Entrepreneur has Demopolis roots

teri mathisTeri Mathis may only have spent three years of her life in Demopolis, but they were eventful ones that she recalls 45 years later with fond memories.

“I have a special place in my heart for Demopolis and Demopolis High School,” she said. “It was a wonderful time in my life.”

Then known as Teri Hinchey, she moved to the city with her family in 1963 when her father worked on the construction of the Alabama Power Greene County steam plant. From then until her graduation from DHS in 1966, Teri called Demopolis home.

Now she lives with her husband, Lee, in Orchard, Texas where they have embarked on a new business they named Oxygen Orchard. Together they manufacture and sell a patented device they invented which provides an exclusive way to aerate water. They call the device The Big Pitcher. Lee and Teri manufacture the units themselves to maintain quality control.

Getting to this point wasn’t a straight road, however. Her first career was as a stockbroker.

“I left the retail brokerage business to go into an investment banking firm,” she continued. A co-worker had a business on the side to cleanse industrial wastewater. She worked for him for three years learning water chemistry under his tutelage and discovered she had a special affinity for microbiology and chemistry.

She started own company, BioTex Environmental, and was hired by companies up and down the Gulf Coast to cleanse wastewater prior to discharge.

In 2000 she made a New Year’s resolution to drink the recommended eight glasses of water daily. Using a tool she often used in her business, Teri tested her well water and discovered it lacked any oxygen saturation.

Knowing water is capable of certain levels of oxygen saturation, she began looking into whether oxygen is “an important but overlooked factor in drinking water quality.”

After years of research, she decided to bring the results of her studies to the health-conscious public. She is getting ready to publish her book “Supply Side Health” later this year.

In the meantime, The Big Pitcher is catching on and finding a growing market among those who see the advantage of drinking water with a higher oxygen level than is normally available to avoid what she has termed Chronic Oxygen Debt Syndrome.

She coined the phase after reading about hypoxia, or cellular oxygen debt, in medical journals. Severe symptoms can hit in high altitude. She uses the name to bring “an awareness that we need more oxygen.”

How does The Big Pitcher work?  “In the beginning not so well,” she laughed. Like most inventors, she and Lee discovered flaws as they developed the product. But Teri encourages inventors to pursue their ideas.

“If they think they have a good idea…plunge into it and keep at it and keep at it,” she said.

With the advice of a marketing expert, the couple started small with a late night television ad in Jacksonville, Fla., — the same night President H.W. Bush declared war on Iraq. They received five orders.

Soon after, their product began a five-year featured run in Skymall Magazine. (One of the benefits of using their product is to lessen jet lag.) With the exposure and orders from the magazine, the couple learned inventory control, how to ship, creating invoices, and other business strategies.

Now they are signed with a manufacturers’ representative group and will be shipping in bulk instead of one unit at a time to customers. Already Oxygen Orchard has sold more in January than half of 2012.

The company is ready to begin a new chapter. With her brokerage background, Teri is taking the company public this year.

An English major, Teri said, “I got the best education in Demopolis schools.” She credited excellent, hands-on teaching, by educators who took an interest in students’ lives.

“As majorettes, we practiced twirling fire batons,” she recalled. “So in the darkness of the halftime stadium, mine was the only fire baton to stay exactly parallel to the ground as the others were fearlessly twirled between the intertwined majorettes’ legs.”

When the city held the Miss Demopolis pageant, Teri made the top 10. At the time the Beatles were the most popular act in the world, and Teri was one of their biggest fans. The question she was asked during the pageant was on the British rock group, and she remembered acing it.

In the summer she would ride her horse Pinocchio along with friends. The memories of those rides she put in a short story that will be part of an anthology to be published later this year to benefit Save Our Wild Horses.

Teri recalled the memorable senior trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City. Boarding the train in Eutaw, she said, the trip, tour, lodging and meals cost a total $262. She remembered her class of 70 students sang “The Hallelujah Chorus” at graduation.

Not all the memories of Demopolis are humorous or call up carefree moments.

“In 1966, school officials told everyone to go home, straight home, mid-day!” Teri and her girlfriend instead “went straight downtown to the drug store across from the park. Up the river road came a long line of protesters, led by seven or eight men in suits, a guy with a guitar guy singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ moving up and down the line. One of the leading men was Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Teri said her class motto was “We will not follow where the path may lead, but we will go where there is no path and we will leave a trail.”

“I’m sure I’m not the only one in our class who can lay claim to the embodiment of this motto,” she said. “It guided my professional life.”