By Rick Cohler
SEYMOUR – Seymour bills itself as the “home of the burger,” and nothing goes better with a burger than a soda.
Well, you’re in luck, because Seymour is now home to both.
Soda Sense, a local company with national reach, employs 30 people and breathes new life into the old Shopko building along WI Highway 54.
It was an idea sparked by a meeting between Soda Sense CEO Mike Nelson and his friend Brandon Lotto, with the concept itself dating back nearly four years.
Lotto said his penchant for his home soda system inspired him to research potential options for refilling CO2 cartridges, instead of always having to buy new ones.
Enter Nelson, along with Dean Henrickson, Rob Ernest and several other Soda Sense investors.
But it wasn’t all easy.
Nelson said one of the first challenges the band faced was shipping.
“CO2 is regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as a dangerous good.” said Nelson. “We spent months working with the DOT and the US Postal Service to obtain special permits allowing us to ship the product. One of the stipulations is that we can only ship by land, we cannot do airships.
Nelson said the carbon dioxide used is a byproduct of ethanol production.
He said the CO2 is trucked to Soda Sense where it is stored in a 30-ton storage tank outside the building and provides another benefit to corn growers in the Midwest.
The move to Seymour
After operating in Ashwaubenon for around a year, Nelson said a move to the vacant Seymour Shopko building seemed like the natural next step.
He said Seymour Mayor Ryan Kraft helped bring Soda Sense to Seymour and the town has been phenomenal to work with.
“We reached an agreement, remodeled the building and moved into the new facilities on January 1, 2021,” he said.
All the work done to prepare the interior of the building has also been devoted to the exterior.
Nelson said since Shopko closed the Seymour store in April 2019, the property’s landscaping and the building’s faded paint also needed attention.
“Image is very important to me; it’s one of my top priorities,” Nelson said.
As homemade soda connoisseurs themselves, Lotto said the endless headaches of late return fees, printing return labels, finding drop-off locations and constant retailer visits to the hope of a stock cartridge led them to think there had to be a better way – turns out there was.
Nelson said Soda Sense has created a way for people to have refills delivered to their homes.
“In doing so, we have created intellectual property for which we have a patent pending,” he said. “You have three cylinders and when you put your last cylinder in your machine, you put the other two in the exchange box and you put it in your mailbox. As soon as the post office scans that, they automatically bill you the refill charge, triggers the order and two or three days later the refills appear at your doorstep.
Nelson said customers have nicknamed it the “endless bubble program” because they never run out of gas.
“You don’t need to return to our website to order,” he said.
Nelson said so far so good, noting that Soda Sense has more than exceeded its three-year business plan.
The on-demand CO2 exchange company can only ship to 48 states due to the ground transportation requirement only; however, Nelson said they hope to add Alaska and Hawaii at some point.
Nelson said some Soda Sense products are currently sold in smaller stores in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta, and coffee shops in Sheboygan and Seymour are also using the service in their locations.
Nelson said they also just hired a traveling salesman to help grow this type of business.
“We want to develop partnerships with local small businesses because it’s a real business-to-business relationship,” he said.
Nelson said Soda Sense is also loyal to its employees, paying good wages and benefits and providing a welcoming workplace.
Nelson said he sees a bright future for Soda Sense by making Seymour as well-known a source in the home carbonation market as it is for the burger.
For more information, visit sodasense.com.