Listening to the True Boss
Back in the days of Jimmy Carter, Rusty Schoenthaler was selling real estate. But that didn’t last for long. Tired of selling little in hard times and encouraged by an old high school friend involved in the water business, Schoenthaler took the plunge and started Atlantic Filter of Polk County, Inc., in Lakeland, Fla.
“It was a very good move; there’s a lot of need here,” he said. “I have a lot of friends here, and they supported me and over time we kept it going.”
Atlantic Filter serves both residential and commercial markets.
Common Yet Unique
Atlantic Filter of Polk Country, Inc., an affiliate of Atlantic Filter Corp., serves both residential and commercial markets, with commercial making up about 20% of the work. According to Schoenthaler, the company is your common problem-water solver, dealing with issues like iron, sulfur and hardness. Low pH shows up occasionally, while MTBE is more unusual.
The company also has a delivery service, serving more than 1,600 customers every other month. The routes are geographically organized by area through a computer, while delivery employees arrange their own routes by street.
Keeping Your Head Above Water
Like most other dealers, Atlantic Filter also has a rental program. Yet, it's proven to be much more than just an everyday part of the business.
“Our rental program is what I would consider a stabilizing force economically in our business,” Schoenthaler said. “It’s not huge like some of the other companies, but in the first and middle of the month, if we’re having dry periods, it serves to even out our economic situation.”
Yet, today’s economic hardships have hit where they can. Delinquency rates for rentals are a little higher than normal, and most of the company’s financing sources have dried up. Overall activity has slowed down, with everything “just a little more quiet than it was,” Schoenthaler said.
But sales have not stopped, Schoenthaler said assuringly. With years of experience, great service skills, a well-developed delivery system and as an obvious result, loyal customers, Atlantic Filter is still installing away.
The company solves common water problems and deals with issues like iron, sulfur and hardness.
Making Their Mark
Beyond riding the waves of the economy, the company has made its way in the market over the years by simply making smart business decisions like becoming a member of both the Water Quality Association (WQA) and Florida WQA.
“[Our membership] has proved to be an asset because we can network and communicate outside of our own company and get solutions to our chemical and equipment problems,” Schoenthaler said.
Networking has not only helped with staying up to date on industry know-how, but it has also aided in overcoming political obstacles, like licenses and permits.
When it comes to getting ahead in today’s water industry, Schoenthaler advises being aware and proactive about government activities and how they can affect entrepreneurs. Staying cognizant about various taxes and laws can sometimes be a make or break for your business in today’s ever-changing society.
Ultimately, he points to service as an essential to success, since acknowledging the customer as the real boss has kept his company afloat since day one.
“If somebody’s not taking care of the customer, they do not last long, and my staff has been here a long time,” he said. “There’s no substitution for that. You have to have people that can communicate, are willing to learn, are willing to stay on top of things and can take care of the customer.”
In essence, there’s just much more to it than comparing one month’s sales to another. “You have to kind of judge the temperature of the water,” he said. “Are our people happy with us or not?”