Rising to the Top

Dec. 1, 2014
WQP recognizes the 2014 Dealers of the Month

About the author: For more information, contact WQP at [email protected] or 847.391.1007.

undefinedAs many WQP readers know, running a water dealership is no small feat. It is much more than knowing how to diagnose water problems and install equipment—water dealers must stay up to date on the latest water treatment and conditioning technologies and contaminant threats, craft marketing plans to ensure that new business comes in, maintain high levels of customer service, manage employees, and perform all of the other day-to-day tasks that come with running a small business.

WQP recognizes this hard work with its Dealer of the Month program. Each month, a successful dealer is profiled in an online feature article. From innovative marketing plans to introducing proprietary water treatment systems to participating in community outreach, these dealers exemplify the best the water treatment industry has to offer.

In the following pages, you will be able to read about each of the 12 Dealers of the Month featured in 2014. All of these dealers are in the running to win the 2014 Dealer of the Year award, the winner of which will be selected by WQP readers this spring. Keep an eye on your e-mail inboxes for the award selection survey after the New Year. The winner of the 2014 Dealer of the Year award will be featured in the June 2015 issue of WQP.

We are already looking for Dealers of the Month to feature in 2015, so if you know a dealer who deserves recognition, nominate him or her via WQP’s online nomination form at www.wqpmag.com/dealer-month-nomination-form. The form is available 24/7/365, and self-nominations are accepted. 

JANUARY
Scott Hillman
Integrity Plumbing & Water Treatment LLC, Franklinville, N.Y.

In 1993, Scott Hillman got out of the U.S. Air Force, got married and began working for a water treatment company in Kokomo, Ind. 

In 2001, the death of his wife led him back to his home state. “There was really nothing to keep me in Indiana,” he said. In early 2002, he moved back to New York and started Integrity Plumbing & Water Treatment LLC, focusing on plumbing. 

Then, five years ago, Hillman changed his focus: “I kind of had an epiphany where I said, the water treatment is really what I’m passionate about; it’s what I love to do. So, why not focus on it?”

The company services several towns in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. This resort area, filled with lakes, cottages and ski resorts, has many of the same water quality issues Hillman treated in the Midwest, the most prominent being iron, hydrogen sulfide and manganese.

Although Hillman addresses many of the same water concerns as his competitors, he said that what sets him apart is his commitment to continuing education.

In 2013, he joined the Water Quality Assn. (WQA)and got certified. “Two things struck me about learning the material to become certified,” he said. “One is how much I knew — a verification that I was doing things properly and ethically. The other was how little I knew. I was amazed, after doing this for 20 years, at how much I learned.”

Hillman said his dedication to customer service also separates him from his competition. “It’s really, really important to call people back, make them feel important, show up on time and be professional,” he said.

As Hillman looks to move the company forward, his main goal is growth. The growth that Hillman wants is not just financial, however — it is personal as well. “Now that I’ve got the ball rolling, it’s really important to keep the certification active and continue to grow that,” he said.

FEBRUARY
Christine Fletcher, Crispin Fletcher & Jan Beauvais
Secondwind Water Systems Inc., Manchester, N.H.

In 1989, Secondwind Water Systems opened its doors, marking the start of new careers for its three founders. Christine Fletcher and her husband, Crispin Fletcher, left the computer industry while their third business partner, Jan Beauvais, left a job in manufacturing. “We just had a desire to do something that felt a little more connected locally,” Christine said. 

The company now serves more than 9,000 residential and commercial customers, manages 130 small public water supplies, and installs and monitors the performance of more than 100 systems for gasoline contamination.

Over the years, the company has remained open to change. Christine remembers deciding if the business could afford one of the first car phones — now its staff has iPhones, because expectations to constantly be connected to e-mail are so high. Technicians also use mobile devices to access data and write work orders.

“You never can just sit back and run the business,” Christine said. “You’re always having to learn new things and implement change in your company.”

Secondwind Water Systems also has found the Internet playing a large role in getting new business. “Things like having a blog and an e-mail newsletter take a little bit to get going, but once you have [them] started, it’s not too expensive,” Christine said. The company’s No. 1 source of leads continues to be customer referrals, though.

In addition to changing technologies, the company has seen a shift in its customer base. “Now we have definitely seen water quality be elevated in the minds of people,” she said. “The percentage of people who believe that the water quality matters from a health perspective has increased. The percentage of people who want to know what’s in their water has increased.”

Secondwind Water Systems makes educating both its veteran employees and new hires a priority. Over the years, the company has developed what it calls “the configurator.” This includes all of the company’s rules on how to know what to configure under which water quality circumstances.

“Ten years ago it felt like this arduous process. The poor sales guys couldn’t figure out what to sell when, and they always had to call the office for help,” Christine said. “It was just a matter of getting all the knowledge that was in the heads of the old-timers and getting it organized in such a way that a new-timer could access it.” 

MARCH
Daniel Watts
Tri-County Water, Jackson, Mich.

family business spanning three generations certainly comes with its challenges, especially as the economy has wavered in recent years. Tri-County Water pushed through the economic downturn by amping up its commercial/industrial business, which also helped it make a name for itself among its local competition. 

According to Watts, a factor that has aided the company’s success is its ability to retain quality employees. “We treat our employees like family. Being fair, honest and reasonable goes a long way,” he said. “We also help our employees advance in the industry through training and certification.”

This is an area that Watts would like to continue to focus on as the company grows. He noted that belonging to an association like WQA plays an important role in supporting the overall industry, but he would like to see education integrated more into the day-to-day work of employees. 

“We now require all installations to be photographed, and we use the photos as a training experience. We also have suppliers come in a few times a year to perform service and technical training sessions to keep up on product changes, [but] this is an area we can improve,” Watts said.

In Watts’ predictions for the future of the water industry, Tri-County Water is in a great position. “I feel we are going to deal with more high-purity applications, including the manufacturing, laboratory and medical fields,” he said.

As he prepares for whatever the future may hold, Watts encourages other dealers to do the same. “Have a vision for your company; make a plan and see it through,” he said. “There are many opportunities for growth out there.”

APRIL
Steve Pederson, Brian Pederson & John Miles
Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters, Fort Dodge, Iowa

Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters has been a part of the Fort Dodge community for decades, but not as one business — as two. In May 2010, Steve Pederson, owner of Blue Ribbon Water, purchased Pelham Waters. The team of Steve Pederson, primary owner; Brian Pederson, his son and logistics manager; John Miles, sales manager; and their staff of 11 created Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters.

Customer service — leading to happy customers who refer family and friends — and a presence in the community help the company bring in business. “We can deliver your water, we can fix your water, but one of the most unique things about us is the way Steve donates water to the community when it’s needed,” Miles said.

Since Miles joined the industry full-time in 2000, a lot has changed. Although he admitted to hating change, the business has succeeded because of just that. “I fought Facebook for probably two years, and now I’m a firm believer in it [as well as] a good website,” he said. 

Along with increased online presence, Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters has branched out to other organizations. “I never used to pay attention to WQA. Everything I did was trial and error,” Miles said. “But if you utilize those organizations that have many members who have tried things and failed, and if you learn from other people’s experiences, that helps a lot.”

Education does not just come from outside professionals — the team at Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters learns from each other. This team atmosphere has led to communication throughout the company. “Steve has an open-door policy, and it’s really unique,” Miles said. “He never shuts his office door, even if he’s meeting with an employee, so if there’s ever an issue or something doesn’t seem right, he’s right there.”

In the Fort Dodge area, water problems range from hard water to undrinkable problem water. “When you get into water treatment, it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal,” Miles said. He has found that one of the most challenging things for the industry is staying ahead of the curve, so as soon as something else is discovered in the water, a technology is available to remove it.

The future looks bright for Blue Ribbon Pelham Waters as it continues to address these concerns and find ways to remove the things people do not want in their water. “That’s why I’m so passionate about our industry,” Miles said. “We change people’s quality of life with what we do to their water.”

MAY
Matthew Mahany
Soft Water Specialists LLC, Richland, Wash.

Although Matthew Mahany has worked in the water industry for almost 15 years, it was not always in his plans. He wanted to work in aviation, but job opportunities proved scarce, so he found himself working for a friend at a manufacturing research and development OEM in Utah — and liking it. “I caught the water bug,” he said.

The knowledge and connections Mahany gained during those early years greatly benefitted his company, Soft Water Specialists LLC, where he works as a salesman and water technician. 

The small company of just three additional employees treats a host of regional water concerns. While the bulk of the company’s business is residential, it also does business with commercial buildings, grocery stores and wineries.

One characteristic that differentiates Soft Water Specialists is its view of its customers and competition. “I consider all my clients my friends, and I really enjoy improving their lifestyles by improving their water,” Mahany said.

He lends this friendly disposition to his local competition as well. “We are glad to say that we get along with our competitors,” Mahany said.

To reach its clientele, Soft Water Specialists has invested in a variety of techniques, including radio, TV and local associations. The company is working with a search engine optimization and website developer to maximize the benefits of having a good website and online presence.

The company also is employing other types of technologies to make everyday business run more smoothly. “To make life easier, we have switched our invoicing to using an iPad, having a portable printer or e-mailing our customers their invoices,” Mahany said. “This has saved us a lot of time. Also, we are able to communicate with our clientele through e-mail and set appointments through our website.”

As a Certified Water Specialist, Mahany is a strong believer in WQA. The company is working to have all of its employees certified.

While knowledge of techniques and technologies is important to Mahany, he really focuses on integrity and quality. As he looks to expand the company in the future, these will be qualities he searches for. “When we are looking for employees, we strive for integrity, respect and a great attitude,” he said. “When you have the right employees and you train them well, the company goes the best direction possible.”

JUNE
Alan Mast & Travis Mast
Mast Water Technology, Platteville, Wis.

“Be honest, be fair, and be knowledgeable.” That has been Travis Mast’s motto since he took over the day-to-day operations of Mast Water Technology 11 years ago. Travis, vice president and general manager, runs the business with guidance from his father, owner Alan Mast. 

The family’s history in the water industry dates to the 1950s, when Alan’s father and grandfather started manufacturing water treatment equipment for dealers. In 1980, Alan and his wife, Joanne, decided to go a different direction and bought two dealerships in Wisconsin.

These purchases merged into what is now known as Mast Water Technology, a fourth-generation, family-owned dealership serving parts of Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

Alan and Travis have seen many changes through the decades, but one thing that has kept Mast Water Technology successful and up to date through it all is business partnerships.

One unique partnership Mast Water Technology has maintained since 1999 is with Hellenbrand Inc. Alan works on Hellenbrand’s engineering team, and this dual position provides the latest equipment and training. The company’s 10 employees further maintain their knowledge through field tests and seminars.

One of the dealership’s main challenges is location — it covers a large, rural service area. High fuel costs and harsh winters sometimes make servicing rural areas out of one central location seem nearly impossible. Some of the advantages, however, outweigh the challenges, according to Travis. “We deal with customers who are farmers or rural townspeople, and they’re fair and honest people, so we don’t have many hassles,” he said. 

Mast Water Technology makes sure customers can rely on it to provide an honest answer and do things right the first time. “With a family business, people know you, and people can call in and ask for you specifically,” Travis said. “We design our systems specifically for each case, each person’s type of water. We’re not just going to go with a standard solution for everything.”

JULY
Jay Hellenbrand
Advanced Water Solutions, Ventura, Calif.

“The water business is in my blood,” said Jay Hellenbrand, president of Advanced Water Solutions. And indeed it is. The son of Jim Hellenbrand, founder of Hellenbrand Inc., Jay learned the ins and outs of the industry at an early age. 

With a passion for water running through his veins, Hellenbrand finished high school ready to make his mark on the industry, but was encouraged to go to college first. The decision to attend college was good for his career, he believes.

After graduation, Hellenbrand worked at a water distribution company in California, while also operating his own residential sales and service business. Soon he quit his day job to take his business, Advanced Water Solutions, to the next level. In 1999, the company bought another small water business and in 2001, it moved to Ventura to expand.

Today, the company’s eight employees service Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Business is approximately 65% residential and 35% commercial, with a specialization in coffee shops. 

Since opening Advanced Water Solutions, Hellenbrand has faced many challenges. Two current ones have been especially difficult: the drought in the western U.S. and softener bans in California. According to Hellenbrand, the entire industry will have to work together to better address both challenges.

“We must, as an industry, make huge strides in developing new and better technologies or systems that not only meet the needs of the consumers, but are also mindful of the amount of water, salt or energy each product requires,” he said. 

These are issues that Hellenbrand does not just talk about; he also takes an active role in making sure that the necessary changes take place. He is a member of WQA and a board member for the Pacific Water Quality Assn.

Throughout all of the challenges Hellenbrand and Advanced Water Solutions have experienced over the past few years, he has maintained the lessons of his youth. When asked about what makes Advanced Water Solutions special, he replied, “I am proud to say our customer service is a unique part of our business.” 

This is a trait that Hellenbrand encourages all dealers to be intentional about. “Take care of your prospects, customers and staff and they will take care of you,” he said. “My dad always said that, and I watched him build a successful business. Now, I just follow the guidance he provided and things seem to move along in the right direction.”

AUGUST
Tim Van Overloop
NMP Water Systems LLC, Mahwah, N.J.

NMP Water Systems has been around since 1985, but the company today hardly resembles that of 30 years ago. Originally, the name stood for Nature’s Market Place, a whole foods market owned by Ed Van Overloop in Ridgewood, N.J. Ed soon realized pure food went hand in hand with pure water and opened the water treatment company.

Ed’s grandson Tim Van Overloop grew up around the business, but initially took a job in the corporate world. After two years, he realized he belonged in the water industry, so he purchased the company from his grandfather in 2004. 

“Where the business came from to where it is now to where it is going is a very stark contrast,” Van Overloop said. “Jokingly we now say NMP is for ‘No More Problems.’”

NMP serves a large region that includes parts of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Van Overloop does not shy away from commercial jobs, but his business is primarily residential. 

The company started out with 40 or 50 customers but now has more than 1,000. Van Overloop credits this large increase to networking. “You have to have a network of professionals you do good work for and who refer you business,” he said. “I have three or four builders, one or two kitchen designers, and renovation guys. And we get business from them each and every week.”

Online presence is also crucial for NMP. It has been awarded the Angie’s List Super Service Award for the past four years. “Angie’s List revolutionized my business, and it took me out of my garage and into my commercial shop,” Van Overloop said. “It gives you credibility.”

Although Van Overloop said he is not really into Facebook and Twitter, social media can be yet another source of business. “There are a few local Internet groups like the Ridgewood Mom’s Group that if you get on there, people talk about how good of a job you did,” he said. 

Training is another key component of the business. Van Overloop visits jobsites to provide on-the-job training, and vendors and association membership provide additional training. 

“It’s important to have my guys certified, because moving forward there’s going to be licensing, and I’m actually a big advocate of that,” he said. “I would like to be the first licensed water purification contractor in the state of New Jersey.”

The knowledge that comes from these certifications is just one component to providing the best service possible and installations the company can stand behind.

“I give a 10-year warranty on all our equipment and workmanship no matter what, because it was my grandfather’s philosophy that any installment should work for 10 years without any problems or it’s up to you to make it right,” Van Overloop said. “Some things have changed, but there are a lot of tried-and-true practices and similarities to what there were 30 years ago.”

SEPTEMBER
Casey Taylor
Waterlogic West, Concord, Calif.

Before Casey Taylor became president of Waterlogic West, he worked for Taylor Made Water Systems, a family-run business started by Taylor, his father and brother in 1998. In 2012, the Taylors sold the business to Waterlogic, a point-of-use (POU) water purification provider. That year, Taylor Made Water Systems also purchased AquaPrix in Hayward, Calif., and AquaPerfect in Sacramento, Calif., and in 2013, all three merged to form Waterlogic West, a subsidiary of Waterlogic PLC.

Taylor’s early years in the POU industry were difficult as he tried to establish himself within a segment that did not seem to be very interested. Increasing consumer awareness of POU water systems has helped Waterlogic West grow. “The market has changed so much. There is a lot of education about water in general, and now there is a lot of backlash against bottled water because of environmental factors,” Taylor said. 

One feature that stands out at Waterlogic West is the focus on employees, which has led to better service. “We recognize that we all need to work hard and put in a quality effort, but if we’re not having fun at work, that will be reflected in our attitudes and work product,” Taylor said. Whether it is working on good communication and relationships, or planned activities like team-building events, monthly birthday celebrations and ugly sweater contests, Waterlogic West has found a way to keep the work environment fun. 

Another value that Waterlogic West stands by is a commitment to service outside the office. Before Waterlogic bought Taylor Made Water Systems, Taylor said his father always made service a part of his business. Taylor’s father created the Taylor Family Foundation in 1990, an organization that supports children living with life-threatening and chronic illnesses, or developmental disabilities, as well as at-risk youth. 

Waterlogic PLC also has partnered with WaterAid, a nonprofit organization that provides water, sanitation and hygiene education in developing countries around the world. 

Taylor sees tremendous potential within the industry for the future. “Technology has made huge leaps over the last several years and we’re now able to provide our customers with POU solutions that can address just about any need they may have,” he said.

OCTOBER
Bob Hoey
Water Doctors, Spring Lake Park, Minn.

In the early 1980s, Bob Hoey earned his certification as a WQA Certified Water Specialist and Certified Sales Representative. He said he was the only person in the Twin Cities market at the time to have both those certifications, and people started to take notice. People started calling him “the water doctor,” he said, and he decided to use the name for his business.

In 1984, Hoey opened Water Doctors, which primarily services the Twin Cities area. Approximately 80% of its customers are residential and 20% are commercial/industrial.

Hoey has advertised in TV, radio and print, but said referrals remain his best source of new business. Water Doctors also is implementing a new marketing plan using Demandforce software to target the approximately 30,000 customers in its database. The software will create campaigns, specials and offers to be sent to the company’s list.

Internet marketing, however, is not the only way Water Doctors has embraced technology. Hoey started the company website in 1995, and it has continued to evolve. Customers can now schedule appointments and order filters or salt online. Employees use smartphones to e-mail or text message timeframes to clients, and company vehicles are GPS tracked and timed.

Water Doctors has 22 corporate employees and 50 outside, independent employees. In the late ‘90s, as homebuilding slowed, Hoey saw an opportunity to partner with appliance dealers and kitchen designers. “We’ve trained them or taught them how to get into the water business to sell our product as part of their appliance or plumbing package,” Hoey said. He now works with 17 such dealers across the U.S.

The Infinity water softener and filtration system is a source of the company’s recent growth. Water Doctors worked with Pentair Water to create this proprietary system. 

Hoey said his biggest concern for the industry is an influx of foreign-made products. “The best advice I can give is not to succumb to the quick profit of a low-cost, inferior product,” he said. “Stay true to quality, American-made products, because your customers trust you and you want to make sure they are getting the right product.”

Water Doctors is a true family business, with Hoey’s wife and daughter involved. He tries to instill family standards in all of his employees. “My integrity and the way our company is perceived in the marketplace is the most important thing in the world to me,” Hoey said. “Business ethics and quality are really our best assets.” 

NOVEMBER
Archie Thomas
Kinetico Quality Water Systems of Missoula & Ravalli, Hamilton, Mont.

Like many small water business owners, Montana native Archie Thomas, president of Kinetico Quality Water Systems of Missoula & Ravalli, began his career in the family business — but that meant electric, not water. 

After working in the electrical field for more than 20 years, Thomas decided water had better long-term potential. Four years after starting his water dealership, Thomas closed his plumbing/electrical business for good in 1996, and gave his full attention to water treatment.

The dealership provides services to more than 200,000 people in western Montana, including primarily residential customers and a few commercial customers.

Kinetico Quality Water Systems has just five employees, but Thomas is not pressed to find more. “My focus is not more employees,” Thomas said. “My focus is on more dollars per employee using technology.” 

The recession was hard on the dealership, but Thomas credits it with helping make the company leaner. Today, the company is doing about 20% more business than 2007, with 30% fewer employees. The recession also helped the company’s rental business, which Thomas noted has grown tremendously in the past six years. Today, Kinetico Quality Water Systems is investing in technology and training, which Thomas noted helps companies make more revenue while controlling costs. 

In addition, Thomas is committed to having quality employees, beginning right from the hiring process. “If you hire a guy that’s got all the skills in the world, but he can upset and tick off any customer he talks to, you probably can’t train that attitude out of him,” Thomas said. “So I hire on attitude and train on skills.” 

Thomas provides this advice for small business owners: “Don’t assume that because you know water treatment, you know anything about the business of running a water treatment company. There is an absolute disconnect between the technical ability to do something and the business ability to make money at doing that, so get a good business education.”

DECEMBER
Larry Yarlott
Culligan Water Conditioning of Yuma, Yuma, Ariz.

Like many water dealerships, Culligan of Yuma is small, family-owned, and keeps close ties to its customers. Unlike many of his small business counterparts, however, owner Larry Yarlott works in an environment of extremes — aside from water quality issues, the area suffers from water scarcity.

Yarlott said his main concern is quality customer service and healthy, good-tasting drinking water for the community. His business is 60% residential and 40% commercial. “With the high hardness, water softeners are a necessity for restaurants, hotels and motels to operate efficiently,” Yarlott said.

To help his business face the challenges of working in the water industry in a desert, Yarlott, a CWS-V, participates with WQA and the Culligan Dealers Assn. of North America. “The more of us that support our industry, the better the industry will be,” he said.

Interaction with fellow industry members as well as clients is important to Yarlott. “We treat our clients like friends first and customers second,” he said. “We [have] close ties with our customers.” One main piece of advice Yarlott has for his industry peers is to “treat others like you want to be treated.”

Culligan of Yuma stays engaged with the community through social media, specifically with its Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts. 

Yarlott also equipped the serviceman with a smartphone, and the service truck with an iPad and mobile credit card reader. Despite all the technological upgrades, however, when asked about the most successful marketing tool he had, Yarlott said, “It was a small ad that runs daily in the business section of the local paper, both [in] print and online.”

His membership in associations and engagement with the community and his clients are just a few ways Yarlott stays in the loop — he also recommends reading trade publications as often as possible. 

Yarlott remains optimistic about the future despite the challenges his business faces. “I believe our industry will become much more important in the future,” he said. “With the lack of quality water, the ever-growing population and the climate changes we have seen, [POU] technology will become even more important. The use of membrane-based systems will continue to grow.”

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