Nfld. & Labrador·Our New Normal

COVID-19 chills water cooler sales, and talk, for now

With so many people working from home, the office water cooler isn’t seeing much action. A company that fills the tanks says business has slowed to a trickle.

The office water cooler is a quieter place these days, and so is a company that refills them

Office water cooler business slows to a trickle

12 months ago
2:45
The office water cooler isn't a busy place these days, and neither is a company that fills thousands of coolers in St. John's. 2:45

There have been big changes in our little corners of the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador is exploring those changes in a series called Our New Normal.

With so many people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the office water cooler is receiving a lot less attention.

For many people, gone are the days when a trip to the water cooler provided a few moments to stretch one's legs and catch up with co-workers — how their weekends went, whether they watched last night's hockey game, what projects they're working on.

With so many people working from home, the water cooler for a lot of us is now a jug in the fridge or the kitchen tap, and we haven't gathered around the office cooler to swap jokes and stories in more than seven months.

Are those days gone forever? A Mount Pearl company that fills and distributes the ubiquitous blue bottles full of H2O hopes not.

Vince Walsh is the owner of Pearl Springs, which delivers water to hundreds of clients on the Avalon Peninsula. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Pearl Springs holds hundreds of contracts to deliver water across the Avalon Peninsula, but the company's numbers plummeted after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Newfoundland and Labrador in March.

"Right now if [we're] breaking even we are lucky," Pearl Springs owner Vince Walsh recently told CBC News.

"Hopefully this will turn around and get us back into the black again."

The tap went to dribble … from a full flow every day.- Vince Walsh

The company fills and ships various sizes of water bottles, but 18-litre bottles are its main product and are shipped mostly to offices.

A Pearl Springs employee hauls freshly filled water jugs through the company's Mount Pearl production facility. Demand for the office-sized jugs gas declined during the pandemic. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

When the pandemic hit Newfoundland and Labrador, Walsh said, it took him a week to understand what it would mean for his business.

He quickly found out it wasn't good.

"The tap went to dribble … from a full flow every day," he said.

"We went into defence mode. We had to figure out who was open and who was closed."

He described the first few weeks as chaotic: drivers were showing up to businesses with jugs of water only to find the offices empty.

Pearl Springs fills and ships bottles in a variety of sizes. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Once Walsh got a handle on the amount of product people were buying he had to drop one driving shift, as businesses were needing less water — or none at all.

"They were just answering the phone and saying, 'No, we don't need no water today. Call us back in a month's time.' We have hundreds and hundreds of customers right now doing that."

Before the pandemic started, Walsh said, they were filling water jugs for eight hours a day. After it hit? Two hours.

Now he is noticing more customers calling back daily as some provincial restrictions have been lifted.

Before the pandemic hit Newfoundland and Labrador, Pearl Springs would fill water jugs for eight hours a day; afterwards, they were filling for two hours a day. (Zach Goudie)

Walsh said he is concerned about employees continuing to work from home even after the pandemic but he remains hopeful they will get the majority of customers back. 

"I am hoping to come back to 95 per cent. If we get that I think we will do all right. If we lose five per cent we can live with that but if we lose any more than that — you know where it's coming from: right from your bottom line."

As for gathering around the water cooler during a work break, Walsh says he doesn't believe that's going anywhere. 

"People need to get out of the house so I don't think people will stick with working from home. You lose a lot of socialism and I think we are all social people," he said.

"I think most people want to get back to their regular routine."


Our New Normal 

(CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant great changes in our daily lives. We'll be exploring them in Our New Normal, a series of segments you'll see here, on Here & Now and on our current affairs shows. 

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