Rebecca Wilhelm: Please explain what you foresee to be the most pressing challenges, exciting opportunities and changes for dealers in 2010.
Vince Kent: For dealers, the pressing challenge will be the continuation of a down residential housing market. Dealers who cater to this market are going to find struggles with new system sales. Dealers today will have to rely on their existing customer base and those customers who believe in our industry and the products we sell to continue to sell them upgraded products or additional products to improve the quality of the water.
I think the older dealers who have weathered the storm of down economies previously are going to weather the storm of this recession much better than a new dealer today, because consumers are going to look at longevity, history in the business and the education, knowledge and licensing of the company that they do business with.
I also feel that the economic downfall has been beneficial to our industry in that it has taken out some of the unethical players that are not meant to survive in a down economy. Those that are ethical in this industry have grown their business opportunities because of this.
At the same time, today’s dealers have to look at other revenue streams and services. During my year as WQA president, I have been truly amazed by traveling around to residential shows and seeing dealers who sell water treatment products but don’t sell the salt. Without the salt, the softener doesn’t work. I think these dealers are going to have to expand their horizons and expand their offerings.
I know as a dealership we have built an independent, low-cost meter-controlled system that appeals to consumers looking for a reliable system without all the whistles and bells. But we still provide the same great warranty and service on the low-cost system as we do on the higher-priced system.
I think that customer service—from the time the phone rings all the way to the end of the sale and service call and beyond—is the number one priority that our dealership is focusing on.
I also feel that the Battelle study [a WQA-commissioned study examining the effect of softened water on appliance life] is going to be a big boost for our industry; it is going to be a study that, when marketed correctly to today’s consumers, manufacturers, dealers and end-users, is going to help boost our industry to where we will start to gain more market share, and today’s consumers and regulators will realize that a water softener is the greenest product you can put in a home today.
With the final edition of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense-designed home, they are going to have to have a softener to operate the systems that WaterSense is indicating to be the preferred system. Otherwise the WaterSense homes without a softener are going to fail and use more water. The Battelle study will help us get to that level.
As dealers we are looking at continued ways of improving softener efficieny, salt consumption and brine reclaim. We still believe that a water softener is, by far, the most robust way to remove hardness, over any alternative.
The industry is changing—I think consumers today aren’t buying based on brand name; I just don’t see it. They are buying based on price or relationship.
We are in an industry that delivers one of the greatest values to human life. You can live a long time without food, but you can’t live very long without water. People today will only drink water if the water is good. I think consumers will start to look to point-of-use equipment at their taps and point-of-entry equipment throughout their houses to improve water quality, and they will start taking their water with them wherever they go.
For more information, contact Vince Kent at 920.563.2507 or by e-mail at [email protected].