 employees who were working in the months leading up to the sale, general manager Aaron Collier said in an interview last week.
The company is in the process of rebranding; it now goes by the name Liberty Works, though it plans to retain the Liberty Bottleworks name for the original water bottle, which is made in Union Gap with 100-percent recyclable aluminum.
The company launched a new product line, the Liberty Venture Line. The product line is made up of double-wall and vacuum-insulated stainless steel bottles in various sizes. Unlike the original Liberty Bottleworks bottle, the products in the Venture line are manufactured outside the U.S. The art for the bottles is still done at Liberty Works’ plant in Union Gap.
The company wants to manufacture the Venture products in the U.S. as well, but it will take time to figure out the technology and the equipment required. “It’s part of the business plan,” Collier said.
The company is also working to rebuild its retail business. The company’s primary business — about 90 percent — is filling custom bottle orders from companies and organizations, with a small portion of sales coming through Amazon, its website and at the retail store at its Union Gap plant.
The company hopes to ramp up wholesale distribution to retail outlets over the next year, said sales manager Shawn Hill.
In the meantime, the company has increased its community engagement efforts and has worked on re-establishing brand recognition, locally and nationwide, said Kari Eagle, marketing and sales director.
The company has recently sponsored several local and regional events. Locally, it was the lead sponsor for Over the Edge, a fundraiser for Wellness House where people rappelled down the side of the Liberty Building in downtown Yakima. The company is also a sponsor of the Chinook Fest music festival and the Yakima Taco Fest.
Outside the Yakima Valley, Liberty Works was one of the sponsors for the Seaside Beach Volleyball Tournament, a national event in Seaside, Ore., that attracts more than 1,600 youth, semi-pro and professional beach volleyball teams. Liberty Works provided a hydration station where people could fill their bottles.
The hydration station, which the company plans to have at other events, is a symbol of the company’s commitment to eliminate single-use water bottles.
“It’s pretty nice to be part of the trend,” Collier said.
Eagle is also working on a new website and social media strategy. The rebranding will revolve around promoting the company’s support of sustainability. The company also will use social media to highlight collaborations with independent artists whose works are used in Liberty Works’ bottle designs.
As for the lawsuit, Yakima County Superior Court ruled in January that Plath should receive nearly $3.5 million from the Liberty Bottle Co. Plath is unlikely to get that money, said Roger Bailey, a Yakima attorney who represented Plath in the case.
Plath’s focus was to ensure that the company would continue operating, Bailey said. At the time of the lawsuit, Liberty Bottle Co. had liens from the Internal Revenue Service. The lawsuit, which was filed as a foreclosure, wiped out those liens.
Plath ended up acquiring Liberty Bottle Co.’s assets, including intellectual property, for $300,000 during a sheriff’s sale in June. The proceeds went toward Plath’s nearly $3.5 million award. Plath then turned around and sold the assets to Liberty Works LLC, the new owner, for an undisclosed sum, Bailey said.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct Kari Eagle's job title and to clarify that the bottles are made with recyclable aluminum.