What's the secret to success as a water dealer? If you ask Pete Van Cleave, founder, owner and CEO of Water for Life in Atlanta, it's good old-fashioned hard work.
Water for Life has been one of the leading water dealers in Atlanta since it opened for business in 1991. The region presents its own unique challenges. Granite is prevalent in the soil, resulting in water with a low pH and high iron content. In 2010, an Environmental Working Group study placed Atlanta among the top 25 U.S. cities with high concentrations of chromium-6, a possible carcinogen, in the water supply.
A weathered van, a cardboard box full of parts, a dozen customers: These are the tokens of Clements Water Refining Service’s humble beginnings. Founded in 1972 by Roger and Joan Clements, the business originally operated out of the family home in Alpena, Mich. Roger had previously worked in the local oil industry, but after a poor economic showing, he decided to pursue water treatment.
“[My father took note of] a mostly ignored water softening division and saw it as an opportunity [to start a family business],” said John Clements, Roger’s and Joan’s son.
For Vicky Burtis, a career in water treatment was not always in the cards. Starting out as a procurement and contracts employee for the government, she never considered working in the water industry until a gregarious neighbor approached her with the prospect.
“I lived next door to the Rhoades family,” Burtis said, noting that patriarch Robert Rhoades owned Water Doctor, a local water treatment company in Annapolis Junction, Md. “He asked me to come and work for him.”
A few weeks ago, Bob Coakley went on a local sales call in Harrisonburg, Va. A customer scheduled a home service consultation with his company—Water Works Water Treatment Inc.—so Coakley brought along his top-selling equipment.
“Our big thing now is total home water protection,” Coakley said. “When we come out to your home, we talk to you about how water affects you in all areas of the house.”
Thirty years ago, Dean Lewis was a sales manager for a coin-operated laundry company in Colorado. Steeped in a declining market, laundry service no longer seemed like a viable career, so Lewis answered an ad for a sales position at a local Culligan dealership—and he was hired.
Rich Anderson spent years in the corporate world, most recently as the vice president of sales for Aquion Water Treatment Products, before becoming founder and CEO of ClearView Water LLC, in Denver in 2009.
Started in 1988, Dunbar Water/Mr. H2O Pumps and Filters began as a simple operation, with founder Carl Dunbar working out of his home and using his Subaru to make sales calls. Since then, a “can-do” attitude and a dedication to providing excellent customer service have helped the business grow. Today, it has 10 employees, a fleet of six vehicles and a 2,400-sq-ft warehouse with an office and showroom. It is also the exclusive Evolve Dealer for Water-Right in southern Maine.
A Proud History
Some dealers join the water industry because it is what their father did, what his father did, and so on. It is certainly inspiring to hear of a dealer continuing a family legacy, but it is even more inspiring to see a dealer beginning a legacy by making a name for himself in the industry and crafting a business that can be passed on to his descendants.
Founded in 1938, CWT-Culligan was the first Culligan USA franchise. Over the last seven decades, the company has seen its share of change, but one thing stays consistent: its commitment to both its customers and employees.