How your water quality dealership can compete against the big brand names

May 5, 2023
When it comes to competing with brand names, getting local recognition is a step in the right direction.

There is a story I can share with many dealers because it illustrates the challenges facing smaller water quality businesses. The story goes like this: 

A homeowner explained that she has two homes, both with whole house filtration. With her first home, she installed one of the large recognizable brand names, and she had a horrible experience. For her second home, she decided to go with a small local company, and she had a great experience. Unfortunately, she could not remember the name of that second company. 

This anecdote demonstrates the sheer power of a brand name. When it comes to water, there is no stronger name than Culligan. Of course, they have been around for years and years. 

So, how can your water quality dealership compete with big brand names like Culligan or Britta? (Note: these were the only two brands people recognized in the 2021 WQA (Water Quality Association) Consumer Opinion Study) 

Here are some concrete ways to put your dealership on top to make sure your customers always remember your name. 

Piggyback on big brands market power 

Instead of thinking of Culligan and Britta as competitors you need to go toe-to-toe with, take advantage of their marketing efforts. They have great penetration in many markets. This means that they are doing the work of market education for you. 

Use their marketing and sales efforts as a springboard for your own marketing initiatives. Start thinking about your sales process in two phases. First, there is convincing people to want a water treatment system for their home. Then, there is convincing people to go with your company. 

We know how important it is to get your prospect to sign during that first home appointment. Because if they do not, they will start to shop around. It is that comparison stage where your dealership can be discovered and shine. Can you actually rival a nationally well-known brand? Probably not, but what you can do is compete with them on a hyper-local level. 

This is where you highlight the differences between your dealership and the national players. 

Incorporate the buy local brand  

Did you know that 93% of consumers prefer buying locally? Use this to your water quality dealership’s advantage. There is an entire Buy Local movement dedicated to local businesses who work exclusively with their communities.    

First, make sure your dealership is easy to find on Google local, as people will search phrases such as “water conditioning companies near me” or “water filtration companies in Boca Raton.” 

Then, make sure you have a presence on your local community websites. Think Nextdoor, a platform that connects you with residents and businesses within your zip code. They offer a business profile option for you to promote your goods and services as well as keeping up with your community. People use these websites and patronize the local businesses that are listed. By the way, do not forget your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau. 

Differentiate yourself as a local player by emphasizing your community roots. On your website, share your founding story and talk about your involvement in the local community. Participate in events in your community – from annual 5K runs (can you provide coolers of filtered water?) and exhibiting in local fairs or events. 

Many people are drawn to water treatment products because of the green movement. This is a chance to remind them that they are part of something bigger. 

Use your local knowledge 

While you cannot outspend the big brands, you can be more strategic on a local level. Adapt your messaging and sales practices to match your customers’ regional uniqueness. The way people speak in South Florida is way different than the way people speak in Texas. 

You also know what kind of tap water there is in your community. You also know what chemicals might be in local wells. My local residents go online to see what the quality of their water might be. Have you checked out mytapwater.com? Or the WQRF (Water Quality Research Foundation) contamination map? These are great resources that keep you totally up to speed on the water quality in your local area. 

Your understanding of your local community also gives you a leg up on the local hiring market. This way you can scale up as needed. 

Market locally 

Remember to reach out to new homeowners in your market on a weekly basis. Even though these may be small lists, they offer your dealership a chance to reach the best water conditioner and filtration buyers on a continuing basis. New print-on-demand technology lets you mail to these new homeowner prospects every week without worrying about big minimums that made this program unaffordable for small dealerships in the past. Continuity in your marketing outreach is really important. 

You can also directly market to local households by zip code or by a radius around your location. For example, select homeowners only or maybe target more narrowly to homeowners with children. Maybe even overlay modelled credit, to ensure you are selecting homeowners who can afford your system. Your goal is to keep your name in front of the people who will be your best prospects. Direct marketing is the most efficient way to reach these households. 

As I mentioned before, in the world of search, Google local is your best friend. If you want to be found in Google local, make sure your listing is complete, and upload photos of your dealership. The more information you include in your Google local listing, the better. 

Make sure you can be found on Google maps and add that link with directions on your website. There is so much involved with local search, but it is a lot easier to manage local search than trying to handle search on a broader national basis. 

Invest in quality service 

For small businesses to stay competitive in the market, they need to differentiate themselves from larger companies with quality service and speed. This holds true for appointment setting, proposals, follow up and installation. Nothing is a cookie cutter process. Customers want efficient, personalized service. Focus your dealership on creating a unique experience that large corporations cannot create and still offer the same level of quality service that customers would expect from bigger brands 

This is where speed comes into play. Once they have signed on to the bottom line, they want their service, and they want it now. 

Make sure you keep a close relationship with your customer through their entire customer journey. That is where a small dealership has the edge. Customers love knowing they are working with the business owner.

Embrace your network of customers and referral program 

If you have a competitive referral program, make sure you feature it as a differentiator from the competition. Referral programs work best when there is some density in a given area. That is a real advantage local companies have over big brands. When a prospect hears about your dealership from more than one person, they remember your business name.  

You might also want to check out some of the third-party platforms for generating more customer reviews and referrals.  

Leverage third-party software (SaaS)    

Use Software as a Service (SaaS) options when you can. For small to medium-sized dealerships, building a website from scratch is not a great idea. For example, many dealerships use WordPress websites. These have all the bells and whistles you will want or need. It is way more efficient than anything you can custom build in-house.  

The same thing goes for software. There already is software for bottled water delivery (Waterdeliverysystems.com); accounting, lead tracking and customer management (Unco-data-systems.com); as well as scheduling and dispatching (ServiceTitan.com).  

Many of these companies also offer branded apps that provide both employees and customers with a more efficient experience. There are apps to monitor sales appointments, water flow, leaks and salt delivery. Take advantage of these kinds of platforms so you can meet your customers’ digital expectations. 

Do not try to reinvent the wheel. These companies focus on their niche so you can focus on what you do best: selling and installing more water conditioners. 

Last word 

By following these seven tips, you can make sure your dealership gets the attention it deserves. More and more homeowners are choosing to take their water quality into their own hands and buy a system that works for them. This is your chance to beat out the competition and create a community of loyal customers who never forget your name. 

Dale “Data Dale” Filhaber is president of Dataman Group Direct, a marketing list company that focuses on the water treatment industry. Data Dale’s latest book, Lead Generation for Water Quality Dealers – 2023 edition, was just released and can be purchased on Amazon. Dale can be reached at (800) 771-3282; [email protected]  

About the Author

Dale "DataDale" Filhaber

Dale “DataDale” Filhaber is president of Dataman Group Direct, a Florida-based direct marketing company founded in 1981. Filhaber is an author, lecturer and Listologist. In the past 30-plus years, she has trained many water quality dealers in direct marketing and lead generation techniques, including direct mail, digital marketing and social media.

Filhaber can be reached at [email protected] or 800.771.3282.

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