Dealer Outlook & Advice

In uncertain times, dealers are looking for new strategies for success. Rebecca Wilhelm, assistant editor for Water Quality Products, spoke with Tom Leunig, marketing programs manager for GE Water & Process Technologies, about the future of the marketplace and how dealer networking programs can help dealers stay successful.

Rebecca Wilhelm: What does the water treatment market look like for 2008? How is it changing, and how will these changes affect dealers?

Tom Leunig: The water treatment market in 2008 will be one of the most challenging I’ve seen in more than 20 years in this industry. You have the economy, high fuel prices, low housing starts, potential bans of POE in California, tight financing and water shortages globally.

Water treatment dealers need to adjust their business model to survive. Many dealers operating on an antiquated business model won’t survive this downturn. The dealers who survive will adapt to new methods, new technologies and focus on water conservation: Dealers need to maximize their selling opportunity at each presentation, branch out into ultrafiltration (UF), whole-home reverse osmosis (RO) and offer financing options to the consumer so the cost of the equipment can be amortized over time.

Wilhelm: What challenges do you see on the horizon?

Leunig: With the POE market down 6%, according to the January 2008 WQA industry report, and possibly still declining due to a six-month lag, we may not have hit bottom yet. This means component manufacturers, OEM assemblers and dealers will all be working hard to maintain or even grow their piece of a shrinking pie. Companies with international sales will focus on growth markets overseas like Asia. In North America, the focus will shift to still-growing areas like Austin, Texas, and Orlando, Fla., and there will be competition for the best dealers in these areas.

Wilhelm: Could you provide an overview of the GE Platinum Dealer Network?

Leunig: The GE Platinum Dealer Network is designed for leading independent dealers who want to market high-technology products from GE and get access to sales and marketing resources to grow their business. They purchase products from their OEM supplier but get marketing support from GE. They get access to the best technology and programs in the industry, yet are able to maintain their independence.

Wilhelm: Does GE offer any other programs to help dealers be more successful?

Leunig: GE offers dealers consumer financing through our GE Money business. Dealers can get access to the GE AquaVantage consumer-financing program, which will help them close more sales, pump up profitability and improve cash flow. We also launched four sales forums in North America to help dealers survive the present environment.

Wilhelm: Do you have any advice for dealers unsure how to proceed in the current economy?

Leunig: My advice to dealers in the current economy is to diversify into some new technologies, such as UF, that can be sold to both new and existing customers. If you’re not using financing, get signed up and start offering it to consumers. You don’t want to lose any deals because people can’t afford to write a check for the full amount. Focus on existing customers, upgrade them, add new equipment and make service a profit center. Dealers should have incentive plans in place for service technicians so they add sales to the dealership.

For more information, contact Tom Leunig at 262.518.4285 or by e-mail at thomas.leunig@ge.com.

Rebecca Wilhelm is assistant editor for Water Quality Products. Wilhelm can be reached at 847.954.7958 or by e-mail at bwilhelm@sgcmail.com.

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