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.
“To me, water treatment was fascinating,” Lewis said, an enthusiasm that has bolstered his decades-long career. “I really enjoyed the challenge of learning about water chemistry, hydraulics, pumps, plumbing systems—it was food for the mind.”
Lewis stayed with the company for 14 years, learning about the industry and how to build a strong business. Years of dedication saw him reach promotion after promotion, and while serving as the company’s general manager, he decided to strike out on his own.
Lewis founded his own water treatment company, Pure Water Solutions Inc., in Castle Rock, Colo., in 1993, and within a year was joined by his brother, Larry.
“We essentially bootstrapped it without loans or investors, growing slowly but surely, and putting profits back into the company,” Lewis said.
It was a slow climb—uncooperative government officials and an ebbing residential market marred the company’s upstart. But years of experience helped Lewis navigate the terrain.
“Be flexible and diversified in your product offering,” Lewis said. “The dealers I see struggling are those who only market to one segment.”
Lewis divided Pure Water Solutions into four service areas: residential; commercial, industrial and medical; DI exchange service; and repair service, in an effort to prevent overinvestment in one area.
A rank of reliable employees is also essential for a successful business, and the company now has 13 water experts and personnel.
“Our employees are our greatest asset,” Lewis said. “We believe that if we want to have loyal, hardworking employees, they have to be empowered to make decisions . . . in a family-oriented atmosphere.”
Today, Pure Water Solutions employees install dialysis, humidification and laboratory systems across the country.
Two years ago, when the residential segment was lagging, Lewis decided to seek external partnerships to bolster business.
“We became a Kinetico dealer, and with their guidance, we are increasing our residential sales dramatically,” Lewis said, adding that Regional Manager Rick Arnold has been an indispensable support for the sector.
Although residential services account for only 20% of the company’s business, Lewis said anticipating economic trends is imperative to maintain a solvent business.
“When [sales in one area were down], we focused on [another],” Lewis said. “Because of this focus, we end up with some very lucrative contracts that keep us [going].”
“We are a little different than the typical dealer,” Lewis said, noting the low percentage of residential services performed by employees. “Most of our business comes from commercial, industrial and medical.”
In fact, Pure Water Solutions is one of only a few companies in the nation that can provide specialized medical services for dialysis treatment.
In 1999, Lewis was approached by a prominent client who wanted to purchase all of the company’s dialysis systems. So he applied for a 501(k) registration as a Class II Medical Manufacturer through the Food and Drug Administration, and the company now has its own registered dialysis system. It also represents AmeriWater as a dealer of its medical products.
After 30 years in the industry, Lewis’s enthusiasm for water science and technology has not waned. Apart from belonging to the Water Quality Assn., American Society of Plumbing Engineers and Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce, Lewis, a CWS VI, is serving his second term as president of the Colorado Water Quality Assn., and is a board member of the Castle Rock Economic Development Council.
“I believe that association membership can be very important for employee education, and association, networking and community involvement,” Lewis said.
In a recovering economy, market changes are often unpredictable. Lewis attributes the health of the industry to dynamic businesses and increasingly efficient technology. And while the economic downturn has stymied many industries, the need for water treatment endures.
“We are fortunate that we are in a growth industry with wonderful potential,” Lewis said. “Water conditioning and treatment is always going to be in demand.”