Dealer of the Month: Striving for Satisfaction

Sept. 1, 2016
Florida dealership cultivates employee happiness for business prosperity

About the author: Bob Crossen is associate editor for WQP. Crossen can be reached at [email protected] or 847.954.7922.

Since acquiring his first water treatment business in August 2010, Todd VanHouten has acquired five more. He has increased the number of employees at his company from three to 15. And he sees a future for expansion as an EcoWater dealer.

Based in Vero Beach, Fla., All-Rite Water Purification finds its prosperity through a desire to satisfy not only customers, but also employees. VanHouten considers their well-being first and is willing to sacrifice his time and energy to ensure they are happy.

“A big plus in this country is that we have great leaders, and a big minus in this country is we don’t have enough of the great leaders that realize it is a selfless job. Your task is to get what you want in life by helping others get what they want,” VanHouten said. “That requires a tremendous amount of energy on a daily basis to perform because you’re the leader.”

It took VanHouten more than 15 years in automobile sales, several more working at a family business and about a year of contemplation before he landed in the water treatment industry. The moves gave him a chance to test his leadership philosophy with his own business.

“What are we all trying to do? We’re trying to get some joy in life,” VanHouten said. “We’re trying to be a positive impact on everybody’s life.”

Chasing Happiness

From his time working at a car dealership in Washington, D.C., to working for a family business selling specialty paint in Florida, VanHouten’s varied experiences inform his leadership style. 

He begins with employee satisfaction. His philosophy is that keeping employees happy in the workplace results in better productivity and ultimately, customer satisfaction and sales.

“We know if you like where you work and you find some joy there, then that absolutely works,” VanHouten said. “Our goal is to send them home happier than they came.”

Employees, he said, have plenty of stresses in their lives. He believes the workplace can be a place for comfort, where those stresses can be set aside.

“When they come to work and put the tires on our lot … they go, ‘Wow. OK. What a stressful morning ... but now I’m at work and this is where I do my thing. People have my back and I can shine so I can go home and fight the real battles in life,’” VanHouten said. “Absolutely, happiness is it.”

His approach does not exclude tough love, however. Employees are expected to work hard. The team culture creates an atmosphere of accountability so employees encourage one another. VanHouten is hands-on, too, and noted leadership is not without its difficulties. 

“[Employees] know everything that’s going on. They hear everything and see everything, so ... let’s give them something to smile about. [They] think and believe our company is customer focused and community focused because they see us doing the right thing,” VanHouten said.

The level of care and attention VanHouten pays to his employees has a domino effect. Happy employees lead to happy customers, and happy customers become repeat customers. That repeat business, VanHouten said, is a cornerstone for any business’s success.

Maintaining Repeat Business

All-Rite Water Purification’s rental and maintenance business strategy provides consistent income, which VanHouten said would help the business if there were another financial collapse—a problem he witnessed firsthand at the paint business.

“We’re trying to build a recurring revenue stream that puts a floor underneath the company, so that in the event of another downturn … we still have built-in business,” VanHouten said. “We don’t have to have customers calling us every day. We don’t have to sell every day.”

These recurring offerings include maintenance plans and specialty services, such as water treatment for medical applications.

Surgical equipment must be cleaned before use. Dental equipment requires high standards of clean water to treat patients and clean instruments; even containers must be rinsed according to those standards. 

Additionally, clean water for dialysis equipment is critical in Florida, which has a large population of senior citizens. All-Rite Water Purification provides facilities the equipment they need to ensure water is safe for that intended use. 

“Nationally, we’ve got the demographic of the baby boomers retiring ... and with that brings health issues,” VanHouten said, noting the demand for dialysis is projected to surge in the next five years, particularly in Florida. “[The] dialysis process requires a significant pure water presence, so if there is going to be a lot more dialysis going on, there’s going to be a lot more water that needs to be treated.”

Chlorine can wreak havoc in dialysis treatment. As demand increases, water treatment for that process will be a driving force for the dealership.

The Future & Analytics

Since acquiring his first business in 2010, VanHouten said technology in the workplace has not seen drastic shifts. Instead, technology trends follow customer desires. Customers want to be environmentally conscious about their water conservation and water treatment chemicals. 

VanHouten said ion exchange and salt-free systems are among the top requests from clients, as are reverse osmosis and electrolysis systems. He said breakthroughs in alternatives to those processes could be on the horizon, and more equipment is becoming “smart.”

Customers want access to their water data so they can learn and analyze their daily consumption to better conserve water for their families. 

 “We have more and more customers who are conscious of their water usage … People are starting to dial in and really want to understand what’s going on with their water and their water usage,” VanHouten said. “The first step in being environmentally conscious is [asking] ‘How much water did we use today?’”

As devices continue to trend toward relaying that information to the customer—some EcoWater products already do so—he said more people will use the information in their environmentally friendly pursuits. 

About the Author

Bob Crossen

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