The ABCs of a Water Dealership

June 25, 2008

Why education is one of the most important components of a successful business

To be a successful business owner, you have to first and foremost be a good teacher. As the president and owner of Sterling Water, Inc., Culligan, Eau Claire, Wis., Bret Tangley has come to find education to be the driving force behind his organization’s many years of success.

With its beginnings in western Wisconsin in 1949, Tangley’s grandparents were some of the earliest water treatment dealers in the state of Wisconsin, and consumers were not always aware of the need for water treatment products. “Educating consumers about the need and the benefit of our products has been a challenge I think we continue to face today,” said Tangley. “Even though our business has grown and it has developed into a nice, stable business, our challenge of educating the public about our products and services has been a challenge that I think we will continue to work towards in our market for a long time.”

To educate the consumer, Tangley develops his marketing and advertising messages to speak to benefits or problems that consumers may not realized effect the quality of their water. “We’ve directed our marketing efforts to hone in on specific problems and solutions that our products and services can provide for consumers in our area,” said Tangley.

Educating Employees

Not only does Tangley work hard to keep his customer base educated on pertinent water quality issues, he also works to educate his employees. “Our organization has invested a significant amount of time and other resources, money included, in training and developing our employees,” said Tangley. “I have a lot of long-term employees, and I think it is that commitment to them and their growth that has allowed us to be successful and grow. Helping our employees get to where they are trying to go has helped us get where we’re trying to go.”

Tangley has instituted an internal training program in which all of his employees participate. “We take at least two full days a year with every employee in the company for all-day training and development,” he said. “We focus on all different aspects of the job, from better communication with the consumer to how to drive more safely or how to do their job more safely, etc.”

But one of the things they focus on the most, according to Tangley, is identifying things they can offer to consumers that will help them solve their problems. “We work on helping employees identify, see and hear concerns that customers might have and then leveraging that into, ‘hey, you might not be aware but we offer this’ or ‘this might be a nice option for you, would you like me to give you some more information on this,’” he said. “Being able to talk intelligently about products builds consumer’s confidence and they become much more confident in who they have chosen to do business with.”

Tangley has come to realize that, as a manager, the challenge is knowing how to give your employees the right tools to grow. “It’s more than just a piece of paper to hand out,” he said, “you’ve got to give them the tools and instruments in terms of knowing how to talk about the product, how to listen carefully for what the consumer says is a problem and how to convert that into offering a potential solution.”

A successful business model is one that enables you and your organization to grow by expanding skills, talents and aptitudes. If your employees continue to have opportunities to learn and grow, your business will therefore grow as well.

Stephanie Harris is managing editor of Water Quality Products. Harris can be reached at 847.391.1007 or by e-mail at sharris@sgcmail.com.

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