Focus on the Family
This family-oriented salt business values customer service and a commitment to people above all else
In a good business, co-workers are like family. To some extent, family-like bonds exist in all businesses, but few are as strong as those at Miller & Sons Salt & Water Conditioning, Inc. in Lancaster, Pa.
The company's original owner, Randy Miller, began his company in 1972 with a passionate commitment to family after losing his son in a house fire. After his tragic loss, Miller realized the importance of family and wanted to have a career that allowed him to work more with his own. He had previously sold water conditioners for a local appliance company, but realized that no one in the area was doing the salt service end of the business. He decided to start a company in the salt delivery business to give himself the opportunity to work with his other children.
To begin this new business, Miller needed to purchase a pickup truck. The finances worked out so that the company would need to sell a skid of salt a month in order to pay for the truck. The first customer they approached was a local carwash, and their order exactly equaled this need. Thus the company progressed from just making payments to becoming a successful enterprise.
This enterprise thrives on the family focus. It is what helps Miller & Sons hire and maintain quality employees-something that Sales Manager Scott Merchlinski said was one of the company's biggest challenges. "[The Millers] do a really good job of trying to make it a family environment," he said. "If one person is down, everybody really chips in to do what they can to get that person back to work. Whether what they need is in their personal life or their professional life, there's just a lot of support from the top down."
Support has become the foundation on which the company stands. In the last five years, the company has grown from four to 14 employees, 10 of which are under the age of 32. Merchlinski sees this younger age bracket as a benefit to the company because those employees "really have the drive to make the customer happy. If you ask them to work over, there's not a bunch of grumbling. [They have a] willingness to learn new 'tricks.' [In respect to] some parts of the business that we get involved with, a fresh approach or thinking outside of the box helps a lot, and sometimes their minds can think easier that way than people who are in the business much longer."
Strong customer service is one of the biggest qualities that sets Miller & Sons apart from other dealers, and Merchlinski believes this is the company's source for success. "We live in a tight market compared to the number of dealers that are around, so it's really almost a necessity to have good service and good reliability and a very good product to go with it," he said. "You need that in this area, or else the area will not support the business for long."
Another entity that sets the company apart is a product that may bring big changes to the industry in the near future. The product, from Next Filtration Technologies, Inc., is a water-softening alternative: a non-salt-using, non-electric, zero-discharge technology that has driven sales. When used in the right applications, it will do everything a water softener was originally intended to do: minimize spotting on dishes, prevent soap scum in the shower and keep hot water heating elements clean.
"As soon as you mention it, it's what [customers] want," Merchlinski said. "People are tired of carrying that salt down into the basement here in the northeast."
So from the early days of salt delivery to opportunities offered by a water softener alternative, Miller & Sons has been a part of the water quality industry. Yet throughout the entire journey, family has always rested at the heart of the organization-turning water quality into quality time.