Researchers at Purdue University have...
A small, family-owned drinking water company proves that bigger is not always better
Crescent Hills Water, in Colleyville, Texas, is a small, family-owned company with just five employees. Four of those employees are Terry Williams, president and owner, his daughter Ashley, office manager, and his nephew and brother-in-law, both technicians. Despite the small support staff, the company can boast that it provides point-of-use (POU) systems to some of the largest companies in northern Texas.
Williams and his family have been providing quality drinking water to commercial customers in northern Texas since 1988. “What started off as a distributorship quickly grew to operating a bottling plant,” Williams said. The company now has a fleet of delivery trucks, offices in Cleburne and Colleyville, and provides water coolers, reverse osmosis systems, replacement filters, cups and cupholders to both residential and commercial consumers.
As someone who “believes in the family business,” Williams credits much of the company’s growth to the work of his family. He recalled that through the years, his wife and all three of his children have been employed at the family business and helped it to grow. For Williams and his family, hard work is not just for a paycheck. “We all truly care and take pride in this company and the service of our customers,” he said. “We are not the largest drinking water company, but I truly believe we are the best.”
In 1999, Crescent Hills Water was doing well financially due to the popularity of bottled water, but Williams saw the significant carbon footprint that the bottled water industry was creating. He understood how vital it was for his company to do its part in decreasing that carbon footprint. “I wanted to get my delivery trucks off the road and eliminate the use of plastic containers,” Williams said.
With these goals in mind, Crescent Hills Water became one of the first companies in its area to stop the production and delivery of bottled water, opting instead give its customers what Williams calls “bottled water without the bottles.” “We began installing reverse osmosis systems that would produce the same high quality of water at our customers’ location as we were producing at the plant,” he said.
Weathering the Storms
Throughout the years, the company has endured its share of struggles and remained resilient. Williams recalled that early in his career, there were “very few small players and [only] two major national companies” in the water business, and no one was doing POU, strictly bottled water. However, in 1992, an out-of-town company came to Dallas and slashed prices with the intent of building a base to be sold later, creating a competitive business environment. Although the company has since left the area, and 20 years later Crescent Hills Water is still standing, Williams said that the pricing has yet to recover.
Add this setback to the economic downturn of the past few years, and one would think that a small business like Crescent Hills Water would be in bad shape. However, Williams said that the company has held its own, growing at a slow but steady pace. Like many companies, Crescent Hill Water has felt the effects of the economy, and Williams is taking precautions. “Many of the small businesses have had to cut back [due] to the economic slow down. We have lost two major accounts this last year that will definitely have an impact,” he said.
While Williams has not had to lay off any employees, he said that due to current economic conditions, he is hesitant to hire more employees and has not been as aggressive in the market place as he could be — something that he plans to work on. “We have a goal of marginal growth, concentrating on customer retention,” he explained.
Marketing will be a part of the growth strategy for Crescent Hills Water, but things have come a long way from the early days, when Williams relied on door-to-door sales, telemarketing, the Yellow Pages and tradeshows to do business. “Having a website is useful, especially for our current customers,” he said, noting that “paying for that top listing and investing in pay per click,” is often worth the money as well.
Because many of the company’s loyal customers have been with the company since the start, Williams said he still has a ways to go to increase the company’s online presence for newer and future customers. “I am still playing with what works out there,” he said.
Service is Key
Williams has noticed that more people are becoming educated on the convenience of POU, which he projects will be beneficial to the industry. He explained that many large bottled water companies are choosing to offer water filtration systems because they have lost so much business to the POU industry. “I see us capturing the lion’s share of the water delivery business,” he said.
Despite what appears to be a bright future for the POU industry, Williams encouraged other dealers to focus on service. “We talk to our customers on a regular basis and we are told all the time about competition knocking at their doors trying to get our business, and [our customers] tell them they are happy where they are,” he said. “Service is the key.”