Ahead of the Curve
Dealers offer insight to successful business practices
For many water dealers, success is often accomplished through efforts that are made above and beyond the norm. Whether it is putting in extra hours at the office, taking additional classes to further one’s education or simply becoming more involved within the industry, water dealers today find that a little extra effort will push them far ahead of the industry curve.
Vincent Kent, president of Abendroth Water Conditioning, Inc., Fort Atkinson, Wis., largely accredits the success of his business on his involvement in national industry associations. “I wouldn’t trade my involvement in the national WQA for anything,” he said. “I don’t think you can put a price tag on what I pay in dues versus what I get out of the WQA.”
Abendroth Water Conditioning has been in business since 1953 and currently has a staff of 12 employees. While the company predominantly works in the residential water treatment sector, it also treats the industrial and commercial fields.
With a family-owned business in its 55th year of operation, Kent has faced his share of challenges in the water treatment industry since becoming involved nearly 14 years ago, such as the rise of big-box stores and the declining housing market. Had it not been for the information and educational opportunities provided by the industry associations, Kent might not be as successful as he has been in dealing with these issues.
“The dealer who is uneducated, uninformed and uninvolved is going to have a hard time competing in the water treatment industry,” Kent said. “I think they’re giving up valuable tools that the WQA offers all of its members. I feel they’re giving up education and they’re giving up their voice by not being at the table when decisions are made on tough topics. They need to bring their opinions forward.”
By not getting more involved within the industry, according to Kent, water dealers are opening the door for competitors to use this lack of involvement as a tool against them. “In today’s time, if you’re engaged in water treatment and you’re not a member of the WQA, you’re going to struggle because the technology, the people, the support, the referrals, the lead generation and everything is going to go right by you,” Kent said.
In an industry such as water treatment, the needs of the customers and the technologies to combat these needs are always changing; however, the necessity for quality water will always exist. But for the water dealers who sit back and remain inactive, the industry is likely to pass them by.
Always be Educated
For some dealers, WQA certification and continuing education for their employees may be on the back burner or a vague goal for the future. Actively pursuing educational opportunities, however, can have immediate benefits, as shown by the example of Joseph J. Huemann, president of Huemann Water Conditioning, a div. of Huemann Water Mgt., Inc., in Johnsburg, Ill.
Changes within the industry are one reason continuing education and certification is important, according to Huemann. “In the ’60s and ’70s, our customers needed to be educated more. Today, most people know they want their water treated … With the exposure and demands of the customer, we are being held to a higher standard. Training and education helps with delivering a consistent and correct product to the customer.”
With customers who have more access to information than ever before thanks to the Internet, Huemann and his employees have to take steps to make sure they are updated on current industry topics and news.
“We use the trade magazines as ‘FYI’ readings for the employees on hot topics for them to read and keep in touch,” Huemann said. If a magazine has an article pertaining to an issue his employees may face, he routes it around the office so that everyone benefits from the knowledge.
One struggle many dealers face today is keeping quality employees. Education can be used to counteract this problem. Along with providing benefits for his employees, Huemann also provides opportunities for WQA certification and will sponsor employees who wish to earn a state plumbing license, which is a four-year process. He rewards employees who choose to get certified with a raise, providing them with an incentive for continuing education while ensuring that his business employs better-qualified professionals.
Education helps “the employee feel more confident in their work and take pride in what they do,” Huemann said. “They don’t just work [with] water treatment stuff, they make water better for the customer.”
Education and certification are important to “being able to see what is going on in the industry across the nation as well as the world,” Huemann said. “We are truly global. What happens in another state can be communicated quickly through contacts from the WQA.”
Huemann’s goal of “educating employees to do their job better than I could do it” is ensuring the longevity, security and success of his business well into the future.
Adapting to Challenges
Another key to success is adaptability—how you react to the challenges put before you will determine whether or not you will overcome them. While this is true in many areas of life, Bruce Whitney of Whitney’s Water Systems, Logandale, Nev., has found it to be especially true in the water industry.
Working in rural southern Nevada since 1987, Whitney and his wife Sherrie operate their business with the goal of “providing quality service to our customers and providing a good income for employees.”
One reason Whitney needs to keep adaptability at the forefront of his business is his location. “Being in the desert Southwest, you run into some unique water quality issues,” Whitney said, “from high salinity and high hardness to high volume needs, and addressing those needs at a reasonable cost—meeting the customers’ needs on a basis they can afford.”
Recent drought in the area, which has significantly reduced the level of nearby Lake Mead, has affected water quality and quantity in part of Whitney’s service area but has also been a benefit because people are more concerned about conservation, Whitney said.
“Because of it, they’re concerned about the quality of water they’re drinking. I think in my market it’s probably been more of a benefit, because people are aware.”
The declining housing market has also been a challenge to the entire industry, Whitney’s business included, but he has focused on ways to counteract any negative effects. “It definitely has had an effect on us and the industry as a whole,” he said.
In response, Whitney and his team have aimed to become more service-oriented, making sure customers’ existing systems are well- serviced so they will last longer, and setting up regularly scheduled maintenance contracts rather than waiting for customers to call them.
Even if the housing market fluctuates, Whitney’s 20-plus years of service in the area provides an element of stability.
“I’m well-known,” he said. “There have been several others that have come and gone since I’ve been here, so I can offer the stability of saying, ‘We’re going to be around to maintain your system and we’re not going to sell you something where you can’t find somebody to maintain it.’”
Although he has faced many challenges over the years, Whitney’s adaptability has helped him stay ahead of the game. And with the recent expansion of his service area from southern Nevada to southern Utah, it looks like it will stay that way.