Dealer of the Month: Dealing With California’s Drought

Santa Barbara dealership emphasizes customer service & offers customized solutions

Above: The dealership’s star-spangled vehicles can be seen around the Santa Barbara area.

As a water supply declines in quantity, it also tends to decline in quality. That is why reliable water treatment is vital in drought-stricken California. Residents of the coastal city of Santa Barbara have counted on Matilija Pure Water Systems to help soften and condition their water for almost 70 years, and the dealership’s expertise may be more valuable today than ever before.

Creating a Legacy

The business that is today known as Matilija Pure Water Systems was founded as a Culligan franchise in 1948. For more than 50 years, the company provided Culligan products and services to the residents of Santa Barbara and surrounding areas, but in 2000, the company cut ties with Culligan and changed its name to Pure Water Systems. Three years later, Pure Water Systems purchased the Matilija Water Co., a venerable bottled water service headquartered approximately 30 miles east in Ojai. The nearby Matilija Canyon is known for the purity of its spring water, so the name was a natural fit.

For 10 years, the company operated Pure Water Systems in Santa Barbara and Matilija Bottled Water in Ojai, but in 2013, it decided to exit the bottled water business. It sold Matilija’s assets but chose to keep the name.

“We had put a lot of energy and money into marketing the name, so we combined the names to Matilija Pure Water Systems. We re-branded our logo, we re-branded our company and it’s been all good things from there,” said General Manager Matt Raley. “It was a big transition at that point, and now our company is doing wonderful things.”

Cleaning Up

The water in and around Santa Barbara presents the employees of Matilija Pure Water Systems with a variety of challenges, and as the region’s drought continues, the need for the dealership’s products and services expands. 

“The water quality has significantly decreased,” Raley said. “The water hardness in our area is already substantially high, in the 25-grains-per-gal (gpg) range. With the drought, we’re seeing some of the municipalities that are providing the cities their water are having to change their sources to underground aquifers—they’re having to close the tap on some of the lakes they were using as sources because the lakes are dried up. So we’ve seen our hardness level go up to 40 [gpg] in some areas.”

The large amount of sediment in the area’s water also is creating a number of issues for residents.

“Sediment levels are so much higher with the drought,” Raley said. “[Customers] are seeing a lot of dirt come into their homes and create problems. We’re using 4.5-in.-by-20-in. sediment filters, which look like big paper towel rolls. We’re sticking that in there, pre-water softener, and six months later we’re pulling it out and it’s brown and full of gunk. That’s something we weren’t really encountering three or four years ago.”

Pounding the Pavement

Given the severity of the area’s water quality problems, it is important for Matilija’s employees to thoroughly evaluate each customer’s situation. According to Raley, there is only one way to do that properly.

“We’ve done our best to convince customers the best way for us to offer you pricing is to let us send a trained technician out to your home or business,” he said. “It’s a free call, but let us size your plumbing, let us test your water, let us meet with you—let’s see what your gallons of water usage are per day and per month and how many people are living in the home, and let’s put together a system and a pricing proposal that supports what’s going on in your home. I’m proud of that because not a lot of our competitors are doing that.”

Matilija is a member of the Water Quality Assn. (WQA), which not only provides the dealership’s employees with continuing education via its certification process, but also allows Raley to scope out new treatment technology at the annual WQA Convention & Exposition. 

“On our end, the value is in looking at all of the new equipment out there, since we’re a local company and we’re not tied to a franchisee or a big corporation deciding what equipment we offer,” Raley said. “For me, it’s a good thing because I’m able to look at the new equipment and talk with the representatives, and if I find something interesting that I can take back to our city or our area that’s going to help our customers, then I’ll do that.”

Matilija is also a member of the Pacific Water Quality Assn., which Raley feels helps the dealership keep up with local water matters.

“I think it’s important to be part of those two organizations, not only to get our name out there, but [also] to be active in what’s going on—less of a spectator and more of a participant in our industry,” he said.

Matt Raley has been Matilija’s general manager since the company’s 2013 reorganization. 

Good Work

Matilija’s commitment to thorough service pays off each time the dealership’s technicians improve a customer’s water quality.

“We’re offering answers to people’s water, and we’re offering them options on making that water safe,” Raley said. “We’re not the fire department or the police department saving lives, but we’re doing something that makes a difference.” 

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